I wrote my first book, The Heirs of History: A Nation From Nothing, on Google Docs. The book clocked in around 111,000 words. Writing it on Docs was a mistake.
TLDR: Google Docs is not a good book writing software. It is excellent for short-form content like blogging and collaborative projects like corporate documents. But Google Docs struggles to handle documents of more than 15k-25k words.
My Personal Experience Writing a Novel on Google Docs
My personal experience seems to be common — that Google Docs experiences major latency problems at high word counts.
However, it is difficult to find much about these problems on forums or articles across the web. Mentions of these problems exist, but not many. (Maybe that’s because I’m searching on Google, haha!)
I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to make a fuss, so I gnash my teeth and hold my tongue. I endured the…:
…endless waiting it took to simply scroll through my document.
…five seconds of frustration it took to insert a new paragraph break.
…frequent moments when the cursor didn’t line up with where I was typing on any lines that contained more than one “F” — I’m not kidding!
I just had to sip my coffee (or a stronger drink) and try to ignore how frustrating Google Docs was being.
I thought these problems with Google Docs were only my problems. My desktop computer from which I was writing had to be six years old at that point. But I didn’t think anything of it when I got a brand new Mac laptop for Christmas, and the Google Docs problems just got worse — along with the pit in my stomach.
More evidence it wasn’t just me: Months after the fact, I had multiple beta readers tell me they didn’t read my manuscript because the sheer size of the document made Google Docs laggy and therefore frustrating to simply navigate.
Why isn’t Google Docs good for novel writing?
With large-word count documents, Google Docs is not good for novel writing because:
Entering paragraph breaks lags
“Finding” lags (CTRL+F or CMND+F)
Clicking different parts of your book in the outline is laggy
The cursor is misaligned on lines that contain multiple F’s
Refreshing does help for a couple minutes, but refreshing also takes a very long time
Editing a large block of text take a long time (like adjusting the font size for the whole document)
Forget formatting your book while still in Google Docs. With a document that size, it takes forever just to adjust the orientation from portrait to landscape.
Google Docs Alternatives
Yes, Google Docs is free, which is great. That’s why I used it to write a book and a half.
However, if you’re writing a full-length novel (40k+ words), you will be miserable using Google Docs.
Here are some great alternatives to Google Docs:
Scrivener (what I switched to)
Microsoft Word (great if it’s already on your computer)
When I purchased Scrivener for a one-time fee (none of those monthly payments), I felt like I was treating myself simply because Scrivener never lags when I type. You know, typing — the very basis of a writer’s career.
Thanks for reading my ramblings as I impossibly try to get this critical information into the Google search results, despite Google’s inevitable meddling. One day, I hope to stop seeing Google Docs listed on every “Best Book Writing Software” list.
About the Guest Author: T. Josiah Haynes
T. Josiah Haynes (most call me TJ) is an author just getting started in the self-publishing game, ready to upgrade to traditional publishing any day now. He’s written and directed multiple plays and musicals in the Nashville theatre scene. He works for a Nashville-based startup called Clara.