Writing Apps

In over a little more than a year, I’ve gone through several writing applications as my needs changed. I also switched from a PC to a Mac. The change was unrelated to writing, but did give me access to some great apps that aren’t available on the PC. This is a brief overview of the software I used.


In over a little more than a year, I’ve gone through several writing applications as my needs changed. I also switched from a PC to a Mac. The change was unrelated to writing, but did give me access to some great apps that aren’t available on the PC. This is a brief overview of the software I used.

The Old Stand By

The standard issue word processor when I worked in the corporate world was Microsoft Word. Before that, I used IBM Script, but now we’re talking ancient history. I wrote countless technical documents using Word replete with tables of contents and footnotes. It’s very good at producing professional looking documents especially if you’re printing them.

When I went on my own, I continued to use Word because it was the only word processing app I had on my PC besides Notepad. I did my day book using it. It was overkill for what I was doing and the size of the app made it slow to load on my very fast PC. I have Microsoft Office on my Mac, but I rarely use Word anymore.

Moving to the iPad

When I changed to writing more verbose daily entries, I decided I wanted to do it on my iPad so I could make entries anywhere inspiration struck. The first app I used was Chronicle. I chose it because it had good reviews and I liked the interface. It also you allowed you to easily add photos, which worked well when I switched to journaling. I used it for several months, but eventually got tired of typing on my iPad and the small screen. Even a Bluetooth keyboard didn’t help. That’s when I went looking for something that worked on both my iPad and My Mac.

Multi-platform

Other than Evernote and Dropbox, I didn’t even know that there were apps that synchronized across OS X on a Mac and iOS on an iPad or iPhone. The one that I chose was Day One. I could now make entries on my Mac, which has a large screen and an ergonomic keyboard or my iPad if I was out of the house. The entries are calendar based, which is a perfect fit for a journal. At the time I started using it, you couldn’t include images. That feature has since been added. I still Day One to do journal entries. You have to purchase separate versions for OS X and iOS.

When I moved to creative writing, I started to get stuck during my writing sessions. While trying to think what to write next, I would be easily distracted by an e-mail coming in or a refresh of a web page. I needed an app that allowed me to just focus on writing. That’s when I got Byword. When you switch to full screen mode, the application blanks out everything else on the screen so all you see is your writing. You can also have it gray out what you previously wrote. This can be done at the paragraph or sentence level. This allows you to completely focus on what you are writing with minimal distractions. The text is centered on the screen and there are three choice of column width. It also supports Markdown, which is a form of formatting.

Going Pro

In my searches for apps, I kept seeing mentions of Scrivener. It was described as a full featured writer’s tool for novels, screenplays, and short stories. At first I didn’t look into it as it was more than I needed. My routine was to write an entry using Byword and then cut and paste it into Day One so that they would be organized by date.

Eventually, I started writing more complex pieces and decided to take another look at it. The application has a large set of features and was a little daunting. I found a video that gave a quick overview of the basic use of the application. It showed that you could easily get up to speed only using a few of the features.

One of the main draws for me was the ability to organize separate pieces of writing into a whole. The pieces can be worked on in isolation and then viewed as a single piece in Scrivener mode. The bulletin board feature allows you to reorder the pieces of your work by moving notes on the board that represent them. The notes can display a synopsis so you can view the flow of you work at as a whole.

Scrivener also has a full screen mode. It doesn’t have the ability to gray out previous paragraphs or sentences, but that wasn’t a feature I missed. In full screen mode, if you move you cursor to the top of the screen the tool bar will slide down, useful for keeping track of time. Sliding it to the bottom will slide up a status bar with a character and word counts along with some controls. You can also zoom the charter size in and out. I like working at 150% so I can sit back from the monitor.

There are lots of other features, many of them I haven’t used. Here’s a more complete review by Andrew Jack. Check out the comments as well. Scrivener doesn’t currently run on iOS, but a version for it in underway as I’m writing this. The app is also a lot more expensive than the other ones mentioned here (US $45 as of as this writing). For all it does, it’s worth it to me.

What’s Right for You?

I wanted to pass on my experiences with writing tools and how they fitted my needs. Your needs are most certainly different so these applications may not be right for you. For a great overview of what’s available, check out Joshua Johnson’s excellent article on 30 writing apps.

Tags: Microsoft Word - Scrivener - Byword - Day One

Categories: Writing