Top Linux tools for writers

These easy-to-use open souce apps can help you sharpen your writing skills, research more efficiently, and stay organized.
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If you've read my article about how I switched to Linux, then you know that I’m a superuser. I also stated that I’m not an “expert” on anything. That’s still fair to say. But I have learned many helpful things over the last several years, and I'd like to pass these tips along to other new Linux users.

Today, I’m going to discuss the tools I use when I write. I based my choices on three criteria:

  1. My main writing tool must be compatible for any publisher when I submit stories or articles.
  2. The software must be quick and simple to use.
  3. Free is good.

There are some wonderful all-in-one free solutions, such as:

  1. bibisco
  2. Manuskript
  3. oStorybook

However, I tend to get lost and lose my train of thought when I'm trying to find information, so I opted to go with multiple applications that suit my needs. Also, I don’t want to be reliant on the internet in case service goes down. I set these programs up on my monitor so I can see them all at once.

Consider the following tools suggestions—everyone works differently, and you might find some other app that better fits the way you work. These tools are current to this writing:

Word processor

LibreOffice 6.0.1. Until recently, I used WPS, but font-rendering problems (Times New Roman was always in bold format) nixed it. The newest version of LibreOffice adapts to Microsoft Office very nicely, and the fact that it's open source ticks the box for me.

Thesaurus

Artha gives you synonyms, antonyms, derivatives, and more. It’s clean-looking and fast. Type the word "fast," for example, and you'll get the dictionary definition as well as the other options listed above. Artha is a huge gift to the open source community, and more people should try it as it seems to be one of those obscure little programs. If you’re using Linux, install this application now. You won’t regret it.

Note-taking

Zim touts itself as a desktop wiki, but it’s also the easiest multi-level note-taking app you’ll find anywhere. There are other, prettier note-taking programs available, but Zim is exactly what I need to manage my characters, locations, plots, and sub-plots.

Submission tracking

I once used a proprietary piece of software called FileMaker Pro, and it spoiled me. There are plenty of database applications out there, but in my opinion the easiest one to use is Glom. It suits my needs graphically, letting me enter information in a form rather than a table. In Glom, you create the form you need so you can see relevant information instantly (for me, digging through a spreadsheet table to find information is like dragging my eyeballs over shards of glass). Although Glom no longer appears to be in development, it remains relevant.

Research

I’ve begun using StartPage.com as my default search engine. Sure, Google can be one of your best friends when you're writing. But I don't like how Google tracks me every time I want to learn about a specific person/place/thing. So I use StartPage.com instead; it's fast and does not track your searches. I also use DuckDuckGo.com as an alternative to Google.

Other tools

Chromium Browser is an open source version of Google Chrome, with privacy plugins.

Though Thunderbird, from Mozilla, is a great program, I find Geary a much quicker and lighter email app. For more on open source email apps, read Jason Baker's excellent article, Top 6 open source desktop email clients.

As you might have noticed, my taste in apps tends to merge the best of Windows, MacOS, and the open source Linux alternatives mentioned here. I hope these suggestions help you discover helpful new ways to compose (thank you, Artha!) and track your written works.

Happy writing!

Tags
I am a Science Fiction author who likes to write articles about Tech for the Average User.

19 Comments

Hi @Victorhck. Yes, Focuswriter is a good tool as well. Unfortunately, the font is too small on a big monitor such as I'm using. Makes it hard for me to read. I can scale LibreOffice and WPS, and that makes it easier for me. However, I do like the program very much! Thank you for adding that to the list of options.

In reply to by Victorhck

In FocusWriter Settings menu, select Theme. If you haven't made a custom theme yet, select one of the default themes and click Duplicate. It will create an editable custom theme for you based on that. Then click Edit and change the font size to as big as you like. You can also choose a different font face and color, and background color or image. There are some nice user-created themes around online as well.

In reply to by Adam Worth

In the browser section, I would recommend Falkon (formerly known as Qupzilla). If you are not a web developer, its enough. I think is the best browser for normal use (multimedia, flash, html5, etc), and much lightier than chrome/chromium or firefox.

https://www.qupzilla.com/

As note-takin solution, I encourage you to try Basket, it has an HTML render engine, images support, and is very friendly... At first you might think is too much for a note-takin program, but it runs pretty smooth for me (I've years using it).

https://basket-notepads.github.io/

I'll take a look to Artha and startpage.com

Good article, cheers!

