Get Some Work Done: The Best Writing Environments for Mac OS X

Bakari Chavanu 06-01-2015

When tackling writing projects, you need the best writing environment possible to get the job done.


Fortunately for Mac users, there’s no shortage of writing tools available for long and short form writing projects. A good writing environment provides cross-platform access, collaboration features, and multi-format support. In addition, you may want to use a program that can assist you with all stages of the writing process, from brainstorming, drafting, to final edit.

Scrivener ($45)

For long form writing projects, such as manuals, research papers, and books, I prefer to work in Literature and Latte’s Scrivener ($45). It provides a format for managing research, outlining content, and drafting and exporting documents. This is a writing environment that makes it relatively easy to setup and manage chapters and sections of a writing project, allowing you to skip around and work on various sections of your document. It also provides an excellent distraction-free writing  Four Distraction-Free Writing Environments For Mac Compared [Video] If you want to increase your writing productivity on your Mac, one sure fire way to do so is to use full-screen mode in a distraction-free text editor program. Read More environment Four Distraction-Free Writing Environments For Mac Compared [Video] If you want to increase your writing productivity on your Mac, one sure fire way to do so is to use full-screen mode in a distraction-free text editor program. Read More .


Scrivener allows you to categorise your writing, notes, webpages and media files under a system of folders and subfolders. All content is kept packaged in a project file where it can be saved on your Mac or a cloud service, such as Dropbox and Google Docs. There’s no iOS version of Scrivener, but it does include features for exporting and syncing drafts to iOS word pressing apps.

Scrivener supports exporting documents to all major platforms, including Microsoft Word, and even the Kindle ebook format. Scrivener however is not a desktop publishing program like Word and Pages. It’s a popular application for writing writing novels, as well as plays and scripts, and non-fiction projects. We have previously published an article about advanced techniques for using Scrivener Power Up Your Writing Workflow: Make Better Use Of Scrivener When it comes to getting a research paper, ebook or novel completed, Scrivener can help you stay organized and motivated — that is, if you know how to use some of its best features. Read More , in addition to our free PDF beginner’s manual, Your Guide to Scrivener Your Guide To Scrivener Read More .


Pages ($20, free with new Macs)

Apple’s classic iWork Pages ($19.99) program is billed as both a word processor and desktop publishing layout software. It can easily handle simple reports, resumés, newsletters, fliers, and even entire book manuscripts.


Pages is not cluttered with lots of buttons in the toolbar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not packed with features. The latest current version (5.5) displays tools according to a selected element in a document. For instance, when text is selected, the font, body, and alignment tools are appear in the sidebar. Likewise, when an image element is selected, the image adjustment, and object arrangement tools appear. Though this approach means the tool sidebar is no longer floating off to the side as in previous versions of the application, it does reduce redundant mouse clicks in order to get the appropriate tools.

Advance features include  2D and 3D chart templates, tools for creating footnotes and endnotes, and tracking changes made to a document. Pages automatically saves previous versions of a document which allows users to revert back to or copy from previous drafts. Pages documents can be exported to PDF, Word, and even ePub for ebook publication. The online and iOS versions of Pages (previous version reviewed here iOS Pages Turns Your iPad Into a Desktop Publishing Device If you are using your iPad like a laptop computer or notebook, Apple's iOS version of its word processor, Pages ($9.99), is exclusively designed for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. In its most recent... Read More ) mirror the features of the desktop client, providing nearly seamless workflow and collaboration between  writing environments.


Unfortunately there are a group of older users who are still waiting for Apple to add features they removed from previous versions of Pages, and the App Store reviews very much reflect this. Regardless, Pages is still simple and user-friendly word processor for newcomers.

Microsoft Word ($140 as part of Office for Mac 2011)

For good or bad, Microsoft Word 2011 ($139.99 for the Home Edition) is still the industry standard for writing platforms. The Word version for Mac probably has the fullest range of feature and tools for both writing and desktop publishing, though compared to Pages, Word may appear cluttered and somewhat challenging to use.

