Writing software recommendation: Workflowy

Regular readers will know I love lists. But what I love even more are:

  • organised lists
    • hierarchical lists (like this)
  • outlines (in the form of hierarchical lists of course)

The sort of list that you can:

  • easily move around
  • insert bullet points at will
  • promote or demote entries from chapter headings to sub-headings and back again, for example
  • split entries into new headings or sub-categories of their own
  • and so on.

(But it has to be extremely easy and quick to do all of those things.)

You can do so much with lists like these, from making a shopping list to outlining an article or story or novel to creating the business plan for a multi-billion dollar industry.

I’ve just started planning a rather complex novel, and this is where a decent outliner should come into its own. But the tools I had available just weren’t doing it for me. I tried using them and quickly ditched them and moved on to the next … and the next … until I ran out of options.

Microsoft Word has a built-in outliner, and while it’s usable it’s not brilliant (for complex novels at least). Also, I haven’t got Word on my netbook, only my desktop computer that I hardly use any more.

OpenOffice Writer, which I use on my netbook, sort of has one but it’s a massive pain to use – and totally unsuitable for planning a novel.

Until recently I used Treepad Lite for organising things, but it’s been a love-hate relationship. It does the job but not elegantly, nor is it fast. I started planning my novel on it but quickly abandoned it.

At this point I considered buying Scrivener so I could use the cork board/index cards feature, but that isn’t really how I like to work – I like lists! (It’s close, but not quite close enough.)

I do a lot of writing on my iPad now – including this very blog post. So I wanted something cross-platform: it needed to work on my Windows desktop computer, my Windows netbook, and my iPad – and ideally also on my Android smartphone so I can work on my novel while I’m out and about.

So I dug around in Apple’s App Store and eventually found Workflowy. It’s perfect, it’s dead simple, it’s brilliant. I wish I’d found it years ago. There’s an iPad app, an Android app and a browser version so you can use it in Windows. And none of them costs anything (which is always my favourite price!)

(There is of course a paid-for version – there always is, and that’s fair enough as they have to stay in business and continue creating great software – but none of the paid-for features are essential as far as I can tell. I seem to be getting on perfectly well without them. It might be useful to collaborate with other writers at some point, though – and that is a paid option.)

The only very slight drawback is that you can only add 250 items (bullet points) to your lists each month (unless you pay to upgrade). But if you recommend Workflowy to your friends (see below) you get an extra 250 items per month for each one who signs up.

If you’re a list-maker/outliner/planner like me, rather than someone who prefers the “start writing and let’s see where it goes” approach, it’s well worth having a look at Workflowy. My novel is now coming along splendidly, so I give it my highest personal recommendation. It’s something I definitely use (a lot) and have come to love and rely on in a very short time – and that’s not something I say very often.

There’s a short video on their website that shows you how it works. And that’s all the training you need.

If you use the following link (because you’re my friend) you can immediately start off with 500 items per month as your basic allowance rather than the usual 250. (It will increase my allowance too, so thank you in advance if you decide to give it a try.)


More writing tools

Each month from now on I’ll be looking at no cost/low cost tools (and probably books too) that make our writing lives easier. If you have any recommendations please let me know: dave@ideas4writers.co.uk. I’m sure there must be lots of other great tools out there that I’m simply not aware of.


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