Hello, @David Colmenares. Thank you very much for your information and comments. I appreciate it very much. I'll look into Basket-Notebooks, but I can see what you mean by looking like a lot at first glance. I will look at Falkon as well. Thank you.

In reply to by David Colmenares

Great article! You've given us lots of new tools to explore.

Thank you, @Don Watkins. I appreciate your comment. I'm glad this might open new options for you.

Hi Adam,

Thanks for sharing those writing tools! I've been searching for just that kind of software. I'll check them out.

I already use LibreOffice, which has come a very long way. It's almost a perfect substitute for Word these day. I rarely have to use any MS tools and only do so sandboxed. Linux distros and FOSS are my "go-to's."

Glad you are using StartPage.com for search privacy. It's a great way to get Google results without all the tracking.

Liz

Hi @Liz. Thank you for the nice comment. I hope these tools can be of use for you. There are many different options available, so if these don't fit the bill you might try some of the other options listed in the article as well as those mentioned here in the comments. Have a great weekend!

In reply to by Liz McIntyre (not verified)

Hi @Robert Orzanna. Nice choices. I personally am not interested in Mark Down programs, but Ghostwriter looks very nice! I wasn't aware of Writefull, and I'm going to look into it soon. Thank you for the suggestions.

In reply to by Robert Orzanna

A good alternative is GNU emacs, it allows many things with your configuration ..
The learning curve is high but it's worth it. A link where you can see the features at the level of writers.
https://youtu.be/FtieBc3KptU

Wow! I didn't know emacs could do that. I'll look into that. I'm not much on outlining (weird, I know), but this definitely looks interesting. Thank you, @Diego.

In reply to by Diego

Thanks for your post ! Didn't knew about Artha, will be checking it once i send this message.

I'm highly dependant on hierarchical note-taking apps and been using ZimWiki for a good while ... until i found CherryTree ( https://www.giuspen.com/cherrytree/ ) . It's essentially the same as ZimWiki but with added functionality .

Somebody mentioned Baskets , but same as Glom ... it's not developed anymore and will drag old libraries & dependencies into your system .

Also on comments Writefull was mentioned ... and looks nice enough, although quite honestly, doesn't look like the type of app that would fit on a more privacy aware world i'm afraid .

Hi @Ashberian. CherryTree certainly does offer a lot!. I looked into Baskets and Writefull. Not exactly what I would use, but I can see how they could be of use. Thank you for reading, and I hope you like Artha.

In reply to by Ashberian (not verified)

I like the idea of using different pieces of software rather than a monolithic beast that's cumbersome. To that end, does anyone know of an application that allows ideas/thoughts to be captured as "cards", then arbitrarily rearranged? Something along the lines of a storyboard, but very simple and basically single-purpose. While I'm not yet an author, I have had many ideas spanning many, many years, but have never been successful at producing anything resembling a meaningful work (even by my own loose definition of "meaningful"). I'd like to try again, but just with capturing these little glimpses that I have: a train of thought, a conversation, a scene, etc. As I collect these, I want to be able to move them around to see how they might work in different arrangements. I have looked at Cherry Tree, and while it will technically work, I am put off by the hierarchy (for this purpose ... it will be very useful to me in other ways). I don't really want to spend too much effort getting something set up to do what I want, else I'll get squirreled and lose sight of the goal. Any ideas?

I'm not sure what kind of OS you are using. You might want to search for MindMapping tools, though. I think they're pretty close to what you are looking for. Scribner has a function like this, but it's a little cumbersome in my opinion. I'm not knocking Scribner; it's amazing software! XMind is one piece of software that might help you. ZIM might, as well. It's just set up a little differently than what you asked for.

HTH

Freeplane is great, powerful open-source mind mapping software that is cross-platform (Java). I pretty much live in Emacs now, but I used to use Freeplane (and, before that, the program from which it is forked, Freemind) very regularly.

In reply to by Adam Worth

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