Best apps and accessories for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) takes place every November. Writers sign up with a promise to attempt to, well ... write a novel in one month. The goal is to write 50,000 in 30 days, which is just under 1,700 words-per-day, on average. There are approximately 2.8 million writers signed up with NaNoWriMo this year. With that amount of writing, you need tools to help get you through the month.

What is NaNoWriMo

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National Novel Writing Month is a non-profit organization that works to bring awareness about the importance of writing. When you join, all you are agreeing to is an attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. You don't have to finish your book. It doesn't have to be good at all. In fact, it should be pretty bad because this is just your first draft.

As you write, you submit your daily word count to your own, private dashboard. This helps you keep track of how far you've gone and how much you will have to write every day in order to keep up with your goal. You can chat with NaNoWriMo community members and get motivation from others. It isn't too late to sign up. If you are inspired, you'll be surprised at how fast the words come.

Writing apps for the Mac


Scrivener is the professional's writing tool. It is bursting at the seams with features, including really nice brainstorming and researching tools. You can add virtual index cards to a cork board to help you navigate your first draft. There is a section where you can keep research documents close at hand for quick access. It comes with half-a-dozen templates for different types of documents, including screenplays, novels, short stories, scripts, and more. It has everything a writer needs to prepare for the month-long journey into writing the best first-draft of a novel.

You can download a trial of Scrivener for Mac that lasts 30 days. That's 30 days of actual use. If you only use it two days per month, it'll last you more than a year. After your 30-days are up, you can purchase the license and all of your data will be saved.

$45 - Download now


Ulysses is a fantastic app for daily writers of all kinds. It has lots of useful tools for getting organized, starting new projects, and keeping track of your writing goals. You can work within the full app or quiet the world around you and keep your mind focused on the novel at hand. You can also change themes with a variety of colors and backgrounds if you're the type of artist that likes mixing up your inspiration a little. You can export files as PDFs, Word documents, HTML code, and even eBooks so you can publish your book digitally the day you're done with it.

Ulysses switched from a paid app to a free app with a subscription model in 2017. You can select fro a variety of subscription options ranging from $4.99 for one month to $29.99 per year.

iA Writer

iA Writer, another official sponsor of NaNoWriMo, is a clean, simple text editor that helps you stay focused by completely hiding the tools from view while you work. It is like typing with a typewriter. In fact, there is actually a "typewriter mode." It supports Markdown and shows you a live preview while you work. The intention of iA Writer is to be uncluttered with tools, but there are plenty of them anyway. Full screen mode completely immerses you in your work so you aren't able to distract yourself with outside influences. Typewriter mode scrolls along as you write, so that your current sentence is at the center of our attention. Focus mode hides what you've written so far, with everything but your current sentence dimmed out. You can check how many words and characters you've written, and see how long you've been working with the status tool, and Night Mode is easy on the eyes if you're working in the dark. If you tend to get off track easily, iA Writer is a low-cost writing app to take you where you need to go.

Writing apps for iPhone and iPad


If you're using Scrivener on the Mac, then surely you'll want to continue your novel while writing while on the go. With the iOS version, you can sync your progress in iCloud and access it from the Files app on your iPhone or iPad. Just like it's desktop counterpart, with Scrivener, you can brainstorm, research, create a virtual index, and more. Everything you need to prepare to write your first draft can be stored and easily accessed in this well-organized app. Even if you don't own Scrivener on Mac, it's a fantastic writing app for iPhone and iPad that really makes you feel like you're getting through your 50K words.

Scrivio Pro

Scrivio Pro was specifically designed to work with Scrivener projects. It has many similar tools and allows you to import content via Dropbox or iCloud. It also features an extra row of keys on the virtual keyboard so you can quickly access formatting styles and punctuations. There is a cursor on the keyboard, which lets you move around on the text without having to tap the screen. It also keeps track of your writing stats like word and character counts, as wells as line counts, average words per sentence, and reading time.

If you like using Scrivener on Mac, but can't justify the iOS price, this is a solid alternative that looks and feels similar.

iA Writer

Just like iA Writer for the Mac, the mobile version facilitates a clean, focused way of writing. You can pull up full-screen mode, scroll with typewriter mode, or dim everything but the current sentence in focus mode. It features basic stat tracking, like word counts, and comes with a handy syntax tracker so you can keep an eye on how well you are structuring your sentances. It is also very handy for writers that work in Markdown, which you should not be doing while writing your novel, but can do when dealing with your other writings. If you use iA Writer on the Mac, this is the companion app you need to keep you writing, even when you are on the go.

$4.99 - Download now

Rough Draft

If you find yourself going back over your work, again and again, fixing little mistakes or rewriting sentences, you'll never make it though November with a finished novel. Rough Draft helps train you to stop fixing mistakes and just write. Instead of deleting, the app strikes through words and sentences so you don't spend too much time tweaking your thoughts. You can add tags to spots on the page as a reminder to add pictures or other content later. You can create and add sticky notes to your work to help you brainstorm your ideas. If you want to get your thoughts out and don't want to be tempted to perfect each word, use Rough Draft to get you writing, fast. It's free to download, but will cost $24.99 to unlock the "clean" draft export tool.


In addition to the perfect writing app, you need the perfect writing tools. If you don't feel comfortable with your writing spot, you'll never be willing to sit down for hours at a time, every day, for 30 days. So, make sure you have the right keyboard before it's too late.

How do you win at NaNoWriMo?

Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? Have you ever made it to 50,000 words? How to you stay focused and write every day? Share your tips with us!

Updated October 2017: Updated the best novel writing apps for Mac, iPhone, and iPad for 2017.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).