 Microsoft Word

Like it or not, Word is still widely used on both the Mac and PC. It includes a wide range of document templates — from newsletters and brochures, to reports and resumé layouts. The application’s toolbar includes text formatting tools, dozens of data and table formats, and SmartArt graphical templates for inserting various types of 3D charts that pull data from PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheets and Outlook mail. Word also supports Pages documents, if you need or want to work in both environments.


Word templates

As with Pages, the online and the recently released free iOS versions of Word make it a cross-platform program for writing collaboration and writing in different environments. Unlike with Pages, Microsoft’s online version of Word and its other office suite of applications require a monthly subscription, whereas the iWork suite is available to anyone with an iCloud account.

LibreOffice (free)

If you’re looking for a free writing  environment that includes many of the features found in Pages and Word, LibreOffice is worth a download. While its user interface is somewhat dated, and is not as attractive as Pages, it is a cross-platform application that includes tools for formatting text, spell checking, inserting images and tables, and creating footnotes. Writer documents can also be exported to PDF and HTML, and it supports Office and Lotus 123 formats.



However, Writer does not track changes made to a document, and it doesn’t have a corresponding online or iOS client. The program also doesn’t include templates for various types of documents, but a basic set of templates can be downloaded and installed. It might not be the most robust writing environment, but it gets the job done.

Note: You might be scratching your head when considering the differences between LibreOffice and OpenOffice, but generally speaking LibreOffice is making some of the best progress in terms of innovation and code optimization – but you be the judge!
Ulysses ($45)

Soulmen’s Ulysses III is advertised as “a smooth writing experience” – and that certainly could be the case for many users. Ulysses is a clutter-free writing environment that also provides tools for managing multiple writing projects. It’s not a desktop publication program, but it includes support for Markdown Learning Markdown: Write For The Web, Faster Markdown is the best way to write in plain text but still create complex documents. Unlike HTML or LaTex, for example, Markdown is simple to learn. Read More . An iOS version of Ulysses will be released soon, and documents can also be synced with the iOS app, Daedalus Touch.


Ulysses provides a distraction-free writing platform Four Distraction-Free Writing Environments For Mac Compared [Video] If you want to increase your writing productivity on your Mac, one sure fire way to do so is to use full-screen mode in a distraction-free text editor program. Read More  that includes a typewriter scrolling feature in which the current line of typing stays positioned at the selected top, middle, or bottom of the document. Its two left panels can be hidden, and the software supports full screen mode typing. With Ulysses, documents are not saved in the Finder, but instead they are kept together in a library, organized by writing projects and individual “sheets.” The Ulysses library can be saved to iCloud, Dropbox, or anywhere in your Mac Finder.

For text and header formatting, Ulysses includes a handy sidebar of Markdown attributes for applying to selected text. It also keeps track of writing related stats, including character and word count, and supports export to PDF, Word, RTF, TXT, and ePub.


Write ($10)

The note-taking and Markdown Mac client, Write ($9.99), is similar to Ulysses, but it allows for managing and syncing documents and folders in multiple locations, including iCloud, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Documents and notes can also be tagged and starred, and there’s support for Markdown.


Write includes typewriter mode, as well an option for fullscreen distraction-free writing. Notes or documents can be share shared directly from Write to email, AirDrop, Messages, Twitter and Facebook, and there is support for HTML preview. And as you might expect, there’s also an iOS version of Write Write App: A Beautiful iOS Text Editor With Markdown Support & Dozens of Actions Writing apps for the iPad and iPhone are plentiful. We're lucky enough to live in a time when developers are coming up with new ways to edit text using unique features in new apps. This... Read More  that can either sync through iCloud or Dropbox. Check out a 7-day trial version of Write to see if it fits your needs.

MarsEdit ($40)

If you’re managing various blogs, the long established blogging editor MarsEdit ($39.99) provides support for WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, TypePad, Movable Type, and several other programs. I use MarsEdit for drafting most of my articles for this very website, mainly because its features are faster for embedding URL links, images, and header formats.


