30 Truly Useful Mac Apps for Professional Writers

As a full-time professional writer, I’m always on the lookout for utilities that will improve my workflow and help provide a much needed boost in efficiency.

Today we’ll take a look at thirty of the best utilities around to help serious writers in their work. Whether you want a better way to work with Markdown or need something to help you plot out the scenes in your next novel, this roundup has just what you’re looking for.

Advanced Writing Tools

The writing market is quickly becoming over-saturated with extremely basic utilities that are easy on the eyes but so light on features that professional writers often miss the good old days when developers did all they could to provide you with the powerful tools that you need to get the job done. If this description matches you, check out the apps in this category, each of which is specifically tailored to give you power and flexibility, not eye candy.

Ulysses

Ulysses is truly an app for professional writing assignments. Based around the concept of non-linear, semantic text editing, Ulysses provides all the tools you need to get the job done effectively and efficiently: tabs, separation of presentation and content, multiple document and project notes, filters, groups and document collections and whole lot more. If you’re looking for a new tool to completely change your writing workflow, start here.

Price: $29.99

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Ulysses

Mellel

Mellel is a word processor specially designed to handle long and complicated documents, books, manuscripts, dissertations, etc. Most word processors get pretty cumbersome when you’re working with hundreds of pages but Mellel stays reliable and gives you plenty of professional tools to help you along the way.

Price: $28.99

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Mellel

Scrivener

Scrivener is a powerhouse of writing tools and is a popular favorite among Mac users. One of Scrivener’s strongpoints is that it gives you the freedom to compose the way you think, using various components and pieces that you can easily combine into a cohesive whole. Scrivener is perfect for anyone writing a novel, screenplay, essay, script or any other major project.

Price: $44.99

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Scrivener

StoryMill

StoryMill is built specifically to help you develop complicated stories such as those for novels and plays. It has tons of special features that are geared toward helping you build and keep track of your characters, locations, timelines and all the other elements related to storytelling. It also lets you write in sections that you can combine and reorder instantly.

Price: $49.99

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StoryMill

Script It!

Script It! is specifically designed for stage and screen screen writing, but is flexible enough to tackle any writing project. With Script It! you can plan out and order each individual scene, develop and organize characters, and manage your various snippets and thoughts. There’s even a handy name generator for those long character lists!

Price: $69.99

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Script It!

Storyist

Storyist is a powerful word processor with all of the features you need in addition to built-in templates for manuscripts and screenplays so you can get a jumpstart on your next writing project. Storyist lets you sketch out a story using index cards and photographs and then refine it with customizable plot, character, and setting sheets.

Price: $79.00

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Storyist

Nisus Writer Pro

Nisus Writer Pro is another really powerful word processor with more features than you’ll know what to do with: styles, multilingual support, tables, comments, track changes, drawing tools, footnotes & endnotes, bookmarks, cross-references, table of contents, full screen mode, and more.

Price: $79.99

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Nisus Writer Pro

Mariner Write

A decent alternative to Microsoft Word, Mariner Write is a word processor just powerful enough to do everything you need without overwhelming you with tons of features that you’ll never use. Write opens Word files and will save your document as an RTF-Word file, so you can still collaborate with the Word crowd.

Price: $39.95

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Mariner Write

Final Draft

Final Draft is specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics, and stageplays. Its strength lies in its professional script formatting, which works in conjunction with all the word processing features you would expect.

Price: $199

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Final Draft

Celtx

Want a powerful, professional writing app but don’t like the high price tags attached to the options above? Worry not, Celtx is a completely free app that helps you organize, write and outline your film, video, documentary, theatre, novels, machinima, comics, advertising, video games, music video, and radio projects. It has tons of features and utilizes a non-linear workflow that conforms to the way you want to work.

Price: Free (Plus version: $14.99)

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Celtx

Basic Text Editors

If you don’t need all the power of the apps in the previous section but aren’t quite ready to go the featureless full-screen route, here’s the middle ground: a selection of basic but useful text editors for writers. Think of this section as a list of alternatives to TextEdit or perhaps even Pages and Word in some cases.

