There are very few certainties in life: death, taxes, and that, at some point, you’ll need to use a computer to write something. Whether you work in an office, run your own business, or volunteer in the Congo, there’s pretty much no escaping it.
Since you’re going to have to use your Mac to write, you might as well use the right app for it. Using the wrong tools is never fun.
In this article, we look at some of the best writing app options available on macOS. Not all these apps will be right for you, but one of them probably will.
What Makes a Good Word Processor for Mac?
Word processors and other writing apps have been around for decades now. There are very few bad ones left! Most writing apps will work for most things, but they sometimes won’t be very good at it. Microsoft Word is a really powerful word processor, but it’s overkill if you’re using it to write a blogpost.
This means that the number one thing that makes a good writing app is how well it fits your needs. I write a 1000 word article every day of the week; I also work on longer more heavily researched projects at the same time. This means that I’ve got some very specific needs. If you only need to write the occasional quarterly report or something for your personal blog, your needs are going to be very very different.
Besides fitting your needs, there are a few key features that any word processor software for Mac has to have for them even to be considered a good writing app:
- They need to be able to open and export multiple filetypes.
- Whatever file formats they use have to be open or widely supported.
- They need to offer some way for you to style your text.
- They need to allow you to work on more than one document at once.
- They need to be stable, bug free, and still supported on your Mac.
While this is hardly an exciting feature list, it does exclude a surprising number of apps. You just can’t have an app as crucial as your word processor crash on you because the developer isn’t supporting it any longer.
The Best Writing Apps for Mac
Now, let’s start digging into the best writing apps for your Mac. This list isn’t in order of best, but rather moves from most popular, most easily available, down to niche apps designed for specific purposes.
Full Word Processors for Mac
Full word processors are applications that do pretty much anything you could imagine with text. They’re things like Microsoft Word (and all of Microsoft Word’s main competitors). If you work in an office, you probably need a full word processor, but for some they can be a bit over the top. Let's look at detail on what makes these apps powerful options to work with:
1. Microsoft Word 2016 - For Use on Your Mac
While Microsoft Word isn’t as dominant as it once was, it’s still used in millions of offices around the world. If you work in any big company, the odds are this is the app you have to use. It might not be anyone’s favourite writing app, but it can do pretty much everything.
In fact, it’s deep feature set is almost a problem; for most people there’s just too much going on. If you have to use Word, then there’s nothing you can do about it, although given the price and quality of some of the other options, I’d recommend at least looking elsewhere if the decision is up to you.
- Microsoft Word is available for $69.99 a year (or $6.99 a month) as part of an Office 365 Personal subscription.
- It’s the most popular word processor in business so widely supported everywhere.
- There is also a companion iOS Word app so you can work on your documents from anywhere.
2. Google Docs - Accessible With Your Mac
Google Docs is the leading competitor in reach, if not necessarily in quality or features, to Word. It’s an online, collaborative word processor. While its feature set is more limited, for most uses, it’s possible to use Docs over Word.
- Google Docs is free for anyone with a Google account to use.
- The biggest issue is that you can really only make the most of Docs when you’re connected to the internet.
- Docs’ greatest strength is how seamless collaboration is. It’s simple for multiple people to work on a single document at the same time.
3. Apple Pages - Mac Word Processor App
Pages is Apple’s Mac-native answer to Word. It takes full use of all the Mac’s native technologies and has a companion iOS app. It's a decent app with all the features you’d expect a professional word processor to have. You can even collaborate with PC users through Pages for iCloud.
- Pages is free for macOS and iOS users. PC users can also use the iCloud version for free.
- Pages is the best looking, and has the best looking templates, of all the full word processing suites available on Mac.
- Unfortunately, Pages just isn’t as popular as the other apps, so you might have a hard time convincing the people you want to collaborate with to use it as well.
4. Writer - Free Word Processor for Mac
Before Google Docs, the leading free competitor to Word was LibreOffice’s Writer. It’s still around, it’s still free, and, well, that’s about it.
Writer is a decent open-source word processor that, for the most part, has been replaced by other options. While you can still use it for your own personal use if you’re familiar with it, it doesn’t really have anything going for it that makes it stand apart.
