Writing

Free writing tools for authors using a Chromebook

Updated August 29, 2020

I grew up on PC and graduated to Macintosh when I got into a design field. A couple of years ago, I made the decision to transition to a Google Chromebook. The primary factor was cost. I couldn’t justify the price of a MacBook.

(The second factor is that Luke the schnauzer likes to smack my laptop with his paw to get my attention. The Chromebook has withstood this beautifully.)

I picked up an Acer Chromebook for under $200 on Amazon, and it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. But Chromebooks don’t support the novel-writing software Storyist that I have on my Macintosh, which brings me to the point of this post:

What are the best free writing apps available to authors using a Google Chromebook?

If you already write on a Chromebook, you probably have favorite programs. These are mine. And they might not work for you, but maybe you’ll get an idea or two out of this post. 

If you’re considering the switch to a Chromebook, I’ll be honest: your choice of writing programs is limited. Storyist and Scrivener don’t work on this platform. But if you’re adaptable, Chromebooks are fast and affordable.

Google Docs

Google Docs has been my go-to writing program for years. My documents are available on any computer, iPhone, and iPad, and it offers collaboration tools–invaluable if you work with one or more editors. Google Docs (part of Google Drive) is free to use and works on all browsers. There are apps as well for IOS and Android, so you can take your novel on the go.

The only downside I’ve noticed is that larger documents do not play well with my Acer, which does not have a lot of memory. I have to split anything over 20,000 words into multiple documents, but that’s no big sacrifice.

Google recently integrated Google Keep into Google Docs, giving you virtual post-its in the sidebar. You can drop and drag notes into the document, and they paste as text. I use it to hold cut material or the line that just popped into my head. No more jumping between my notes and the actual manuscript. It’s a lot closer to the Storyist experience now.

Calmly Writer

This Chrome extension costs a few dollars, but it’s worth it. It provides a distraction free, full screen environment in light and dark clothes, and you have the option of turning on the delightful typewriter sound! Ahh, the sound of productivity. It’s good when I need to write in sprints. Bonus: Calmly Writer can sync with Google Drive to back up your documents.

If you don’t want to pay for the extension, there’s a free browser-based version!

Evernote

Evernote is an ingenious way to create and organize thoughts, outlines, character profiles, planning notes, pre-writing, or even your actual prose. It’s a browser-based program with apps that sync your content to your phone. They offer free and premium tiers.

They offer several free creative writing templates. Their 3-act structure is my favorite.

Google Remote Desktop

Cheat! Do you have writing software installed on another machine? Access your computer remotely through your Chromebook. Setup takes just a couple of minutes, and the service is free. Congratulations, your desktop computer is now mobile.


Writing-adjacent Tools

These tools add back some of the functionality found in novel-writing software.

Airtable

If you’ve ever spent time around me, you’ve probably heard me gush about Airtable. It’s a database program with a clean, easy-to-use interface. The day I signed up, I was up and running in five minutes. I use it to organize everything from holiday card lists to city-wide events. It’s free to use (there are paid levels) and can be fully tailored to your needs with a variety of field types.

It’s ideal for tracking daily writing progress, reading lists, or staying on top of your works in progress. I’ve also seen it used as a way to hold story notes and storyboard ideas.

Airtable’s website (if you sign up using that link, I earn a $10 credit)

Trello

Trello is an organizing tool. Create kanban boards and move cards between them to easily keep track of a list of story ideas, works in progress, characters, scenes, settings–you get the idea. I’ve used it to hold a list of story ideas that I might want to work on at some point, and I move them between likelihood boards. Its collaborative features also make it an excellent choice for large-scale project management.

How you use Trello is completely up to you. It is free to use and there are apps for on-the-go use.

Note: Airtable has kanban functionality, but I don’t find it to be nearly as robust or functional as Trello’s. Still, if your needs are simple, it might be a good fit.

Pinterest

I adored Pinterest when it first came out — all of those recipes I would never make! Houses I would never own! I stopped visiting it after a while, but a few years ago, when I was working on an intimidating story, I needed to collect visuals to nudge me along. I’m a visual person, so I came up with the idea of creating a Pinterest board for that story.

Since then, I’ve made Pinterest boards for nearly every large project I’ve worked on. It’s an easy way for me to keep everything in one place, from links to research to inspirational photographs that remind me of a person or place in the story itself. You can even pin YouTube videos.

Pinterest is free to use, has a Chrome extension to easily add articles or photographs to your board, and also has mobile apps. If your manuscript’s content can’t be publicized (or you feel a little ehhh about pinning copyrighted material), you can create a secret board visible only to you.

Canva

Writers need to create graphics sometimes. Canva is graphic design software right in your browser. If you need to make a new Twitter banner or design a shareable graphic to promote your work, it’s a fantastic tool. I like it so much for personal use, I introduced it to my company. It saves time and doesn’t chain me to my desktop computer.


Luke just smacked the computer. A fitting end to this post.

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