Pagehand

Pagehand is dedicated to staying simple and avoiding feature bloat while also providing a fast a nimble writing experience. Pagehand uses PDF as its file format; anyone can read your documents perfectly, fonts and all.

Price: $49.95

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Pagehand

MoAppsWrite

Almost everything MoApps creates has the same DNA: simple, useful and just powerful enough to be exactly the tool you’ve been looking for. This holds true of MoAppsWrite as well, which gives you basic but extremely effective rich text editing complete with styles, templates, page layout, headers and footers functionality and a variety of file formats.

Price: $5.99

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MoAppsWrite

iText Pro

For only $11.99, iText Pro packs an impressive punch. Enjoy access to multiple clipboards, hierarchical bookmarks, fast file search with the file browser, customizable keyboard shortcuts and more.

Price: $11.99

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iText Pro

World Book Notepad

TextEdit is great, but there are a few key features missing such as word and character count and basic page layout. If you’re looking for a sharp upgrade for the unbeatable price of less than a buck, check out World Book Notepad.

Price: $0.99

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World Book Notepad

Compositions

Have you noticed that the iPhone has a bunch of really neat, simple and attractive text editing apps that automatically sync your notes with Dropbox? Don’t you wish there was a free app like that on the Mac? Well you’re in luck, Compositions is exactly that!

Price: Free

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Compositions

Bean

Bean is a really solid little text editor that mixes a lot of the charm and simplicity of fullscreen apps with the fundamental features you require. As a free app, it’s definitely hard to beat!

Price: Free

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Bean

Made for Markdown

Markdown is a syntax by John Gruber that was specifically created for web writers as a way to write HTML in a simple, easily readable fashion. Markdown is becoming more popular all the time and has quite the following. If you like to write in Markdown, these text editors can dramatically improve your workflow.

MarkMyWords

Most of the Markdown apps currently available are intentionally extremely simple, some without a preference panel in sight. MarkMyWords is not one of these apps, in fact, it’s easily the most powerful Markdown app I’ve ever seen. It has a ton of great features, including a live preview, templates, a full-screen mode, syntax highlighting and more.

Price: $24.99

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MarkMyWords

Byword

Byword is definitely one of the most popular Markdown-powered text editors to date, making its way into several of our articles lately. The full-screen mode is gorgeous (quite reminiscent of IA Writer) and your Markdown text is transformed before your eyes as you type. Byword also supports auto-save and versions in Lion.

Price: $9.99

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Byword

Marked

Marked is an unique and affordable alternative to Markdown text editors. With this app, you can get a live preview of your Markdown file as you work in your favorite editor. This is perfect for anyone who wants to use Markdown in conjunction with an editor that doesn’t have built-in support.

Price: $2.99

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Marked

Macchiato

Like Byword, Macchiato is a plain text editor that automatically formats your Markdown syntax as you type. The visual style is quite unique, may make you love it or hate it.

Price: $19.99

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Macchiato

MarkdownNote

Markdown note is a simple Markdown editor without the high price tag. For less than four bucks, you get an app with a two-window workflow: editing in one, HTML preview in the other. There’s also an accompanying iPhone app so you can enjoy MarkdownNote from anywhere.

Price: $3.99

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Markdown Note

Minimal Writing Apps

Minimal, full-screen writing apps have officially reached the point of being a fad. As cliche as they are, I can’t help but appreciate their simplicity. In fact, I myself use Writeroom for a large majority of my work and as I start to become more familiar with Markdown, I’ve been eyeing IA Writer as a possible alternative. If you’re in the market for a fullscreen editor and didn’t find what you were looking for in the Markdown section above, have a look at these apps.

IA Writer

IA Writer is everyone’s current favorite full-screen text editor. The interface is gorgeous and the Markdown support is good enough to put it in the previous section. However, it’s flexible enough that any writer can use it regardless of whether or not they’re a Markdown fan. IA Writer is all about the visual experience, it blocks out any and all distractions, including any preferences and formatting options. Just open it and start writing.

Price: $9.99

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IA Writer

Writeroom

As far as I know, most of the credit to the current fascination with fullscreen writing can be attributed to Writeroom, which was definitely an early leader in this area. This app still holds my interest above the others because it provides a beautifully simple and distraction-free interface without sacrificing powerful text editing features like font choice, rich text formatting, customizable color schemes, and more.

