One of the notable differences between mobile devices such as the iPad or iPhone and the Mac is that the latter is better for serious writing.
The iPad is decent, but you don’t want to write a novel on it. The iPhone? Well, it’s good for what it does—quick email, Tweets, Facebook updates—but it’s not a serious writing tool, is it? That leaves us with the Top 12 Mac word processors. 8 of them deserve our love.
The Written Word vs. Word Processing
My grandmother writes letters. No, she’s not a Mac or PC user. She’s very old school. Paper. Pen. Handwritten. Old school is the typewriter. In the 21st century, if you’re serious about writing, you use a serious tool on your Mac.
Where are the Mac word processors you can love?
Fortunately, the choices for digital writing tools are many and varied, ranging from Microsoft’s behemoth, Word, to Apple’s darling, Pages—and a few dozen in between.
The rules are simple. I’m looking for tools that do something special, and tools that have been updated recently.These are all word processors I’ve tried, and most of what I do every day is write, write, write.
And when I’m done, I write some more. If I were stuck on a deserted island with just WiFi and my Mac, and I wanted to write about the experience (not to mention an email to family and friends with my GPS coordinates), which word processors would I use, and which would I love?
The Top 12 Mac Word Processors
Yes, I’m cheating already. Only the Top 8 can be loved. Two of the Top 12 get disqualified because they’re by Microsoft and Apple.
#12 – Microsoft Word: Is there any writing machine with more features or more users? In that regard, Word is #1. It’s likely that more Mac users write with Word than all others combined. That doesn’t make it the word processor you’d allow to date your teenage daughter. Word is overly complex, bloated with features most of us never use, let alone even know what they are.
#11 – Apple’s iWork Pages: To be honest, I’m learning to really like Pages, but it’s still a platonic relationship. It’s friendly, easy, casual, not overly complicated, and doesn’t weigh me down when I write. But if I want more, Pages is nowhere to be found. I just can’t commit.
#10 – The Office Suites: These are the word processors that are buried in the various and sundry open source Microsoft Office wannabe suites. For example, NeoOffice and OpenOffice. If you want features, they got plenty. But you’ll need a night course at a community college to figure out how to use either. No love here.
#9 – The Specialty Creative Writing Tools: By default, a word processor is only as creative as the writer, but a few Mac apps fall into the special category of creative writing tools for novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, and anyone else with a Mac and a dream of striking it rich in TV Land or Hollywood.
Others on my creative list are sponge worthy, too. That includes Ulysses, which is a good project writer, and has the now ubiquitous full screen writing feature. Bookmarks. Notepads. All the search and replace tools. Export to all kinds of file formats. And a lot of customization is built in.
Final Draft is an old lover, wonderful for late night movie creation, plays, television series. Alas, we could never form a lasting bond. Final Draft is great for scripts and scenes but misses some of the Made for Writer’s Tools™ that I truly love. Ease of use. After all, if you can’t figure out how to use it, how much love can there be?
#8 – Bean: The whole idea of writing on a Mac is that the Mac frees us from the technical encumbrances which soak Windows. A Mac sets us free. Speaking of free, that’s Bean at #8. Free. Simple. Playful. Uncluttered. A barefoot blonde in a sundress strolling along the beach.
Features? We don’t need no stinkin’ features.
We’re writers riding the wind of ideas, visiting the stars of imagination, and keeping it simple. That’s Bean. No footnotes. No stylesheets. Just a place to write without distractions.
Most Mac users dip into Safari or Firefox as the browser of choice. Many of us use Microsoft Word, because it’s the mountain that’s there, whether we want to climb it or not. Most of the rest on my list are loves that have been around awhile, but with a few surprises.
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#7 – Pagehand: Everyone has a first love. Mine was WriteNow on a Mac. Pagehand is a quirky little word processor that deserves a look in the age of PDFs. That’s what it does. PDFs.
All the basic word processor functions are there, including headers and footers, word count, spell checking, document styles, auto save, columns, margins, tables, guides, page breaks, and a bunch of typography tools—but no footnotes, none of the familiar file formats that most Mac word processors use. If PDF is a four letter word, you won’t care much for Pagehand. If PDF is your life, you’ll like what you see.