MarsEdit provides options for typing in WYSIWYG mode, as well as HTML and Markdown editors Write, Edit & Manage Blog Posts Faster With MarsEdit for OS X While WordPress is the quintessential blogging service, writing blogs directly in its text editor is not always user friendly. That's why I use MarsEdit for composing and uploading all of my blog posts. Read More . You can manage and edit uploaded blog posts from within MarsEdit, and if for some reason the application crashes, your current draft is automatically saved.

Plenty of Options

There’s hardly no shortage of writing environments for the Mac. Others include the blogging apps, Drafts, and Blogo 2 (reviewed here Blogo 2 Is The Mac Blogging App You've Been Looking For One thing I've noticed Windows switchers complain about about is a lack of a solid OS X blogging client. That's about to change – Blogo 2 is out, and it's very, very good. Read More ), my favorite journal writing app, Day One Keep a Digital Diary with Day One for Mac OS X and iOS Everyone has a story to tell. It's not always a story in need of an audience, sometimes a story just needs to be told. You may want to continue the journal you started when you... Read More , and iBooks Author for ePub publications How To Write Your First Book In iBooks Author Apple recently introduced iBooks Author in a live presentation at the Guggenheim in New York. The software is aimed at textbook writers and publishers, but it can just as well be used for producing cookbooks,... Read More . Each of these applications offer unique features for particular writing and collaboration needs.

Let us know what you think of these writing platforms and which ones you prefer.

Related topics: OS X Yosemite, Writing Tips.

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  1. Drofgnal
    November 7, 2016 at 9:12 am

    One note on Pages that your article didn't capture. It is able to publish in epub format.

  2. Thomas
    March 3, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for the article. I'm working on my first book using Word for now, but I really need to find a better way to manage it, because it is structured as an chronological memoir with short stories.

    Take a look at the idea in the line below, any tips on what programs might work for this type of project?

  3. Pwillco
    February 9, 2015 at 2:20 am

    Good article, we need help in figuring the differences in the writing apps.There's so many writing applicaitions, it's hard to pick one to use, and leads to an overwhelming number of mostly un-used writing apps on the computer. One app I have liked is Jers novel writer, but it's put together by one programmer, and there's been no updates in years, so I am not sure i even want to keep using it if it never gets updated. It helps if a program has a team behind it. I've liked using Pages lately, it's more nimble than I thought it'd be.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      February 19, 2015 at 4:21 am

      Pwillco, you're correct, there are dozens of text editors out there, each with its own unique features. So it primarily depends upon the features you need in your writing workflow. Fortunately, many applications allow for free trial download. The online version of Pages is also now available to everyone for free.

  4. Petar
    January 12, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Fair enough, thank you!

  5. Petar
    January 8, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Could somebody please explain to me why do I need a corresponding online client for LibreOffice? The author said it is a problem because there is none but why do I need one at all? LibreOffice is for free so I can install it wherever I want, how many times I want. Also, I believe there is a track changes function in LibreOffice.

    Here you can find templates for LibreOffice -

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Petar, thanks for your feedback. I included the point about the online support because some people use it for writing collaboration purposes (also editing and reader feedback.) I admit, I haven't used the application beyond reviewing it, but thought it would be a useful free option and with a few other benefits.

  6. jeanaustinr
    January 7, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    I'm surprised Evernote is not included in the list. It has multi-platform support (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and web) and has collaboration features like notes sharing and Work Chat (real time chat). The web, mobile and desktop versions have all the essential formatting options and also the ability to insert images (videos and sound also), tables, bullets and checkboxes. Most importantly, it has the ability to synchronize notes which makes them available instantly on any device of the user.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 11, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      Hmmm, I’ve never thought to use Evernote as a strict word processor for writing articles and manuscripts. I use Evernote for for collecting notes, outlines, articles, and minutes, but it feels a little too cluttered for writing entire articles or books. But definitely get your point. Thanks for your feedback.