Price: $24.99

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Writeroom

OmmWriter Dāna II

OmmWriter takes fullscreen writing out of the realm of a simple productivity-inducing experiment and into a zen-like content creation experience. Soothing sights and even sounds accompany your writing session and help you drown out the busy world so you can lose yourself in the joy of pure, uninterrupted thought.

Price: $4.99

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OmmWriter Dāna II

Clean Writer

Minimalist, full screen writing is great, but it tends to come at a high price, despite the fact that it also tends to strip out functionality. For less that $3, you can grab Clean Writer and test drive the full-screen writing experience to see if it’s for you.

Price: $2.99

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Clean Writer

Writer

Just like Clean Writer, this app lets you into the fullscreen writing game for only $2.99. As a bonus, Writer has support for both auto-save and versions. If you’re in the market for cheap, cheerful and distraction-free writing, this could be the one to beat.

Price: $2.99

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Writer

Brainstorming & Research

Writing isn’t all about, well, writing. Sometimes before you can start putting words on a page you need to organize both your thoughts and your facts. Use these tools to brainstorm and hold your research.

OmniGraffle

OmniGraffle is the last outlining tool you’ll ever need. It is simply packed with features and modes to help you brainstorm and lay out your thoughts and ideas regardless of how you like to work. The price tag is pretty hefty though so only serious professional users should take a look.

Price: $99.99

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OmniGraffle

SimpleMind

Want a powerful brainstorming and mindmapping utility without dropping a hundred bucks on OmniGraffle? Check out SimpleMind, it’s perfect for plotting out all those ideas in your head and has plenty of customization features.

Price: $30.99

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SimpleMind

Tree

Mindmapping utilities are great, but not all of us are so visually minded. If you tend to think in bulleted lists instead of complicated charts, check out Tree. We gave it a full review a while back and found it to be a great utility.

Price: $24.99

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Tree

Papers

Whether you’re writing a blog post or a doctoral thesis, keeping track of your research and sources is a vital component of the process. Papers is the best app around for this task, providing you with both a repository and a search utility so you can keep your facts straight.

Price: $79

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Papers

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed our collection of professional writing apps for Mac users. The selection above provides options for every budget, writing style and profession, so grab one or two new tools and see how much it improves your workflow.

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think of the apps above. Which of these have you tried and what did you think of them? Are there any that we missed that you think should be on the list?


  • aaron

    Great article, great resources! Thanks!

  • http://drudoo.com Drudoo

    Really good article. I have tried most of them and at the moment i can’t decide which is the best for my purpose.
    I tend to change a lot =)

  • to

    I am missing Circus Ponies NoteBook here! I use it a lot.

  • Oliver

    Great article but I miss nvAlt which is great to store ideas that do not (yet) fit into your current projects.

    • Jc

      And 1 for nvALT.

      I have HUNDREDS of notes that are kept in sync between MBP, phone and ipad via Simplenote. The search function in this app is incredible. I only have to remember one word that’s within the body of the note, search for it, and I’m given the results instantly.

      Can’t live without this app.

  • http://tessathornton.com Tessa Thornton

    I’ve tried a lot of these (and reviewed a couple) but lately I always find myself using TextEdit for Markdown. Loved ByWord, and might switch back once the Versions/AutoSave support is at the same level as TextEdit (haven’t used it in a while, it might be already).

  • Bastian

    Great list. But I miss Curio in the last section. http://www.zengobi.com/products/curio/

    • to

      Oh yes, Curio. Absolutely missing that one too.

  • Macpug

    Really nice overview. I, too, have tried quite a few of these. Put up another vote for Curio. it’s great for fleshing out ideas for stories and it’s quite lovely with tons of customisation…there is a bit of a learning curve, but it is worth it.

    For blogging, I still love MarsEdit. I agree with you about WriteRoom…I started using it when it first came on the scene and have used it more than anything else. I’m going to try a couple of the ones you mentioned (Byword and MarkdownNote) to see how they gel with my workflow. Thanks!

