Apr 07, 2017 Best writing apps for Mac. 7 Apr 2017 6 The Mac is a great tool for writers, with a plethora of software available for any kind of writing. It doesn't matter if you're a student spending long nights on your big paper, a journalist writing up your latest scoop, or a novelist furiously typing away on your next opus — there's an app for you. The Best Novel Writing Software. Here’s our list of the best novel writing software tools we recommend. Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is one of the oldest word processors out there, and it is still widely used for writing books. Word has a lot of features to offer, and with a new suite of productivity features added regularly, this.
Writing a book is hard. I’ve written seven books and at some point during each one I had the thought, “There has to be a tool, a piece of book writing software, that would make this easier.”
Bad news/good news: writing a book will always be hard, and the best piece of writing software in the world won’t write your book for you. But the good news is there is book writing software that can make the process a little easier.
In this post, we will cover the ten best pieces of software for writing a book and look at the pros and cons of each.
Click the links below to get our review on the best writing software.
Best Writing Software: Contents
Worst Pieces of Software for Writing a Book
First, though, let’s cover software you should avoid, at least while you’re writing a book:
- Video Games. Especially World of Warcraft (always always always!) but also Solitaire, Sudoku, Angry Birds, and, for me right now, Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes.
- Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Software. Do I really need to say more? Fortunately there’s a piece of book writing software for avoiding this very distracting software (see Freedom below).
- Other Productive Software Not Directly Associated With Your Writing. Yes, it’s good to reconcile your bank account on Quickbooks or make sure you’re up to date on your calendar app, but responsible, well-meaning work can easily be an excuse for a quick distraction that turns into a major distraction from writing your book.
Set aside time for your writing every day and then stay focused!
If you need a game, make writing your daily word count your game.
If you want more “likes” on social media, imagine how great getting five-star reviews on your book will be.
If you need to check your bank balance several times a day, think about what your bank balance will be when you stop checking it constantly, finish your book, and become a successful author.
The 10 Best Pieces of Book Writing Software
No piece of writing software will write your book for you, but these ten will help. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
1. Scrivener (Word Processor)
Scrivener is the premier book writing software. It is made by writers for writers. Scrivener’s “binder” view allows you to break up your book into chapters and sections and easily reorganize it. Project targets let you create word count goals and then track your progress daily. Its composition mode can help you stay focused by removing all the clutter. Plus, it allows you to format for publishing (e.g. on Amazon or Barnes & Noble).
There are some problems with Scrivener. Formatting is more complicated than it needs to be and collaborating isn’t easy, meaning it loses its effectiveness as soon as you bring on an editor. But it more than makes up for that by being so helpful in the early stages of the writing process.
In fact, we believe in Scrivener so much, we published a book about how creative writers can write more, faster using it. It’s called Scrivener Superpowers. If you’re using Scrivener or want to save yourself time as you learn how to use it for your creative writing, you can get Scrivener Superpowers here. The next edition comes out on Tuesday!
Cost: $49 for Mac, $45 for Windows
You can get a copy of Scrivener here, or learn more about how to use the software with one of these resources:
- Scrivener Superpowers by M.G. Herron
2. Google Docs (Word Processor)
While Scrivener is the best book writing software, once you get to editing and getting feedback, it begins to fall short.
That’s why Google Docs has become my second go-to piece of book writing software. It’s free, very easy to use, and requires no backups since everything is in the cloud.
Best of all are its collaboration abilities, which allow you to invite your editor to the document and then watch as he or she makes changes, tracked in suggestion mode, and leave comments on your story (see screenshot below).
3. Google Sheets (Spreadsheet)
If you’d told me when I was first trying to become a writer that one of my most-used tools in my book writing software toolkit would be a spreadsheet, I would have told you I didn’t major in English to have to use a spreadsheet.
But now, as I’m finishing my twelth book, I realize that I’m using spreadsheets almost daily.
Spreadsheets allow you to get a sense of the elements of your book at a glance, and when you’re working on a 300-page document, distilling it down to useable information becomes very necessary.
You might use spreadsheets for:
- Character tracking
- Scene lists
Google Sheets is perfect for this because it’s free and you can quickly share your documents with your writing partners, editors, or beta readers to get feedback. Microsoft Excel is another great option, but for writers, I suggest Google Sheets.
4. Vellum (Book Formatting/Word Processor)
If you want to turn your book into an eBook, it’s not that hard. Scrivener, Word, Pages, they all can make eBooks. But that doesn’t mean they’ll look good. In fact, it takes a lot of skill and effort to make an eBook look good on any of those word processors. That’s why I love Vellum so much.
Vellum makes beautiful eBooks.
Vellum picks up where Scrivener, Word, and Pages leave off, giving you a tool to make great looking eBooks every time.
