I’m on a dual mission. First, to help find the best Mac writing tools. Second, write the next great American novel. I’m mid-way through the former, and way behind schedule on the latter.
The top two Mac novel writing tools should not be called word processors. They do much more than manage or process mere words. They manage a writer’s ideas, research, notes, timelines, characters, facts, fiction, and structure.
Face To Face: Top Writing Tools For Writers
Allow me to avoid typical word processors, novel writers, or professional writing apps in favor of a more organized approach to the creative or researched word.
It’s that whole left brain vs. right brain thing.
I need an elegant, understandable tool with a measure of structure to bring all my ideas, all the scraps of information, the many angles, disparate facts, pile of notes, and forgotten details into an acceptable form.
Sheer writing (and reading, to see if I agree with what I wrote) isn’t enough.
Stories And Storyist
Factual for fictional, most writing is a story. Storyist is the creative writer’s friend. Smack in the middle of Storyist is a word processor. The Toolbar is uncluttered, simplified, instantly recognizable as the repository of tools to help the word processor, not hinder it.
Storyist moves organization and structural elements to the left and right columns. Manuscripts, characters, plot, settings, notebooks, images and bookmarks to the left. Index cards, sticky notes and other related graphic details to the right.
Storyist comes with three basic functions. A Word Processor, Story Development Tools, and a Project Manager.
The word processor is typical. Headers, footers, stylesheets and a dual page, two-up mirrored page layout mode. Pages can be manuscripts and screenplay formatted. A separate Text Inspector lets you edit style and page settings. There’s also a place for bookmarks and notes.
The story development is visual with a cork board that handles index cards and photos. The collage view melds relationships and story elements. The outline is color coded. Plot, character and setting sheets are customizable.
Organizing isn’t an easy effort for many creative writers. Storyist brings a long and deep project view so all components are easily accessible with a click or two. Attention to detail and the writer’s way of thinking is obvious—the trash holds discarded items until you’re sure they need to be trashed.
Creative writers will like Storyist’s full-screen, distraction free mode, the unified, all-in-one page mode, and the split mode. Multiple manuscripts can be supported on a per project basis, giving you unlimited potential.
As good as Storyist is, and it is a very good app for managing the creative process with a limited number of built in distractions, I prefer Scrivener.
Outline, Edit, Storyboard, Write, Bask
Both Scrivener and Storyist are aimed at adding management functions to the writing function. My preference is for a few more management functions (my weak suit).
As with Storyist, Scrivener claims that the center of gravity is the word processor. While true in the technical sense, Scrivener has a different balance of functions. Most of the tools you’d expect are in the word processor. Footnotes, text formatting, headers, footers, distraction free writing, and so on. No surprises.
Scrivener shines by blending other components so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, research elements take up a lot of disparate components—images, photos, movies, sound bytes, web pages, PDFs, notes, documents. Scrivener keeps them all together, and any component is available side-by-side with your writing pane.
Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I like the cork board metaphor, and Scrivener’s is the best. Think of it as endless index cards. Each document is connected to a virtual index card. Shuffle the index cards and the corresponding structural element is changed, too.
Good writing starts with an outline and Scrivener delivers another function you’ll find you can’t live without. Restructure connected elements right from the outline. Each element can be edited and all the pieces get updated automatically. As with Storyist, Scrivener also exports to Final Draft which is more feature laden for screenplays.
Scrivener also takes snapshots of your document, a form of version control. If changes don’t go the way you want, click and revert to a previous version that was acceptable. I prefer Scrivener’s full screen mode because it’s not really full screen. The background can be faded in and out, and specific tools and functions remain in left and right columns (if you want).
Perhaps the greatest strength that Scrivener brings to my creative writing table is balance. Notes, outlines, PDFs, web pages, photos, images, movies, audio clips—all can be stuffed into a Scrivener project, so I can avoid dealing with bouncing between multiple apps for inspiration or details. All the elements of a project are a click away.
Adding more weight to my choice of Scrivener as the best Mac writing tool is the future.
Version 2.0 promises tighter integration between cork board, outliner, and editor.
The cork board gets stacks, multiple groups of cards. The new version promises a freeform mode, too, for those who prefer a less linear approach.
Writing tools may be the most intimate digital relationships that writers have. It’s not just word processing, though any mind-to-keyboard-to-screen-to-document app can get the job done. In other words, with each app, your mileage may vary. Microsoft Word is popular because it’s feature laden. Ditto for Mellel and Jer’s Novel Writer (check back tomorrow) or any of a dozen other writing tools for Mac writers.
Through the years I’ve found I need a little more than mere writing. Management of research, ideas, notes, and digital elements plays a growing part in my quiver of writing tools. Scrivener is a well balanced, powerful bow and wins the shootout.