Best Book Writing Software: The 6 Documents You Always Need Open as a Writer

by Kellie McGann | 19 comments

If you've been around The Write Practice long, you'll have noticed we've recently talked a lot about which book writing software you should use. While I'm a strong believer in “use whatever works for you,” I'm also a strong believer in Scrivener.

Best Book Writing Software: The 6 Documents You Always Need Open As a Writer

So today, instead of giving you more reasons why I think you should use Scrivener (because there have already been plenty…) I'm going to tell you which tabs/notes you'll want to create and have open while you're writing.

Side note, if you don't use Scrivener, you'll want to have these as separate documents or pages on Word or Google Docs or Evernote (or whichever book writing software you use).

And if you're not sure what book writing software to use, or you're looking for more great tools to help you write better and faster, check out this list of our Top 10 Pieces of Software for Writers.

6 Essential Documents for Writers

Here are the six tabs, documents, or pages you'll need open all the time if you want to really get your writing done.

1. To Do List

I LOVE lists. It's most likely because I'm a goal-oriented human and love being able to check things off as finished.

This works incredibly well for my writing as well. I have certain projects that I want to make headway on and I give myself specific, measurable goals to cross off.

For creative writing, I try to stick with time limits instead of word counts since the writing is so unpredictable. For projects and nonfiction, I break them up into sections and work on each part specifically. Here's an example from my To Do List today:

2. Distraction Bucket

I wasn't the originator of the “bucket method,” but I've adapted it for writing and it has been a lifesaver.

Here's the problem: We're all writers, but we are also all humans. That means that while we've committed time and energy to writing, life can often get in the way. Before I used the “bucket” I would gaze out the window and think of all the important things in my life that weren't writing.

The “bucket method” is almost exactly what is sounds like. It's a note in your project labeled “BUCKET” that you dump all your important but not relevant thoughts into. These aren't necessarily action items that go into a to-do list but rather things that keep distracting you from your writing.

A few recent examples for me:

  • Money
  • Friendships and Relationships
  • Spirituality

With each item you put into your bucket, also write a few sentences to go along with it that will help you temporarily let go of the thought so you can focus on your writing.

3. Words to Use

Writers love words. I love words. I hope you love words, too.

In the event that you love words, I propose that you need an entire note devoted to good words. These are words you might want to include in future writing or words that you like to use often in your everyday writing. It's a simple list that you can pull up when you're stuck or looking for inspiration. They don't need to make sense or be in any particular order.

Here are a few of mine:

4. Darlings

You've heard this famous writing advice from Stephen King and William Faulkner and retold in thousands of other places (including here).

When you kill your darlings, aka those sentences you love that get in the way, you don't have to delete them forever. You just need a place to put them.

5. Musings

Musings is one of my favorite notes to have open. The writing you put in here can be anything; the only requirement is that it's dreamy. When you're staring off into space, because all writers do, you'll see the glint in the window and the ray of sun poking through the dusty shade and you'll have to write about it. These are what I call musings.

Keep a page open to write your dreamy, deep pieces that might help get your creative juices flowing again.

6. The Piece You're Actually Writing

Oh, how could we almost forget this one? You're sitting down to write something specific most days. A short story? A novel? A series of poems?

Well, have this open too. Or you won't really get anything done. We wouldn't want that.

Writer, Write

You might have noticed a theme here: all these documents are meant to remove distractions and preserve inspiration so you can write. If you find one of these documents is getting in your way, get rid of it! Or if you need a place to record something not mentioned on this list, create it.

It's your workspace, your thoughts, your book writing software, your imagination. Organize it in the way that works for you.

And if you do nothing else, do this one thing:

Writer, write!

What pages or notes do you keep open while writing? Which of these are you going to try? Let us know in the comments.


Today, spend the first fifteen minutes of your writing time creating and organizing pages or notes like these to remove distractions and set yourself up for success. When you're done, share your favorite notes. I'm especially looking forward to seeing what you have on your “words” note.

In the comments below, share your words, darlings, musings, to-do's, distractions, or even the actual piece you're working on. And don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers—let's all inspire each other!

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Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book. She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.


  1. Anne Botsford

    Thanks for the ideas about organizing for writing. Your list of “things to keep open” includes what I do, but I put them in different places:

    -my to do list on my calendar, which I sit down with first each day. It incldes four hours of writing each day.

    -My journal is my distraction bucket, which comes after the to do list.

    -My computer is where I dump my darlings and musings from notes, scraps of paper, napkins, etc

    -My current writing project is on my computer for the first draft. After that, I copy it to Scrivener and work there.

    -To the right of the computer is a notepad labelled “words.” In this notepad, I write words and definitions of words I don’t know. I get many of these from Virtual Thesarus, which gives me a word a day with spelling and pronunciation. I also use Virtual Thesarus to look up synonyms. Highly recommended! Periodically, I review this notebook for ideas.

    Your list makes more sense because it sounds like everything is in one place and that’s organization. Still, I’m sticking with my less organized, less efficient way of doing things because it’s habit now and best of all, it works!

