The Tools I Use: Writing and Text Apps

As a writer, I need a variety of different tools, depending on what I’m writing. Here’s an overview of the different text tools I use, and when I use each one.

PagesIn some cases, when working on large projects, I need an app like Apple’s Pages; I wrote all of my recent ebooks – Take Control of LaunchBar, Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ and Take Control of Scrivener 2 – with Apple’s Pages. Take Control books use a lot of styles, and, after working with Microsoft Word for many years, we shifted to Pages, though have recently begun the switch to another app. Pages was recently updated – finally, after four years – but I still use the ’09 version.

Scrivener iconFor other types of writing, where I have lots of bits and pieces to collect, I use Scrivener . This tool has the organizational features I need, is fully customizable, and can export in many formats, including ePub and mobi ebook formats. Scrivener lets me write in sections, move bits around easily, view different parts of my texts, and store notes, research and drafts. (If you use Scrivener, check out my book, Take Control of Scrivener 2.)

Bbedit iconThen there’s code. When I edit HTML pages, there’s only one app I use: BBEdit. This venerable text editor, used by developers, coders and web designers, has one essential feature that makes editing code and HTML easy: syntax coloring. It uses different colors to display different types of code, and black for standard text (though you can customize the coloring in any way you want). (Bare Bones’ TextWrangler is a free, light version of BBEdit, which doesn’t contain some of the latter’s powerful web authoring features.)

Marsedit iconFor writing blog posts, I use MarsEdit, which combines the syntax coloring of BBEdit with powerful features to manage blogs. It can display all your blog posts, so you can edit them more easily than in WordPress, or other blog software, it manages media, such as photos and videos, and, in addition to syntax coloring, offers a great preview window that is updated in real time. MarsEdit makes managing a blog much easier, since I don’t have to use the clunky WordPress web interface. And, syntax coloring; when you write texts with HTML, it makes life a lot easier.

Iawriter iconThere’s a minimal text editor that I use for creative writing, or when I’m drafting articles and want to focus only on my words. iA Writer is a simple, elegant text editor that is devoid of the many features that make word processors and text editors painful to use. With iA Writer, I write text, and nothing else. In full-screen mode, I can focus solely on my text, and not be distracted by anything else on my Mac. I don’t need to worry about formatting, which I handle later, in a different app, if needed. (There are also excellent iOS versions of the app – for iPhone or iPad – which, in fact, were released before the Mac version.)

marked2Finally, when I write in Markdown – which I do for some of my writing – I use the above iA Writer, but that only shows me the text and its formatting characters. I need something to display how the text looks with styles, links, etc. For that, I use Marked 2, which not only renders the Markdown (using a CSS stylesheet for my blog), but also gives me powerful export functions. I can get clean HTML from Marked 2, which I then use to post blog articles.

It’s worth pointing out that some of these apps can store files “in the cloud.” Pages works with Apple’s iCloud, and there’s an iOS version, as well as a new web-based version of Pages. iA Writer can also store files in iCloud, which makes using its iOS version easier. MarsEdit stores files you compose locally, but sends them to your blog, where they’re added to its database. As for the others, there’s always Dropbox, which I prefer to using iCloud.

You probably don’t need all these apps. Unless you write for a living, or write a lot, a simple word processor or text editor – such as Apple’s TextEdit – might be all you need. But if you do want something with the features that can make a difference, check out some of these apps.