Today, we’re going to be covering a topic that’s near to my heart – the best writing apps for Mac. I started my writing career at the same time as I purchased my first Mac, and so I’ve been using writing apps just as long as I’ve been using macOS. In my mind, it’s hard to think about one without the other.
Over the years, I’ve tried a bunch of writing apps, and in this post, I’m going to share my favorites with you.
Some of these are free, but most aren’t. I’m considering these as serious writing tools and not just something to type in. After all, nearly every computer comes with a free app that you can use to write down your ideas and thoughts.
Instead, I’m going to be focusing on professional apps. These are the apps I use (or have used) daily to write articles, blogs, novels, poems, journals, and a bunch of failed ideas. Most of these apps are going to be word processors, but not all. I’ve also included apps for outlining, spellchecking, and automating certain aspects of the writing process.
Alright, enough introduction! Let’s get into it.
The best writing apps for Mac
Although this list is in no particular order, I did want to kick off my picks for the best writing apps by talking about my personal favorite.
Typora was one of the first apps I started using when I purchased my Mac. It was free at the time, still in beta, and I don’t even remember how I stumbled into it.
Regardless, I have written in Typora every day since downloading it. I am writing in it right now, and when it comes to just opening a doc and starting to write, I never bother to open anything else.
Typora is a markdown editor that’s packed with all of the essential features, is highly customizable, but is still trim and simple. There are other markdown editors in this list, but I find them to be either too cluttered with unnecessary features or too simple to be useful.
This app is perfectly in the middle for me. I adore writing in Typora. It’s pleasant to look at, lightning-fast for formatting, flexible, and straightforward. My job would be a lot crummier without it, and I highly recommend that everyone reading this article give it a shot. Especially if you’re writing short-form content.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Typora is Scrivener. No list of the best writing apps would be complete without this titan of novel writing. This is one of the most feature-packed, powerful, and downright excellent writing apps out there.
For those that don’t know, Scrivener is an app for writing long-form content. That includes novels, novellas, short stories, whitepapers, and anything much longer than ten pages.
While Scrivener has a lot (and I mean a lot) of features that make it great for this, to me the core of this is its organizational components. You can easily divide your text into folders, chapters, and sections, attach notes to each of these sections, create notes for characters and your plot, and much more.
Before using Scrivener, I was using a binder to keep track of all of this information. I would open it and scratch out ideas, then start typing the story up on my computer. With Scrivener, the binder and the novel become one piece.
It is a pricey app at nearly $50 but well worth it if you can scrape the cash together. I do not think you need to be a professional novelist to purchase this app. The structure and features make trying to put a book together in something like Microsoft Word seem like a nightmare. If you only download two apps from this list, it would be Typora for short-form writing and Scrivener for long-form.
Next on our list of the best writing apps is one that you’ve probably seen an annoying amount of ads for. Grammarly is an extremely popular app, and yet probably still not as popular as it should be.
In essence, Grammarly is just a good spellchecker. Not only will it make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly, but it’ll check that your using the right forms of certain words, help you replace wordy phrases, and grade the tone and reading difficulty of what you’ve written.
Another neat feature that I find myself using a lot is the ability to change the region your writing for. So I can write in my native American English then convert it to UK English with Grammarly.
I wouldn’t say that Grammarly is a mind-blowing app in the way that the first two suggestions in this list are. That said, it is one that I find myself using several times each day. I haven’t tried the paid version before, so I can’t comment on its usefulness. Though I will say that I’ve never felt that I needed it, especially since it’s a subscription and not a one-time purchase.
Also, one mark against Grammarly that I have to mention is how slow it is. This app takes at least eight seconds to open on my M1 iMac and every click results in a loading screen. I’m pretty sure this is because it’s just a port of the web app version, so it isn’t optimized for desktop whatsoever. Hopefully, this changes in the future, because right now, I do always find myself waiting on Grammarly to get things done.
The next item in our list of the best writing apps is a bit of a sideways one. TextExpander is not a word processor or an app for spellchecking. Instead, it’ll help you automate certain segments of your writing.
TextExpander allows you to program certain typed words and phrases to automatically expand into other words and phrases.
For example, I use a standard outline format when writing most of my articles. So I have text expansion set up so that whenever I type “!outline” a title, blank summary, blank intro, and blank conclusion appear. I have similar expansions for my email, name, address, certain URLs that I type often, today’s date, and more.
Expansions can also be used to correct or replace certain phrases with the right spelling or punctuation. For instance, every time I type “aka” it’s instantly replaced with “a.k.a.” and “realtime” is replaced with “real-time”.
You can even do some basic automation with TextExpander. You could type something like “!workemail” in the “To:” field of an email draft, and it would replace it with the recipient, jump to the “Subject:” line and fill it in, then jump to the content of your draft and fill that in for you, too.
