Top 5 Writing Applications

What’s your favourite writing tool?

I’ve spent a lot of time testing, using and playing with with the more popular software programmes.

In this article, I discuss the pitfalls and merits of five of the best writing applications.

Let’s get started.

1. Word

WordWord is hardly sexy but the Office suite is Microsoft’s cash cow, and Word is the most popular writing applications in the world today.

If it wasn’t for Word, we wouldn’t have one of the most commonly used proprietary formats of all time: .DOC (that’s not necessarily a good thing).

If you’ve written or read anything of note on a computer, you’ve used Word. Even if you’re not reading a document on a screen, it was probably typed up or printed in Word at some point.

Word has been around in one form or another since 1981. It’s had a hell of a head start. It’s available on Windows and OS X, and it costs about EUR 70.

Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with this programme. It’s overpriced and it’s prone to crashing on certain machines.

Laying out a document with pictures and tables is a fresh kind of hell. The ribbons can be confusing and Word is difficult to master in that it does so many things in so many different ways.

That said, Word can do far more than any writer would ever want. It’s the defacto word processor in many modern offices for a reason.

The 2013 version of Word makes collaboration easier than ever before thanks to deep SkyDrive integration, and it even lets you edit PDFs.

Summary: Word represents the best entry point into word processing for beginners.

2. Scrivener

ScrivenerScrivener was built with writers in mind. It is available on Windows and OS X for USD 45.

The application excels if you are working on a long or complicated document like a thesis, book, novel, paper or college essay.

It lets you to manage, edit and write multiple documents at once. It also provides a place to store research notes, pictures and audio transcriptions. Before Scrivener, I stored these things in various folders on my computer.

Scrivener offered autosave and full-screen mode long before Apple and Microsoft made it to the party. Scrivener’s corkboard, outlining and collection modes provide users various means of reviewing and laying out all their documents.

It features a snapshot mode that allows you to roll back to previous versions of your draft, it syncs with Dropbox and it handles notes and comments far more intuitively than any app I’ve used.

The developer has created a really useful video tutorial, the people on Scrivener’s forums are really helpful and the application doesn’t take longer than an hour or two to learn. It’s got a cult following online, and did I mention Graham Linehan uses it?

This is my default application for longer works.

Summary: Scrivener is the best looking of all the applications listed here, its full screen mode is a joy to work in, and it’s perfect for longer writing projects.

3. Pages

pages logo Pages is Apple’s answer to Word.

It costs just EUR17.99 and EUR9.99 for the iOS version. When the current OS X version (Pages ’09) was released in 2009 it was lauded for its usability and for the way it handled pictures and tables.

Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t really updated Pages for OS X much since then. Today, it’s in dire need of an overhaul. Their iOS version looks pretty but I find it difficult to get a serious amount of work done writing on a tablet.

Update: In October 2013 Pages received a much needed update. It’s now free for new and recent Apple customers. Find out more at Macworld.

Pages is not as useful or effective if you only want to use the same document on a Windows machine. And don’t get me started on Apple’s insistence on the .PAGES  proprietary format. I know I can always export to a .DOC, .RFT or a .PDF, but it’s an extra step I’d like to avoid.

Summary: Pages is best used if you are already tied into the Apple suite of products. Saving your documents in iCloud works really well if you have multiple Macs or iOS devices.

4. Google Docs

Google DocsGoogle Drive is a great word processor, provided you are already using the Google suite. It features many of the features of Word and other desktop word processors.

It may not be as fast or as polished as desktop applications but Google makes it really easy to collaborate and share documents with other people.

Real time updates are particularly impressive. Google Docs is free and you can use it almost anywhere, with the caveat that Google is hosting your Magnum Opus within Google Docs.

Although I’ve used Google Docs in the past, I’ve been put off the sometimes sluggish feel to the application. The occasional service outages haven’t helped either but it’s worth pointing out that there is an offline mode.

Don’t take my word for it though. I once worked for a national radio station where the production team of a large show used Google Docs to share each day’s running order and notes with each other.

Summary: Google Docs is great for writing on the go.

5. A Plain .TXT Editor

NotepadStripped down can be a good thing.

Sometimes, I just want to type something really quickly without waiting for a word processor to open or worry about a confusing range of options, menus, ribbons, templates, tables and tools.

Plain text editors like Notepad (Windows) and TextEdit (OS X) are great because they’re free and they come pre-installed on their applicable operating systems. Mac users should also check out the rather excellent Notational Velocity.

These apps may lack lots of different formatting options and they can’t handle tables and pictures but they are only meant for writing text. And anyone, on any device can open a .TXT file.

They are backwards, forwards and every which way compatible. Here is a longer post explaining why.

Tip: If you want to collaborate with a friend save the .TXT file in a shared Dropbox folder.

Summary: It’s almost impossible to break a plain text document.

Honourable Mentions

An email client is a great place to compose or write something in a hurry. Most clients feature spell checkers and commonly used formatting options.

It is easy to bash out a few hundred word and email it to yourself for revision later on. Better still, you can do this on a smartphone while on the run, sync it with Google Docs or your cloud drive of choice.

Whatever your tool of choice, remember Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He writes, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

Please let me know about your favourite writing applications in the comments section below. I also wrote an expanded version of this post that describes ten killer writing tools you can use today.

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1 thought on “Top 5 Writing Applications”

  1. Shivani Bhargava

    Hi Bryan, great post and content! I will definitely plan on sharing some of your posts on my own business FB page for my audience, thank you!

    I wanted to draw your attention to TheRightMargin, a goal-driven writing tool that helps you finish what you write. We’ve taken a very different approach to helping writers than other text editors. We start with your writing goals first. We’ve got some pretty neat features including tailored genre specific timelines (called smart projects), time estimates for tasks, word counters/built in timers and side by side writing with notes/outlines. I invite you to check it out!

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