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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?