The most important part of this is the previewer (see the image below), which lets you see how each formatting change or book edit you make will appear on Kindle, Fire, iPhone, Nook, and other eReaders.
It also has stripped-down, option-based formatting, which is perfect for designing eBooks.
I really love this app!
UPDATE: Vellum recently expanded into formatting for paperback books! I haven’t tried it yet but it looks awesome!
Cost: $199 for eBook generation, $249 for Paperback Formatting
5. Freedom (Productivity App)
One question writers always ask me is, “How can I stay focused enough to finish what I write?”
I have too many thoughts on this for this article, but as far as writing software to encourage focus, I recommend Freedom.
Freedom allows you to block your biggest distractions online, including both websites and mobile apps, for a set period of time. So when you mindlessly escape your book to scroll through Facebook, you’ll find the site won’t load.
You can also schedule recurring sessions, so that at a scheduled time (e.g. Mondays from 6 am to 10 am), you won’t be able to access the sites on your blocklist, even if you try.
There are other apps like this that we’ve written about before, notably Self-Control for Mac and StayFocused for Windows. But Freedom goes further, allowing you to block sites on both your computer and your phone, and enabling recurring sessions.
You can learn more about how writers can get the most out of Freedom on our review here.
Cost: $29 / year for Pro version, which I use and recommend (Free trial available)
6. Microsoft Word (Word Processor)
Again: no piece of book writing software is going to write your book for you. If you’re looking for the next “shiny new toy” to help you write your book, it might be an excuse to avoid doing the hard work of writing.
Most of us learned how to use computers by using Microsoft Word, or a program like it. Word gets the job done. Sure, Scrivener is a little better for books, but I wrote my first book on Word and it’s fine.
I wrote a long review of the pros and cons of using Word to write books—the main problem is that as your document grows, it becomes more and more difficult to work with, whereas with Scrivener, it becomes easier—but the point is, if Word is what you have, don’t let that stop you from finishing your book.
As Jeff Elkins said in his review of Word, “If you aren’t already putting in the hard work to be the kind of writer you want to be, it doesn’t matter what new writing software you invest in. It is not going to help.”
Cost: $69 / year from Amazon (includes Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and other Microsoft software)
7. Ulysses (Word Processor)
When I’m writing for a long time, I like to get up and go for a walk. Sometimes, I wish I could continue writing while I walk. Other times, I come up with an idea while I’m walking, type it up on my phone, and then want to easily move what I wrote to my laptop without having to go through the hassle of emailing it back and forth to myself.
That’s where Ulysses comes in.
Ulysses is a word processor for Mac that allows you to sync between all your devices, so you have what you need wherever you are. Scrivener recently released their iOS app which allows you to do this as well, but the process is clunky and requires you to purchase both the desktop and iOS apps. Ulysses’ sync makes the process much more seamless.
Like Scrivener, it has a binder-like sidebar that allows you to move documents around. Ulysses is not designed specifically for books so it takes a little configuring to make it work for you, but once you have it set up the way you want it’s very intuitive.
And while I hate Markdown, I actually like the paired-down formatting options Ulysses gives. Overall, I’m not going to convert from Scrivener to Ulysses any time soon, but I think it’s a great option for most writers.
8. Microsoft Excel (Spreadsheets)
As Jeff Elkins says in his review of Microsoft Excel, it’s great, but “it’s a little like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. You will need only a small fraction of its capability.”
If you have Excel and love it, great. Otherwise, use Google Sheets, especially if you’re sharing your sheet with a collaborator or editor.
Cost: $69 / year from Amazon (includes Word, Powerpoint, Outlook, and other Microsoft software)
9. ProWritingAid (Grammar/Spell Check)
Can book writing software replace an editor?
Definitely not. But if you ask Alice Sudlow, our in-house editor, she’s tell you, “If you don’t have access to an editor (or if you do, but you don’t want to hire them to edit your emails or Facebook posts), grammar checking software like ProWritingAid is an accessible, affordable alternative.
If you struggle with grammar, sentence structure, spelling, or even writing style, ProwritingAid can help. It goes far beyond your built-in spell-check.
You should still learn grammar skills, but ProWritingAid can help you start to see the patterns and grow as a writer.
There’s a free version that’s very good. It can even be installed into your browser or Word processor, so you can check your grammar wherever you write. The paid version, just $60 a year (less than half of what Grammarly costs), gives you additional support on sentence structure, style, and vocabulary.
Learn more about how writers can get the most out of ProWritingAid here.
Cost: Free! (Premium version is $60 / year)
10. Hemingway App (Grammar/Style Checker)
Most writers think their sentences are easier to read than they are. You think you’re coming across clearly, that your writing makes sense, but then someone reads it and comes away with something totally different.
