There are many ways to write articles, reports, blog posts, and creative fiction, from something as cheap as using an HB pencil with scrap paper, to writing with a handmade ink pen on a leather bound notebook. There’s no right or wrong method, and some people still use a typewriter. For me, and, I assume, most other writers these days it’s a computer of some kind and a particular app.
The choice of computing device and writing software, and how writers’ customise these tools to suit their workflow can boost their productivity or become and endless vehicle for procrastination. To save you some time, I’ve compiled a list of some of the popular writing apps, and a few observations.
It may surprise some, but quite a lot of writers use the basic notepad app that comes with Windows or macOS to write in. What could be simpler? It might not have all the bells and whistles, but it works. Another bonus of using the built in notepad is that it’s free and uses an open file format.
My guess is that most people, however, write in Microsoft Word. I can completely understand that, after all, it comes with a brilliant spelling and grammar check, it’s the standard format to submit much content in that doesn’t go straight into a CMS. Another benefit of writing in Word is that you see what the person reviewing the content sees at the other end. Although rarely necessary on a technical level, it’s a nice thing to see. Word makes an excellent choice for complicated reports, and academic papers. If you’re looking for specialist features, this is the one for you. It also has decent iOS and Android apps. In many organisations it could be your only option.
Creative writers might hanker after something with better document navigation, less complexity, and a separation between writing and formatting the output. If this is what you want then check out Scrivener. It’s available for macOS, Windows and iOS. As writing apps go this a nice balance between having enough features and providing a simpler interface.
There’s been a lot of opinion about minimalist writing environments or distraction-free writing apps. I think a lot of this comes down to personal taste. If you want to write, or you have to write, you’ll write in anything. If you’re fussy — let’s be fussy, why not? — you might hanker after an app that offers a refined look and feel, a writing interface that gives you a certain joy of writing in. Byword is a simple but beautifully designed app that can be used as a plain text editor or for Markdown. Markdown, you say? If you’re not familiar with that, it’s a relatively simple human-readable markup for formatting text — probably not ideal if you’re creating complicated documents, but an interesting flat-text alternative to the vastly more complicated HTML.
If you’re looking for an app with the simplicity of Byword, that can handle Markdown, but offers more prominent document management, navigation and structuring (along the lines of Scrivener), there’s Ulysses. Ulysses boasts a beautiful, ‘clutter-free’ interface that allows writers to focus on their writing.
There are many other writing apps, one of them might even be your favourite. And if it already works for you, the chances are you’re better off sticking with it than swapping for something else. The ‘best’ writing app is the one you’re comfortable with.