  • Chris

    Strange that there are no LaTeX apps included here. What about TeXShop, LyX or Scribo?

    • http://tamasgal.com Tamas Gal

      Yea, TeXShop is one of the best LaTeX editors, it would nicely fit into the list…

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      I came across LaTeX references in my research but to be honest I wasn’t even sure what it was. Maybe we’ll cover this topic in a future article.

      • Kewin

        Yes, Lyx is really missing on the list. All the apps listed are great for “normal” writing, but as soon as you require equations, etc. nothing is better than Latex with a good GUI (or in my case Textmate). On that note, Papers is awesome, but it lacks that you can’t have an instant bibtex export. You have to export it manually. Equally powerful is Mendeley Desktop. It may not have the same convenience in importing from IEEE Xplore or the ACM Digital Library, but it has a great DOI search, and Mendeley is free.

  • Nipperkin

    I’m always surprised that Moapp’s myTexts is never included in reviews of “writing environment” programs. It’s got features that many of the others lack, while keeping with the “less is more” ethos of this type of application. I’ve tried a bunch of them, but haven’t yet found any that outdoes this one.

    For quick notes and sketches, I use nvALT. For anything longer, myTexts.

  • brock

    Great list. Haven’t heard of some of them like Tree for instance. Tried most of the others. Pages is still what I like the best.

  • Matt

    For brainstorming I recommend http://www.mindnode.com/

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  • Ghostly

    You can write entire novels and screenplays based on outlining in OmniOutline Pro. Several writer’s websites have OOP templates for writers. You just need to look. For example, there is an excellent OOP template for novel length or screenplay length outlining over at ScreenwritingGoldmine.com

  • Thorsten

    I think you should have mentioned “Adobe Story” too.
    A cool writing tool for free.

  • Deb

    Twig, which I refer to as Tinderbox lite, is my favorite thinking, organizing and noting tool. Mind maps want you to adhere to their structure. Twig (& TB) let you create your own. Great for those of us that are very visual. I start there, refine there, and even make some notes there, gather resources in DEVONthink, and write in Ulysses.

  • Deb

    p.s. forgot to say I like outlining in Circus Ponies Notebook before writing in Ulysses. Excellent for reordering and collapsing.

  • Mackley

    For mindmapping I use http://www.mindjet.com

    • Jc

      Mindset looks very promising. Will download a trial tomorrow and try it out.

      Thx for the mention.

  • Paul C. Jones

    It’s fine that there are many fine text editors to pick, but I think people these days are tinkering with their tools WAY too much. They often spend a lot of time discussing what word processor and/or magically efficient and powerful zen writing tools people are using. It doesn’t fu*king matter! I happen to write in TextEdit. Other people write in Apple Pages. Other people write in Microsoft Word or some fancy web-based collaborative editor or Google Docs. WHATEVER. Picking the right text editor or some zen looking distraction free editor will NOT make you a better writer. WRITING will make you a better writer. WRITING, and EDITING, and LISTENING – really listening – to what people say about your writing. This is the golden age for aspiring writers. We have a worldwide communications and distribution network where you can publish anything you want very easily for free and – if you can manage to get anybody’s attention – get near-instant feedback. Writers just 20 years ago would have killed for that kind of feedback loop. KILLED! It takes no time to sign up for a free blog, launch TextEdit or NotePad or whatever that comes with your OS and start writing, and you are *still* asking what word processor to use? Just fu*king write, then publish, then write some more.

    • Nipperkin

      In addition to all that “writing, publishing, then writing some more,” which many of us do, what’s wrong with considering the tools?

      You make it sound like, aside from yourself possibly, everybody else is just sitting around talking about word processors.

      • Paul C. Jones

        I don’t have to make it sound that way because that’s really what most self-proclaiming geeks are doing, or this kind of site wouldn’t be so popular. ;)

    • to

      True, to some degree…
      But we are always looking for tools, like graphic artists who go into endless discussions about what pencils, what colors, what markers they use.
      There is nothing wrong with that.
      If you are fine with TextEdit – great.
      Just keep your f-words and all-caps-shouting to yourself, even if you are having a bad day.

