Writing your novel as a Word document might be simple, but it comes with a lot of risks. The file could be lost. Your computer could get smashed on by a visiting elephant. Or you could find yourself stuck for eight hours in an airport without access to your computer, wanting to write but not having any way to store it except to email it to yourself–which is awkward and clunky.
Enter the cloud. Every time I look it seems that several new cloud writing services are out there for every need possible. Evernote is one popular way of storing information on all your devices and online, but isn’t an optimal writing experience. Sites like Writer provide excellent writing immersion, but can be difficult to navigate to. Two sites that have consistently big buzz about their services for novelists are Yarny and Litlift. I’ve been using Yarny for years, and it was one of the first tools that came to mind for my resources page when planning this site. LitLift is much newer and seemed to be a more modern alternative that offers services even as broad as brainstorming and even selling your novel on the site.
Recently I decided to give LitLift a try with a short story I was writing. How did it compare? Let’s take a look.
Organization: Yarny keeps everything to the side. As you type, it fades away so you can be alone with your words. Jiggle the mouse and you can check your word count (for both chapter and whole book), outlines, and research notes. LitLift keeps everything on a different page. It was really hard to learn where I was keeping my information and to know where to put notes on the plot, as there were several options.
Yarny’s layout intro. What you see is what you get!
Features: Yarny prides itself in being simple. It has chapters that you can re-organize with drag-and-drop. It has a word-count meter and places for notes on characters, places and things. What you see is what you get. On the other hand, LitLift aims to be a one-stop shop for your novel. It offers separate pages for brainstorming, generators for images, characters and other things… though frankly, I can’t describe them because the layout is so difficult that I gave up figuring it out after a while. It also has obscure note-taking pages that are very hard to find and a surprisingly simple publishing platform.
LitLift’s layout. Better colors, but not intuitive!
The Writing Experience: The most important part of any writing app is the writing experience. I think this should be obvious. Writers write. When I look for a place to write online, I expect at least a decent writing experience beyond a simple text editor. Yarny keeps things fluid and simple, fading the background as you write so that you don’t have any distractions and can fully immerse yourself. An upgraded account also offers multiple fonts and an exclusive nighttime mode, and sound effects if you want extra quirkiness. LitLift? A text editor. Frustrating, hard to personalize and pretty ugly. Actually, when I tried to write that story on Litlift I soon decided to do the actual writing on other online applications and then copying and pasting to the LitLift window. That’s how bad it was. And if I didn’t, I would still have to copy and paste my LitLift notes onto other applications to get the word count–because if it offers a word count track, it wasn’t obvious to me and I couldn’t find any.
LitLift loses the showdown right there. It is worth noting that the customer service for LitLift is much better than for Yarny, which has been all but abandoned since 2012. Also, more alternatives are popping up all the time. I’m currently beta testing a new application called Novlr, which has been very promising despite a few bugs. But I’m not planning to return to LitLift unless some massive changes are made. The writing experience is an important part of the process to me and many other writers, and a clear layout is vital if you want me to enjoy your features. For now, I believe Yarny is the best bet.
Know of other awesome writing applications that I left out? Have horror stories? Please share in the comments section. I look forward to hearing from you!