Technically, I use Keyboard Maestro to accomplish this, but that’s only because I bought it before TextExpander. TextExpander is a much easier app to use and is geared exclusively for this purpose. If you’re someone who finds themselves typing the same things over and over, you can use a text expansion app to speed up your work significantly.
Another app that long-form writers will love is Scapple. Made by the same team behind Scrivener, Scapple is a feature-packed mind-mapping app.
In my view, Scapple is the Typora of mind-mapping apps. It has all of the benefits of being a digital tool while feeling as simple as using a pencil and paper to start mapping out your ideas.
You can easily and intuitively draw shapes, write in these shapes, connect them with lines and arrows, and continue to build on your maps infinitely. If you’re someone who finds mind-maps helpful, then there isn’t anything out there much better than Scapple.
The one downside of this app is that it isn’t updated very frequently. The developer keeps it compatible, but new features and visual retouches are few and far between. It’s been nearly unchanged for several years now, which makes me a bit worried that it’ll fall by the wayside eventually. For now, though, Scapple is still perfectly usable and a great addition to any writer’s toolkit.
MarsEdit was built for bloggers. It is a markdown and HTML writing tool, so you’ll find that the writing style is a lot like Typora.
What sets it apart, however, is that MarsEdit is designed for writing blog posts and articles. It can plug directly into your WordPress website, allowing you to publish to your blog right from the app.
You can even add tags, titles, links, and other bits of metadata that are key to keeping your blog organized and SEO-friendly.
Beyond that, MarsEditis a pretty straightforward writing app. It doesn’t have too many robust features, instead focusing on what it does best. It’s free to use but does offer some paid-exclusive features. These features include adding multiple WordPress accounts, easy media adding, and even comment replying.
For bloggers, it doesn’t get much better than MarsEdit, unless you prefer to write directly in WordPress like a madman.
Unfortunately for Ulysses, it’s always been labeled as “the Scrivener alternative”. While this might be annoying for the developers, I have to agree with the title!
Ulysses is a writing app that feels like it was designed by Apple with the goals of Scrivener. It’s built for long-form writing and has many of the same organizational tools that Scrivener has. None of these features are as rich or complicated as Scrivener, however, and the interface feels much more like an Apple ecosystem app than Scrivener does.
Additionally, Ulysses can sync across Apple devices. This means that you can start writing on your desktop, grab your iPad, and pick up right where you left off.
Scrivener, conversely, offers a mobile app for iPad and iPhone. This version of Scrivener syncs with itself, but not with the desktop version of Scrivener. For that, you need to use Dropbox.
Overall, Ulysses isn’t for me. I prefer the more feature-rich Scrivener, even if it’s locked into the desktop a bit more. If you prefer more flexibility and find Scrivener to be overwhelming, however, then Ulysses offers a more streamlined alternative.
If Ulysses is the Apple-fied alternative to Scrivener, then that’s what iA Writer is to Typora. It’s an extremely similar app, offering elegant markdown writing and editing. You can export to HTML, post to WordPress or Medium, and focus on your writing with minimal UI distractions.
iA Writer is a bit more restricted when it comes to features included in the best writing apps that have been mentioned so far. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It just depends on what you’re looking for. I’m sure there are plenty of writers who will love using this app.
Of course, no list of the best writing apps is complete without Microsoft Word. I’d love to say that Apple’s Pages is just as good as Word, but it’s not. The only advantage it has is being free and built into macOS.
In every other way, Microsoft Word is superior. The interface is better, the features richer, the updates more substantive. Microsoft Word is the word processor, the workhorse we’re all familiar with.
Whether you’re working on a novel, putting essays together for school, or even writing for a living, Microsoft Word will get the job done well. It’s not my cup of tea at this point in my career, as I prefer more specialized apps to get the job done. But for the vast majority of people, it’s been the go-to for the last several decades.
As far as free alternatives to Microsoft Word go, I think Google Docs comes before Pages. It’s free, easily accessible on all of your devices (even non-Apple ones), is popular among everyone regardless of their OS, has plenty of features, a great UI, allows for real-time collaboration, and a bunch of other powerful features that are easy to overlook.
Although I try to avoid using Google products for privacy reasons, it’s impossible not to use Google Docs if you write for a living. It’s gradually become the standard in the writing industry thanks to its simplicity and wide availability.
If you’re strapped for cash and just want something to brute force your writing with, Google Docs will carry you to the end of time. After all, you just need a way to get the words down!
Go beyond the best writing apps for macOS
And that’s it! Those are the best writing apps for Mac right now. I’ve used all of these apps and much, much more. Still, these are the ones that have stuck with me throughout the years. My daily drivers are:
- TextExpander (a.k.a. Keyboard Maestro)
- Google Docs
If I could only use one of these apps for the rest of my life, it would be Typora, and if I could choose two, it would be Typora and Scrivener. In other words, those are my highest recommendations!
For more insights, news, and guides on all things Apple, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.
See you next time!