    • Kellie McGann

      Hey Anne! So awesome that you’ve already started implementing these things. They’re SO helpful. I have found it helpful to have it all in one place! But I love even more that you know what works for you and are doing it!

    • Sefton

      I’d forgotten about Virtual Thesaurus! It used to be a favourite thing. I’ll have to check it out, thanks Anne.

  2. collie

    Every time I cut a significant piece I have written, kill my darling, then I save the work as a new draft. I work on the new draft. I try not to distract myself with other writing other than the project I am on. Otherwise I would never finish it. When I find I have written chunks of back story, that is saved in a separate file with the name of the character concerned. 🙂

    • Kellie McGann

      Collie, thanks for reading! I really like your idea about separating the darlings with the specific character. Smart! I might have to try that!

  3. EndlessExposition

    This is the most helpful article on organization I’ve ever found, so thank you for that. One of my biggest problems with my current WIP is that I want to write multiple stories with these characters. Sometimes scenes from other story ideas that aren’t the one I’m currently writing will pop up in my head and they rattle around in there until I write them down. A distraction bucket is perfect place for those scenes, so thank you for the suggestion! Here’s one of them. It’s unedited and unfinished, but reviews are always appreciated!

    It was easy enough to find Gonzalez’ car in the parking lot. As Alicia approached, she could see his silhouette through the rearview window. He was holding his head in his hands. Alicia stopped in her tracks, suddenly uncertain if this was indeed the best course of action. She was not, after all, Gonzalez’ favorite person. At a sensitive moment like this her face may very well be even less welcome than usual. She had almost made up her mind to turn around and go back inside when she heard Alex’s voice, as if the pathologist were speaking in her ear. All you have to do is hold out your hand, and let the other person make their decision. Damn her good sense. With a resigned sigh, Alicia walked to the driver’s side door of Gonzalez’ car and knocked on the window.

    Gonzalez’ head shot up. Upon seeing her he hastily wiped tear tracks from his cheeks and rolled the window down. “Let me guess, West wants to see me?”

    “No. No, nothing like that. I uh–” Alicia held up the two Styrofoam cups. “I brought you coffee. Cream, one sugar, no?”

    Gonzalez blinked. His eyes rapidly flicked over her face, looking for the catch. Unable to discern one, he nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.”

    “You’re welcome.” Alicia handed him his cup. Silence descended as they both sipped their respective coffees. Alicia cleared her throat. “Mind if I join you?”

    Gonzalez’ expression was still wary, but he nodded again. “Door’s unlocked.”

    Alicia walked around the hood of the car and slid into the passenger’s side. They didn’t look at each other, just stared out the windshield at the trees. The only sound was Alicia’s fingers nervously tapping against her cup. She hadn’t actually planned what she was going to say when she came out here. There had just been a series of loosely related thoughts that seemed relevant at the time. “My mother got pregnant with me during her senior year of college.” In her peripheral vision she saw Gonzalez turn his head to look at her, but he didn’t say anything. She took that as a cue to continue.

    “My grandparents wanted her to finish her education. After I was born they took me in so Ma could go to medical school. My grandmother was a nurse, and she loved her job more than anything. But she retired so she could stay home and look after me. We did everything together those first few years of my life, and I love her like a second mother.” She finally looked at Gonzalez. His expression was inscrutable. “I don’t know the particulars of your relationship with your grandmother, and I won’t pry. But, I know if it were me in your position I’d be a mess as well and it would be me getting a dressing down from Cannavale. Except it wasn’t me, it was you, and – look, the point I’m trying to make is, you’re a good detective who’s having a bad week, none of this is your fault, and Cannavale is a bastard.”

    Gonzalez chuckled. “Man, the day that prick retires dinner’s on me for the whole damn division.” He gave Alicia a grudging half smile. “Thanks for the kind words.”

    Alicia shrugged. “It’s no trouble. If you wanted to talk about things…”

    Gonzalez sighed. “There’s not much to talk about. She’s sick, you know, she’s at that time of life. It’s my mom I’m worried about. Abuela’s a tough old girl, she – she’s ready. But Mom’s been working from home ever since Abuela moved in with her and Dad, and she’s gonna be real lonely when… Dad keeps taking extra shifts, not coming home till late. It’s his way of dealing.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Yeah, well. That’s family for you.”

    “Can’t live with them, parricide is illegal.”

    Gonzalez did a double take. “Did you just make a joke?”

    “It’s been known to happen. In all seriousness though – I know we’re not close but if there’s anything I can do, just let me know.”

    “Thanks. What did you come out here for anyway?”

    “Alex has been impressing upon me the importance of interpersonal relationships in the workplace.”

    Gonzalez leaned in conspiratorially. “Hey, as long as we’re having this little heart-to-heart, level with me – she your girlfriend?”

    Alicia took a long sip of coffee while she formulated her answer. “Alex prefers not to discuss the nature of our relationship with others at this stage.”