#6 – NisusWriter Express: Express and Pro are kissing cousins. Both are popular and loved by their respective users. Express has fewer features, costs less, and combines a few layout functions.
Tops on the list will be compatibility with just about everything.
RTF is native, but Express also reads .doc from Microsoft Word, even Word Perfect documents. Even better, Express is loaded with multilingual users in mind (or, a monolingual user if all you can handle is one language that Express also handles).
There’s image wrap, small caps support, a nice and fast Find and Replace engine, even Glossaries. Surprisingly, Express isn’t inexpensive, which makes kissing cousin or big brother Pro a surprise.
#5 – NisusWriter Pro: Think of Pro as Express but with more features, especially for more accomplished writers. Footnotes, glossaries, line numbering, widow and orphan control, a table of contents function, cross references, even a built-in Macro language to help you with boilerplate functions.
The NisusWriter folks have been doing word processing on the Mac for many years and maintain a strong following in academia, thanks to a broad array of languages, including Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese—even going right to left with Arabic, Hebrew and Persian, with support for Indian scripts.
#4 – Mariner Write: Speaking of old lovers, Mariner Write might be the Jane Fonda of Mac word processors. It’s not too heavy, aging well, plenty of experience, and a little wild, even as maturity sets in.
Mariner Write appears younger than it is. The toolbar is more Fisher-Price than professional, but it’s at once recognizable (like Jane Fonda). There’s grammar checking and a thesaurus. Collaborate with other writers, edit comments and annotations, insert images.
One of the noted features of word processors that have been around for a few years is the toolbar—customizing it is great, and there’s plenty of options to choose from. But get a bigger screen.
#3 – StoryMill: If you have a story to tell, you won’t go wrong with Final Draft or Ulysses, but they’re not lovers, they’re former flames. Mariner’s StoryMill is a delight for any Mac user dreaming of a career in writing.
If all I did was write creatively, StoryMill would be my main squeeze. What’s not to like? It looks like a Mac app, feels like a Mac app, and comes with features to track characters and scenes and even has a time line. This is the way creative writing was meant to be.
#2 – Mellel: Serious writers are serious about their writing tools, hence, many writers prefer Macs to Windows PCs. Many prefer Mellel as it bridges the gap between creative writing with bells and whistles for writers, and serious technical writers who requires similar chrome.
Other than extreme complexity, what’s not to like? Mellel comes with templates to help you overcome the more complicated set up processes. Ditto for style sets, hyphenation dictionaries, and fonts. You’ll see the main issue with Mellel with a visit to their web site. Tutorials, tips, a forum (other users trying to figure out what you haven’t figured out yet), a newsletter, a guide.
Other than ease of use, I don’t know of Mac word processor that does more. If you think a word processor should do this or that, chances are good that Mellel does.
#1 – Scrivener: I live somewhere between brains, brawn, and beauty. Being a six foot blonde with an attitude does that to a girl. Of all the writing tools I’ve used through the years, the one that I’ve come to trust for a long term relationship is Scrivener.
Hey, any software company that calls itself Literature and Latte deserves more than an admiring look from a writer.
Scrivener may well be the best true writer’s tool because it is so accessible, warm, inviting, friendly, at once intimate, yet capable, not clingy, graceful as a ballerina, flexible as a gymnast.
It combines typical word processing tools to sling words all over, but combines those basic functions with simple project management tools. It’s good for novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, as well as teachers, students, journalists, lawyers, and any writer who needs to keep track of details beyond the creative.
Think of Scrivener as a tool that writes what you want and stores all your notes and research. The Corkboard is to die for, a bewitching blue-eyed smile, that is instantly usable. Also built-in is an outliner for organizing complex projects. Yet, for all the capability, Scrivener goes full screen, non-destraction with a click. When you’re done, export your masterpiece as plain text, HTML or other formats.
What got me started on Scrivener was the ability to import Final Draft projects. What keeps me using it is that all those functions flow together so the total is greater than the sum of the parts. If Pages leaves you itching for more, try Scrivener. If Pages seems too complex, then try something simple like WriteRoom instead.