Hemingway App helps with that.
Hemingway App is a free website that checks readability. You can copy and paste your writing into the website’s input box. Then it will grade your writing based on your used of adverbs, passive voice, and sentences as units.
Hemingway App is useful, but even the best book writing software can’t replace a good editor.
The 7 Tools Every Writer Needs
Every professional has a set of tools at their disposal that not only makes their job possible, but makes them better at doing it. Writing is no different, and while the right software is important, it’s just one of the many tools you need as a writer.
That’s why we published a free 22-page eBook, 7 Tools to Help You Write a Novel. In this short guide, we’ll cover some of the basic tools that form the foundation of a writing life.
You can download it for free here. Enjoy!
The Most Essential Book Writing Software
Imagine it’s three thousand years ago. You’re sitting around a campfire with some of your family and friends, tired from the day’s work. You begin to tell a story. It’s one you’ve told before, told a hundred times. You can see faces around the fire, the children with their eyes wide, the men and women who have heard the story before but still enjoy it because it brings meaning to their lives.
Storytellers—writers—have existed since the beginning of humanity. They didn’t always have book writing software. They didn’t have the printing press or the internet. They didn’t always even have the alphabet to write their stories down.
Instead, storytellers had their imaginations, their voices, and a rapt audience.
You don’t need book writing software to write a great story. Book writing software can make the process a little faster or easier, but the truth is great stories will always exist, no matter what kind of software we have.
The only three things essential to writing a great book:
- Your imagination
- Your words
- A desire to tell your story
That’s all you need. Do you want to write your book? If you do, then do it. Write it. Nothing is stopping you except you. So go get writing.
What pieces of book writing software do you use? Let us know in the comments.
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The world is full of powerful software to help you write your book. In the end, though, all these tools are just that—tools. The stories you imagine and your discipline to put the words on the page are far more important.
So for this practice, set aside all the fancy software. Eliminate all the bells and whistles and open up your computer’s native text editor (TextEdit for Mac or Notepad for Windows). Take fifteen minutes to write without any distractions. Continue your work in progress, or start a new story based on this prompt:
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When you’re done, share your writing practice in the comments. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
If you turn phrases for fun and/or profit, your best option for a Mac writing app depends on what you want to write, and how.
Sure, you could stick with a word processor to pour your thoughts onto the page — but you've got better choices. If you want something a little less stuffy, cluttered, and nine-to-five, or more focused on creative writing, we've found four solid choices that take two very different approaches to helping you express yourself. All are either Essentials or Editors' Choices in the Mac App Store.
The first three apps on this list all take a similar no-frills approach to writing. They sport clean, minimalist interfaces, keep all your writing in a single window, can swap documents between their iOS and Mac versions, and use some variation of the Markdown syntax to handle all text formatting.
Ulysses impressed me most among this crowd for its breadth of features and ease of use. An outstanding series of introductory texts ease you into using Ulysses, one simple step at a time. Their witty writing allows you to learn the program while you're using it.
If you want to track your own productivity, or challenge yourself to meet a certain word count, it's easy to set goals from Ulysses's dashboard. Don't know Markdown XL, Ulysses's native tongue? No worries — a handy cheat sheet of syntax waits behind a button at the top of the program. (Ulysses also supports old faithful keyboard shortcuts for bold, italic, and linked text, if you don't want to type Markdown XL's extra characters.)
Ulysses keeps these two features and a handful of others, including options to export your work to text, ePub, HTML, PDF, or DOCX formats, in pop-over menus that you can tear off and keep onscreen for easy reference.
Ulysses isn't WYSIWYG; you can download themes to change up its color scheme at the Ulysses Style Exchange, but you can't view the effects of your formatting until you preview or export it. The Style Exchange also offers a host of free templates for PDF, HTML, and ePub exports, with different looks, fonts, and styles.
Ulysses comes with built-in iCloud support to hand off documents between its Mac and iOS versions. It can also publish your work directly to your Medium or WordPress site, once you enter your account info. And its subscription model means that your monthly $4.99 fee unlocks the app on both the Mac and iOS.
Ulysses offers a lot of options in a polished, user-friendly package. Unfortunately, it has a good portion of its thunder stolen by…
- $4.99/month with a 14-day free trial - Download now!
Nearly everything Ulysses does, Bear does just as well, in an arguably prettier package. Bear's fonts and color scheme, while still clean and stark, go easier on the eyes than Ulysses's utilitarian gray. Its stats panel is much easier to read, though less detailed. And Bear strikes a happy medium between full WYSIWYG formatting and Markdown simplicity by clearly labeling different header tags as you create them, and offering the option to actually show text as bold or italic when properly marked.