    “She not out yet?”

    “In a manner of speaking, yes.”

    Gonzalez sat back, nodding. “That’s cool, that’s cool. I respect that.”

  4. Joslyn Chase

    Hi Kellie, thanks for sharing these ideas. I feel like implementing them will help me a lot and it’s a pretty simple way to deal with all those distractions. Much appreciated.

    • Kellie McGann

      Hey Joslyn, it’s been super helpful for me and my process! If you try them let me know how it goes!

  5. VanZoso

    I <3 Words.

    • Kellie McGann

      John. So glad you love words.

  6. Sefton

    Great article! I use physical paper notes for musings and bucket/distraction writing. My darlings live in files marked Jack Edited OUT! which I expect I’ll keep til I need a ready-made scene, say, of two men bickering over a fried egg.

    Until this month I didn”t keep notes of interesting words. I started a collection as part of a PaperWeek challenge, and will see how it goes -again, physical notes, not in screen.

    My writing to do list is on a tear off weekly planner.

    I guess from this I sound like some Luddite, but in fact it’s a reaction to how much time I was spending in front of a screen. I’m weaning myself off screen based writing for ‘free writing’ – the warm ups and idle wonderings that are often where fresh ideas emerge.

    I use Evernote for almost all composition, so I have these various tags – edited out, etc – in note titles, along with key words to help me quickly identify each piece by project and scene.

    I guess I do all this without having considered it – so this post has made me think about consciously organising my writing supports. Thanks!

  7. Mary Wockenfuss

    This is a wonderful help! Thanks! I will definitely start using these pages when I open Scrivener today.

  8. Electra

    I started “writing” B.C.—before computers; my “bucket tabs” were index cards. One essential card was/is the “names I’ve used” (including where and when). This has saved me considerable grief, because I have a terrible tendency to choose the same names, or ones nearly the same.

  9. Nicole

    Thank you for such helpful article! Another cool thing is using idioms nobody knows 🙂 Or even creating some neologism as well. For me, being a creative copywriter or blogger is always about forgetting and never about time management. However, the experience shows that nor professional writer nor student can do all the task on schedule. For the second I’d recommend use for example for giving a job to the first one 🙂 And both sides are satisfied with the qualitative result.

  10. Kalqlating

    I love Scrivener – but not so much for my math projects (for fiction – I would be lost without it).

    So for work:
    I have discovered that OneNote is now available for mac!

    For my work projects (math curriculum mostly), I use One Note since it has equation editor built in and most of the actual writing is in an html editor in our LMS – copy and pasted does not work well with math symbols, etc.). Two BIG things: equation editor and drawings right on a page. I haven’t even tried the audio notes….)

    (I can also use it to create screencast type videos for projects.)

    One thing that Scrivener does NOT do well is superscripts!

    For actual writing, researcher, etc. writing (fiction, etc. with no math!):

    Scrivener all the way! I have folders in the binder for musings, archived stuff, research and other jottings, as well as the actual project (novel/short story, etc.) that I am currently working on.

    (And One Note for sketches and audio recordings in the future.)

    • RAW

      Dear Kal-Q-Late,

      Thanks for turning me on to One Note for the Math formulas. I didn’t know it could do that! But if One Note does not copy and paste the equations, how do you get them into a larger document written with Scrivener or Word?

      Can you point me to some of your published work? I am a retired engineer and love Science. Sometimes I have a need to enter formulas or equations into my blog, and I would like to be able to do it better.


      R. Allan Worrell

    • njh

      Hi, Allan
      This has been an ongoing search for a relatively painless method!

      There are several ways to put the equations into your work. A lot depends on what types of math you need to type and more so on where you plan to publish it. (e.g. a document as opposed to a webpage.)

      Note that most of my current work is for an educational program and is published only within our secure LMS.

      We will normally format the math in One Note, then take a screenshot and insert as an inline image. I use a mac and so this is pretty simple.

      The screenshot is a .png file, which is easy to resize to match your font size.

      If you are on a PC, something like Jing or Snagit will allow you to take a shot of a small portion of your screen. Make it as tight as possible. If it doesn’t line up just right, you can try adding space above or below the math (depending on how you want to move it). This part is mostly trial and error and try again. 🙂

      Another, slightly more cumbersome but a bit more flexible method is to use an online latex editor. I used this one until we started using One Note.

      The provide you with an embed code – if you have access to html for a blog, etc. More often, I would adjust the font, size, resolution and download as a .png transparent file.

      The main advantage of One Note is that you can type the equation/formula/expression as you would normally and it will format it for you. Hope this helps a bit.

  11. Aui V.

    This is very timely. Just what I needed today. Thank you for sharing this one 🙂


    Your advises are smart, constructive and useful, and i think this will help me. Noticeably, that you are not a beginner – you lived it. What about me, so now I’m trying to learn to improve my writings skills. I’m writing a novel about some kind of perfect world. In this world no place for war, hate, deaths, anarchy etc. is another source where you get much easier idea about writing.



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