      • Paul C. Jones

        I can’t help wondering whether people like you have considered the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you could save at least some of the time spent on “endless discussions” and use it for actually writing and drawing with simple tools instead. ;)

        Simply put, gear-heads don’t get it.

    • GK

      Every tool mentioned in this article is a simple tool. There are many of them mentioned here, because different ones suit different people.

      An art store stocks a variety of products and an artist chooses & picks up only the ones he needs.

      Mr Jones is like a man holding up a sign outside an art materials store, saying “DON”T WASTE YOUR TIME HERE – GO DO SOME ART!”

    • Dan

      I’d rather “waste” my time here looking for interesting tools and decompressing from my writing time than waste my time here screaming at people I actually know nothing about, accusing them of things I have no evidence of apart from my own broad, sweeping assumptions and generalizations.

      Next time try something like, “Hey all, be sure you are not wasting time unnecessarily contemplating tools you may not need when you should be writing! Make sure you are browsing these lists when you’re taking a break and not when the pen should be to paper.” Most writers are well aware of times when they do anything but write, and your reminder would be welcome and even convicting. As it is, your little diatribe is just annoying. Frankly, it says more with certainty about you than it does about anyone else.

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  • Gerrit

    No love for TextWrangler (free) and the classic BBEdit (40 bucks, thereabouts)? Search/Replace with regular expressions, which can then be linked together in Text Factories? Version control built-in even on non-Lion systems? No?

    Just me, then! :)

  • Lauren

    I find it really weird you’d put iA Writer, whose formatting (bold/italic/etc.) relies entirely on Markdown, under the more general minimal writing apps section, but Byword, which has some basic text formatting on its own and doesn’t even have to go into Markdown mode, as a specifically Markdown text editor. It’s just. Really mixed up, there.

  • elle

    how could you forget xpad?! it’s the awesomest app EVER!!!

    http://getxpad.com/

    and no, i don’t work for them. it’s just the first app i download on all my machines. it’s great for quick notes. the setup is grrreat.

    • Tom

      +1 for xpad. It’s basically a suped-up TextEdit (or Bean), but your files are stored *in the app* and are accessible via an index list shown in a sidebar drawer. (Of course, you can export as .txt or .rtf.) It’s great for files that you access often (lists, code snippets, references, lorem ipsum, etc.) And since it autosaves everything, it’s like having umpteen rtf/txt files open at the same time, but in one window and without draining memory.

      Oh, and it’s free.

  • Nipperkin

    @Paul C. Jones, who wrote: “I can’t help wondering whether people like you have considered the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you could save at least some of the time spent on “endless discussions” and use it for actually writing and drawing with simple tools instead. ;)
    Simply put, gear-heads don’t get it.”

    Ah, “people like you”…

    FWIW, in addition to participating in “endless discussions” many of us are writing and drawing, as, perhaps, you are too… ;)

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  • Wim Mathijssen

    Very impressive list, but in the final section of brainstorming and research I miss Tinderbox, which is a perfect tool for research, brainstorming and finding links between various research topics. See the website of east gate.com!

  • Troels Jense

    for mindmap also see Xmind at http://www.xmind.net
    there a fre version thats very useful

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  • http://healthtrekker.net Will

    Really Good Article, Joshua! -Thanks!!

    Got to try afew of these while resurrecting my novel.

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  • http://www.squidoo.com/best-screenwriting-apps-for-the-ipad iPad screenwriting apps

    I actually use Storyist’s screenplay mode for writing scripts on my iPad. It’s incredibly useful and more functional (in my opinon) than than other apps like Scripts Pro and Screenplay

  • Frank

    This is a wonderful post and thread, I just want to add my observation about tools. Make sure you pick the very best ones suited to your needs. People are reluctant to drop tools they have mastered for others that may or may not be better in the end. I’ve added Liquid Binder XE and Scrivener to my quiver but continually go with notepad++ with umptidump tabs half of which are un-named but have up to 300 lines of text already. The learning curve and the working practises already in place are huge obstacles to overcome.

  • AK

    Forgetting NV in the list of Mac minimal editors is a sacrilege.

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