So, these days I do most of my stuff on Word or Scrivener, but such wasn’t always the case. Microsoft Office is expensive (unless you get your copy from your alma mater, like yours truly). Scrivener is a very reasonable $40, but that may still be $40 you don’t have (been there), and it’s aimed at a few specific types of writing.
There are plenty of alternatives that offer a decent-to-great experience that don’t cost a penny. By no means have I tried all of them, but I’ve used a handful. Maybe someone will find them handy.
OpenOffice Writer (Win, Linux, Mac)
Apache OpenOffice is an open-source alternative to Microsoft Office. I relied on this suite of programs for years when I was running a computer without MS Word. It also includes a spreadsheet program, useful for outlines and note-taking.
LibreOffice Writer (Win, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android)
LibreOffice is another great open-source MS Office alternative I’ve used extensively over the years. Those running Linux-based systems may already have this program suite preinstalled with your distro. Compatibility with Word documents is pretty damn good. I’ve exchanged files back and forth with beta readers using Word multiple times without incident.
FocusWriter (Win, Linux, Mac)
If you want a more streamlined experience or don’t want to download an entire software suite, FocusWriter is a simple, capable little word processor. You’re limited to saving in .txt, .rtf, or .odt (the last one making FocusWriter a good pairing with OpenOffice). Where FocusWriter shines, though, is in eliminating distraction. You have a background texture covering the entire screen, including the taskbar, and you have your words. That’s it. Well, that’s not quite it. You get a few bells and whistles, such as a toggle for typewriter sound effects (surprisingly satisfying), timers, wordcount goals, autosave, spell-check, and customizable themes. The overall effect is calming and aesthetically pleasing, and it really does cut down on the urge to check on Twitter! This is one I still use when I’m feeling too mentally fragile to deal with menu bars and tabs.
Bibisco (Win, Linux, Mac)
For a program that’s more feature-rich than FocusWriter, the open-source bibisco is worth trying! Besides your text itself, bibisco projects include extensive notes, including character sketches, plot structure, story architecture, etc. Projects can be exported as .rtf or .pdf for publishing or further editing in another software. This is the one I have the least personal experience with, but it’s robust and might be just the thing for a novel or screenplay.
yWriter5 (Win, Linux, iOS, Android)
Though there are a lot of differences between the two programs, I often see yWriter5 held up as an alternative to Scrivener, and I suppose that’s a fair comparison. Like Scrivener, yWriter5 is geared toward longer projects like novels and screenplays. Unlike Scrivener, yWriter5 is free! There are also users who, having tried both, prefer the way yWriter5 is laid out and found it had an easier learning curve. In yWriter5 (how many times can I type yWriter5 in one paragraph?), projects are split into individual scenes that can be rearranged at will. Characters and locations each get their own “card” that can be cross-referenced easily. For the neat-freak writer, it’s hard to do better.
WriteMonkey is another very streamlined word processor. It shares many features with FocusWriter, such as autosave, timers, and sound effects/white noise. The two greatest things about WriteMonkey are its portability (no need for installation; in fact, you can keep it on a thumb drive for easy use on the go), and its support for markdown. Actually, make that three greatest things– its statistics will not only tell you wordcounts and the like, but will even give you word frequencies and estimated reading time. For such a small app, WriteMonkey packs a surprising amount of muscle, and I bet it’ll grow on you quickly.
I hope this was useful, and maybe introduced a program you might want to try! Like I said, there’s far more free software out there– this is just what I’m able to vouch for. Anyone got any recommendations of their own?