yWriter satisfies the type-A side of a writer’s personality. Rich with stats and heavy on structure, this free writing app encourages you to compose scenes rather than chapters, because scenes are smaller and more manageable. yWriter also gives you dozens of places to store details about your work and compiles all this metadata into useful charts and tables—it’s a wonderful tool if you’re not easily distracted by this kind of data. However, yWriter doesn’t provide any templates or support collaboration features.
While yWriter is notable for being free and offering a Windows app, our Editors’ Choices winners are Ulysses (macOS only) and Scrivener for long-form writers. Editors’ Choice pick Final Draft is the best option for writing screenplays.
yWriter Costs Nothing
yWriter is totally free to download and use. The app was developed by one person, Simon Hayes, operating under the business name Spacejock. A suggested donation of either $11.95 or $24.95 supports the business and registers your app. The higher price entitles you to a discount on Hayes’s manuscript evaluation and ebook creation services, but other than that, you don’t get any special features or treatment for registering. This one-time fee is really just a way to support the developer.
yWriter started as a Windows app, although it’s also available on macOS (in beta), Android, and Apple mobile devices.
The most recent PC version of yWriter, as of this writing, is yWriter 7, which works on Windows devices running Windows 7 and later, including Windows 10. Technically, there is a yWriter 8, but according to Hayes, it was built as a test for .NET 5. With .NET 6 on the horizon, it’s not really relevant anymore. You can download and use older versions of the software for previous versions of Windows (as far back as Windows 98), in case you have a very old yWriter file that you must access.
The macOS app is still in beta, but it supports devices running El Capitan and later. The mobile apps are designed to let you edit existing works that you’ve stored in Dropbox, rather than create new ones.
Writer’s higher suggested donation price ($24.95) is extremely reasonable when you compare it with the cost of other writing apps. Apps for novelists and book authors typically run about $50 to $60, or $50 to $60 per year when sold as a subscription. A few examples are Scrivener ($49), Ulysses ($49.99 per year), Storyist ($59.99), and Novelize ($65 per year).
Screenwriting apps tend to cost more. Fade In ($79.95) is your low-cost option here. Final Draft ($249) is on the high end, although you can sometimes get it at a discount. Script Studio ($199.95) comes with sample content from movies you may have seen to help you write. Those apps have tools for tracking characters, locations, lines of dialogue, and so forth, not to mention auto-formatting for making sure all the people involved in producing a script can understand it.
Most distraction-free writing apps are cheaper than the aforementioned screenwriting apps. They run closer to $10–$30 apiece, although they are lightweight and intentionally don’t include a lot of features. iA Writer ($29.99) and Byword ($10.99) are two examples. Those apps are better for writing blog posts, memos, and short-form articles, rather than 50,000-word manuscripts or 100-page screenplays.
Getting Started with yWriter
After downloading and installing yWriter, you can immediately start a writing project. The interface and menus are intuitive, whether you start from scratch or import a work in progress from some other app as an RTF file.
Creating chapters and scenes is simple enough in yWriter, though the app restricts you to working on one scene at a time. From the default interface, you can read the text of each scene, but you can’t edit them—you have to click on a section to open an editing window. In testing, I found it frustrating to not be able to directly type text into a visible scene without opening a new window. Another minor annoyance is that the on-screen text is pretty small, and there isn’t a simple zoom tool anywhere in the main interface. yWriter needs to add one.
Every chapter and scene has multiple fields where you can add more details. For example, you can mark which characters appear in a scene and whose point of view the scene is told from; organize project notes; and describe the location. Each scene also has a status, which denotes whether it’s in draft phase, first edit, second edit, and so on.
Some of these data, such as character sheets, are for your reference only. Others get compiled into reports and tables. For example, when you look at any chapter, you can see the names of all the scenes it contains, how many words are in each scene, and whose point of view is used to tell the story there.
What I’ve already mentioned amounts to more data than many writing apps track, but yWriter goes even further. For example, with two clicks, you can pull up a report showing the percentage of scenes in which each character appears. Maybe you want Gwendolyn to be a main character, but in the report, you notice she’s in fewer than five percent of all scenes.
Here’s another data-centric aspect of yWriter: In many writing apps, you can set a daily goal for how many words you hope to write, but in yWriter, you can also set a goal for words per hour.
Depending on the type of writer you are, you may find all this information valuable or distracting. If you’re the kind of person who loses an hour per writing session looking at font options, then the amount of data in yWriter is likely going to be overwhelming. You might be better off with a distraction-free writing app, such as Ulysses.
No Templates or Collaboration Features
Some features you won’t find in yWriter are templates and auto-formatting capabilities. You can make your own templates, but the app doesn’t include any default ones. Auto-formatting is
important for screenplay writing; this feature helps you format your script to meet industry standards, so that everyone on a set knows which character speaks when, which scenes are meant to be shot outdoors, and other details that are crucial to production. However, auto-formatting is not typically used in novel or book writing.
yWriter does not support collaboration either, meaning real-time co-authoring and editing is not possible. That said, only a few writing apps, such as Fade In, Final Draft, and Writer Duet, offer that option.
Export and Saving Options
yWriter automatically saves your work from time to time and you can specify exactly how often it does in the settings. These automatic saves let you revert to an early version of your work should you ever need a previous draft.
While you can back up your work to an online storage solution, such as Box or Dropbox, the option doesn’t appear when you initially set up the app. To add a backup solution, you must change a setting in the Tools menu, which results in your work being saved both locally and in the cloud storage solution of your choice. In any case, this option should be more prevalent.
When it comes to exporting your work, yWriter’s options are fine, but they could be better. You can export to HTML, LaTeX, PDF, RTF, and a few other formats. There’s also an option to Export to Ebook, but it’s a little bit complicated and requires another app, Calibre.
yWriter Keeps Track of All the Details
yWriter speaks to people who love data and crave organization, which may not be the stereotypical creative writer. It encourages you to think about scenes as movable parts, which may be helpful for many writers who are struggling to get away from long, rambling, and seemingly unending chapters. yWriter is not a slam-dunk for everyone, though, as it doesn’t support collaboration or provide templates.
Editors’ Choice picks Scrivener and Ulysses are a better fit for a larger number of people, including writers who use macOS and are not yet ready to try yWriter’s beta version for that platform. For writing screenplays, turn to Editors’ Choice winner Final Draft.