The apps we use to write are among the most personal of all Mac apps.
From the free, simple, and built-in TextEdit, to complex research project apps like Scrivener, to behemoth word processors like Microsoft Word, to the simple dictionary or thesaurus, Mac users carry an ongoing love affair with their writing tools. We like what we like. Trying something new is painful, but may be worthwhile with some effort. Here’s our list of the Top 20 Mac Writer’s Tools.
Many Tools, 3 Basic Categories
Digging through the many dozens of word processors, dictionaries, spell checkers, research and project management apps presented a certain challenge. I’ve been a writer for over 20 years so I’m familiar with most Mac writer’s tools.
The best I could do was to break the many apps into three basic categories.
The first is standard word processors, the ones we know and love. I left these off my list—TextEdit (the one in Mac OS X), Apple’s Pages (familiar to many), and Microsoft Word (arguably the most widely used).
The second category is those add-on tools which would include any application that can be added to the basic writing app to to enhance or improve writing—dictionary, spell checker, bibliography app, thesaurus, and so on.
Finally, there are a few Mac apps that go beyond mere writing but include project management features and functions in addition to word processor and add-on app functions.
The Top 20 Best Mac Writer’s Tools
I started Mac360’s Writer’s Tools Week with a look at a popular general word processor and some specialized tools for specific writing requirements from Mariner.
#20 – Montage: Not every writing project involves a screenplay. But that’s what Montage does. It takes a story and moves it into the rigid, highly structured world of screenwriting. Your story becomes a script, ready for TV, film, theatre, musical, even a comic book.
#19 – StoryMill: Writing is one thing, managing the complexities of a story can be an entirely different effort. StoryMill lets you manage the elements—characters, locations, details, timeline—all the features to keep your story on track, accurate, and well ordered.
#18 – Contour: Screenwriters have special requirements to focus only on essentials. A 700 page best-selling novel isn’t easily reduced to a 90-minute television show. Contour focuses on the basics. Who is the main character? What are they trying to accomplish? Is is trying to stop them? What happens if they fail?
#17 – MarinerWrite: Rounding out the Mariner suite of writer’s tools is the popular Mariner Write. It’s a general purpose word processor that fits well with Mariner Calc, making the two a comfortable alternative to Microsoft Word and Excel.
#16 – Ulysses: Not high on my list of Mac apps is Ulysses, a throwback to document editors of the 20th century. It’s not WYSIWYG. It’s not pretty. It’s difficult to learn and master. It’s much more of a publisher’s app than a word processor. Powerful, definitely. WordStar-ish? Yes, of course.
#15 – Super Notecards: Organizing any writing project requires an additional tool or two. Index cards are popular. So are digital index cards. That’s Super Notecards. They are what you think they are. Digital index cards for your Mac. All the detail you need. No trees harmed in the creation of each card.
Among my add-on travels I found a few specialized tools that writers must have. The Top 6 Mac Add-On Tools.
#14 – Synapsen: Writing can be complicated, hence the world of bibliographies. Synapsen brings a different approach with hypertext card index and reference organizer.
#13 – Sente: Bibliography apps make wonderful reference tools, perfect for students and research in academia. Sente does more, including a function to search online reference databases, downloads, imports, editing of PDFs, and multiple bibliographic libraries.
#12 – BibDesk: Sometimes free is good. BibDesk is the Mac bibliography app for writers on a budget. All the details you need—annotations, abstracts, keywords, groups, external sources, and a very Mac-like user interface. Did I mention BibDesk is free?
#11 Ultralingua: Yes, your Mac has a built-in spell checker and thesaurus. Not bad for free, but not exactly extensive. Ultralingua brings a bit of complexity to your writing project with an extensive spell checker that also does translation and verb conjugation, as well as a writing reference guide that tracks odd phrases, strange constructions, and gives a larger vocabulary to your writing.
#10- Nisus Thesaurus: Beyond automatic spell checking, what better quick-n-dirty tool do we have than a good, fast thesaurus? Nisus Thesaurus works in standalone mode, in OS X Services mode, within Nisus Writer, and it’s free.
#9 – Spell Catcher: This app has the wrong name. Spell Catcher is a spell checker, yes. It’s also a thesaurus. It auto saves everything. It also features a built-in phrase and word expander so you can write more while typing less—and it auto corrects on the fly.
#8 – Mellel: Word processors are a dime a dozen—from free and easy to huge, complex, gargantuan, humongoloid (my spell checker just went nuts). Mellel may be the single most powerful word processor for Mac users, going beyond the insanity in Microsoft Word. Power, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Mellel is an acquired taste, decidedly not general purpose, but with features writers want and need—styles, live stats, outliner, multi-lingual support that Babylonians admire.
#7 – Pagehand: What happens when you marry a basic word processor with a PDF editor? Pagehand. It looks like, walks like, talks like, feels like a word processor, but it only edits and saves PDF documents.
#6 – Bookends: Think of reference management tools on performance enhancing drugs. That’s Bookends. Collect, cite, annotate, search, retrieve, edit, list, cross-link and cross-reference, Bookends is more than meets the eye. A must have for the serious writer.
#5 – Final Draft: For many writers, Final Draft is why they write. The learning curve to go from word processor to screenplay, theatre, TV, or multi-media is a bit tough. But Final Draft is the standard. I’ve used Final Draft AV (audio video version) for years in our PR firm.
#4 – Storyist: There’s a new genre among Mac-using writers. It’s the project management writer’s app—word processor, manager, think tank, index cards, reference library, media library. Among the two best is Storyist. Think of Storyist as a word processor surrounded by notes, cards, tools, photos, movie clips, stickies, and an organizational manager.
#3 – Bean: Honestly, Bean is my favorite free Mac word processor.
It’s far better than TextEdit (also free), not as cumbersome as Word or Pages, blazing fast, and with just the right balance of features aimed at writers.
Simple, elegant, competent. If the typical complex word processor is just too much for your needs, it’s likely you’ll be impressed with Bean. Seriously.
#2 – Nisus Writer Pro: If there is a Mac standard word processor, it’s Nisus Writer Pro. Not as complex as Word or Mellel, not as modern as Pages, but a tool loaded with features that are loved by writers and any Mac user who slaves over a hot keyboard all day—creative writing, advertising, documents, research—any endeavor which requires more than just typing. Powerful features made affordable and useful.
#1 – Scrivener: Picking a number one writing tool is not easy because every writer’s objectives, experience, and requirements will vary. So, is there a single Mac tool that embodies the right balance of features and functions that work for every writer? No. And yes. If you’re beyond mere documents, and require more thought, organization, and elements (photos, notes, cork board, stickies, movies), then Scrivener is very close to perfect. It does most everything a basic word processor does, but gives you quick sidebar access to organizing elements, structure, and all the pieces of digital thought that make up complex writing efforts in the 21st century.
What did I miss? What’s your writing tool of choice and why? Share with Mac360 and our readers in the Comments section below.