I liked Bear's tagging system, which makes it really easy to organize files. Just type in a hashtag anywhere in your document, and Bear will either create a category for it on the fly in its list of documents, or add that document to an existing category. I was also impressed with Bear's ability to share a note to any program you've added to your Mac's Sharing menu, including Facebook, Twitter, and Reminders.
Novel Writing Software For Mac
Beyond that, Bear duplicates a lot of Ulysses's virtues, from its overall interface to its friendly help files. And the program's basic version, which packs plenty of power, is absolutely free on both Mac and iOS. However, to match Ulysses's features, you'll need to subscribe to Bear Plus, for $1.49 a month or $14.99 a year. That subscription gets you features like iCloud synching, ePub export, and customizable export themes, all of which Ulysses includes right out of the box.
- Free to download, $1.99/month or $14.99/year Bear Plus subscription - Download now!
Its stark black-and-white interface makes Ulysses look colorful. It feels brusque and utilitarian, not welcoming. On first use, the program dumps you right into its interface with no introduction. Its lean, efficient Help files explain the program well, but after Ulysses and Bear's gentler tutorials, iA Writer's lack of frills can feel jarring.
Word count and other stats are crammed into a tiny menu at the bottom of the window, and you can't set goals for any of those parameters. They're squeezed into the same small space as iA Writer's Format and Syntax menus, which can format text or quickly highlight all the nouns, adverbs, adjectives, or other parts of speech in your document — a nifty feature undercut by lackluster interface design.
Finally, a real-time preview window can show you what your text will look like when it's finished and formatted. But it feels odd to have the same text side by side; if you want to see what text looks like when formatted, why not just have a WYSIWYG editor?
iA Writer isn't bad on its own merits, but with such impressive competition, it can't help but suffer in comparison.
- $15 - Download now!
At the opposite end of the spectrum from its spartan rivals, Scrivener is a jumbo-sized Swiss army knife stuffed with a sometimes overwhelming array of fun and useful tools. The other programs in this roundup are undeniably more versatile, lending themselves just as well to note taking, blog posts, journalism, or technical writing as they do to writing fiction. In contrast, Scrivener's built to serve the needs of folks writing novels, short stories, screenplays, and — given its ability to store pictures, cached web pages, and other research material alongside a given text — possibly term papers. For $45, you'll definitely get your money's worth.
Scrivener's somewhat long in the tooth compared to its rivals here, with a dense but coherent interface filled with the kinds of colorful icons that seem to have fallen out of fashion among Mac apps. It arguably needs such a crowd of buttons to display even a fraction of the features stuffed into its every nook and cranny. (My favorite: A ridiculously options-laden name generator for authors in need of inspiration.) Scrivener's user manual, however engagingly written, is 546 pages long. It's not messing around.
Even after years of using Scrivener, I still sometimes find myself hunting through its menus in search of that one command I need. Consistently formatting text files in a given project to anything other than Scrivener's default settings can be a pain, and it keeps its settings for targets and statistics in separate popup windows.
But despite this complexity, Scrivener does a good job of getting out of your way. Scrivener offers an outline mode, and a corkboard mode that displays each of your scenes as virtual notecards on which you can hash out what happens when. But if you just want to start writing without worrying about its bells and whistles, you won't have a problem. Because it's so like the Finder, Scrivener's system for storing scenes in various folders makes sense immediately. And like all the programs mentioned here, Scrivener offers a fullscreen mode that blots out everything but the text you're working on, to avoid distractions.
Scrivener also offers a respectable if occasionally glitchy screenplay mode. It won't replace Final Draft, but if you want to have fun writing a cinematic masterpiece about Dominic Toretto battling Dracula, you'll end up with a decently formatted final product.
Scrivener also shines when it's time to publish your work. Its voluminous list of export formats includes all the usual suspects, plus ePubs, Final Draft screenplay files, and even Kindle books. You can even select only specific chapters or files to compile and export — handy when you've got multiple drafts of a novel in a given file, but only want to create a PDF of the most recent one. However, this versatility has one glaring exception: Scrivener doesn't support iCloud, though it can share documents between its iOS and Mac versions.
- $45 - Download now!
Which app is best?
If you want a jack-of-all trades writing app with WordPress, Medium, and iCloud support built in, Ulysses is your best bet. If you're not willing to shell out $4.99 a month indefinitely, try the similar Bear first. You may not ever need its advanced features, which would give you a terrific writing app for free.
But if you're serious about creative writing, and you want a stalwart companion to help drag stories out of your brain, Scrivener's your best bet. Its learning curve is steeper, but its powerful features make that climb worthwhile.
Got any favorite apps we haven't mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.
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