Through a few decades of writing for personal pleasure and professional purpose I’ve tried and used about every writing tool a Mac user has available; from minimalist to basic word processor to the high end tools with every feature known to anyone who can type.
When people ask me what I would recommend for a writer I start by asking about the type of writing, the overall requirements, and whether it’s a personal or professional objective. If the latter, and where money is not the overriding object, I point to the two best Apple writer’s tools available today.
Scrivener & Ulysses
In many ways, choosing Scrivener or Ulysses as a writing tool is a no brainer and simply a matter of personal taste because both applications are cross platform and both are packed with features that writers– those with more complex requirements– will appreciate. Both were once Mac only, but the move toward iPhone and iPad simply reflects the changes multiple devices have brought to our lives and work flow.
Both have a similar look and feel with organizational options in the left-hand sidebar and full details in the right-hand main window.
Both applications are Mac-centric but have iOS counterparts with file and feature compatibility. Even the iPhone and iPad versions of Ulysses and Scrivener can be useful for entering text, managing and organizing elements, editing and tweaking on the go. Both have a focus mode which smacks of elegant simplicity and focus, yet both have research organizational capabilities with just a click or touch.
Both support various elements which can be dropped into a project; from notes to keywords, from images to PDFs, and so on. Both make organizing elements within a project as easy as point and click (or touch). Both have easy keyboard navigation for the keyboard centric writer. Backup and save and sync are automatic. Both export files in formats that work well elsewhere.
I like Scrivener’s built-in outliner and digital corkboard, and Ulysses has an excellent file navigation interface, a themeable editor, a near perfect distraction free interface, and an option to publish to WordPress. Scrivener strikes me as more of a writing tool that handles the complexity of moveable elements, specialized research components, and options to reorganize anything in an instant– more left brain. Ulysses has similar features but arranged in a more fluid organizational method which favors creative right brain blessed writers.
Scrivener runs on Mac, Windows, and iPhone and iPad so if you’re cross-platform the price tags can add up, while Ulysses is subscription-based (which I do not like), and does not have a Windows counterpart.
If I had to choose between the two and forsake my file organization in iA Writer, I would go Scrivener because of the pricing and corkboard organization. If you write for a living and need plenty of features, functions, and options– and cross platform capability– you won’t go wrong with either one. I consider them the best among many such tools because the feature sets are writer-centric and both match my 21st century requirement for being available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad.