Looking at Different Writing Tools for Macs

I started by trying to talk about how I write, more specifically the workflow that I use, but that turned out to be rather pedestrian and boring. Then I thought I would write a review of the software that I use, specifically Ulysses, that too seemed boring. Then it dawned on me that I have tried just about every writing tool out there 1, so why not give people my thoughts on these pieces of software. The only problem is that I have tried so many I can’t remember them all, so here are my thoughts on the ones that I do remember. 2

  • TextEdit: Apple’s built in text editor and word processing machine, the cheapest and easiest way to work with .txt files on the Mac. I don’t hate it, but I am also not among those who love it.
  • WriteRoom: A fullscreen text file editor from Hog Bay Software, there was about a year period where I only wrote stuff using WriteRoom and couldn’t bring myself to use anything else. I still love this program, sadly it has given way to some better options. 3
  • Smultron: A free open source text editor with a stupid looking icon. I used this for a while because I needed something to better highlight code, it has since fallen by the wayside, and I never quite liked it, Smultron always felt a bit off for some reason. Unfortunately the project looks to be dead now.
  • MacJournal: Made by Mariner Software I always wanted to like this program, but it never stuck and I could never quite pin down why. The whole program just feels a bit off to me.
  • BBEdit: A Bare Bones piece of software that they claim: “It doesn’t suck.®” That tagline I must admit was the reason I started using the program, I always found it to be good, but I never quite found it to fit my needs, plus the icon does suck and it is blue. 4
  • TextMate: Stumbled upon Textmate while looking for something to replace Smultron and the whole thing just stuck with me. I was just starting to write in Markdown and found out that it could convert Markdown to HTML, and from there it all started. TextMate is like TextEdit Pro and do I ever love me some ‘Pro’ versions.
  • Ulysses: I found out about this great writing program from a Gruber sponsorship post. I wanted to write a novel at the time, I have sense given up, now I use Ulysses for writing just about every long form blog post I do (split with TextMate for shorter posts) and I love it. I especially love that I can manage all the posts in one database and have fullscreen with notes. A great program, there is also a cheaper ‘Core’ version for bloggers, I of course have the ‘Pro’ version because I apparently like to waste money. 5
  • OmmWriter: Most days I think that I am one of the only people out there that finds OmmWriter more distracting than MS Word, I just never got why anyone would need a picture background and music with typewriter clicky sounds in order to write.
  • Microsoft Word: Honestly you couldn’t pay me enough to write in this wretched piece of crap.
  • Apple Pages: Slightly better than Word, but really not a ‘writing app’ so much as it is create ‘lost dog flyers’ type of an app. There are a lot of people that love it, and I use it all the time, mostly though for doing quick page layout operations and pasting in text written in other apps. 6
  • Adobe InDesign: Is not a writing app…that said you can pry this app from my cold dead hands. I love InDesign and if you want to make documents look really good this is the tool you need, that said, don’t write in it just copy and paste.
  • Scrivener: I must admit that I only tried Scrivener for about two days before deleting it. I think that if I wast a playwright, novelist, or screenwriter it would be excellent. I am, sadly, none of those.
  • Notational Velocity – A text file note taking app seems like the perfect writing client, no? No not really, Notational is best left to do what it does best – take notes.
  • MarsEdit: I love MarsEdit, but it is a blogging app, not a writing app. I copy and paste into it, the only words that are directly written in MarsEdit are those short quips I make on linked posts, nothing else. Though I do highly recommend it for publishing to blogs.
  • TextWrangler: I have to admit that I never wanted to install this program based solely on its terrible icon – I am a huge icon snob it appears. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, nor do I have anything good to say about it. Still a TextMate fan.

I know there are a lot of programs that have been left out, if your favorite is missing please email me, or just accept my apology. I have probably tried it, but forgot about it completely.

Be sure to check out the updated list of reader suggestions that I missed.

  1. I am too poor to try all the iOS writing apps, so I am limiting myself to Mac apps.
  2. Please email me if I left out one you were wondering about, I probably have tried it at some point.
  3. Better for me.
  4. Really with the blue icons people?
  5. My wife confirms this.
  6. We have our company letterhead setup as a Pages template.
Originally posted for members on: November 12, 2010
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