If you desperately don’t want to use Microsoft, Google or Apple’s offerings, it’s there. Otherwise, it’s probably not the app for you.
General Writing Apps for Mac
These writing apps are less fully featured than a full word processor. Some are more suited to specific kinds of writing, like blogging, but they are all pretty flexible. For most people, one of these apps will give you the best balance between form, features, user friendliness, and price. They’re all a lot easier to get to grips with than a behemoth like Word.
Like Writer, TextEdit is getting a reference for completeness sake rather than because it is a truly amazing word processor. It comes with macOS and can create, edit and style simple text files. If you only need a very basic scratch pad for writing quick text documents, it’s perfect; but if you need something more fully featured, there are better options.
6. Ulysses - Pro Writing Software for Mac
I’m writing this article using Ulysses. It’s the app that, by far, best fits my needs. It’s great for writing longform content as well as keeping dozens of shorter articles organised. I know quite a few other writers who use Ulysses as well, and that’s the key. Ulysses is perfect for writers. If you are banging out hundreds of words on a daily basis, it will make your life easier. If, however, you only need something for occasional report writing, it will be a poor fit.
- Ulysses costs $44.99 for the Mac version and $24.99 for the fully-featured iOS version.
- Ulysses has full Markdown support.
- Ulysses is designed for writers so offers a lot of features to make it easy to outline, draft, write, edit, and rearrange longer works.
- You can also publish directly to your WordPress site or Medium account from Ulysses.
7. Byword - Simple Mac Writing Software
Before Ulysses, I used Byword. It’s a simple, beautiful text editor. If you just want to write a letter, a diary entry or a blog post, and not worry about much else, it’s great.
- Byword costs $11.99 on Mac and $5.99 on iOS.
- Byword is designed to be used with Markdown. In fact, it’s the app I used in my introduction to Markdown tutorial.
- With Byword, you can export your files to text, HTML, or PDF files. More usefully, you can publish them directly to Medium, WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and Evernote.
8. iA Writer - Minimalist Writing App for Mac
iA Writer is a similar style of app to Byword: a simple, minimalist Markdown writer. Where Byword prioritises publishing to elsewhere, iA Writer offers better file exporting: you can use custom templates and even export to Microsoft Word files.
- iA Writer costs $9.99 on Mac and $3.99 on iOS.
Specific Writing Software for Mac
While you can write almost anything with Word (or Ulysses or Byword), they’re designed for pretty general work. Jacks of all trades but masters of none. If you want to do something really specific, like write a book or a screenplay, then you need to use a writing app that’s able to handle all the special formatting that’s required.
9. Scrivener 2 - Long Form Mac Writing Software
Scrivener is designed for writing longform documents. Things like novels and theses. If you’re writing something that’s less than 20,000 words, Scrivener is complete overkill. On the other hand, if you are writing the next great American novel, then Scrivener is perfect.
- Scrivener is $45 for the macOS app and $19.99 for the iOS app.
- It’s a “complete writing studio”. There’s a virtual corkboard so you can outline and organise your ideas, rearrange entire segments, and much more. Here’s our guide to getting started with Scrivener to help you find your way.
- Scrivener takes a non-linear approach. You can just start writing anywhere and move it into place later. Want to jump from working on chapter 15 to chapter 22? Go right ahead.
- Scrivener also has a file browser/research tab so you can keep all your research in the app as well.
10. Storyist - Robust Mac Book Writing App
Storyist, like Scrivener, is designed for writing books. The biggest difference isn’t in the feature set but in the interface. There is very little one can do that the other can’t. Both have free trials so, if you’re writing a book, the best thing to do is try them both out before settling on one.
- Storyist is $59 on Mac and $14.99 on iOS.
- Storyist has a more modern and clean interface than Scrivener which may appeal to some people.
11. Final Draft 10 - Powerful Screenwriting Mac Writing App
While Scrivener is the go to for writing novels, Final Draft 10 is the industry standard for screenwriting. The developers claim it’s used in 95% of film and television productions.
More than most other forms of writing, screenplays have very strict formatting conventions: everything is written in 12pt Courier on US letter paper with everything laid out in a certain way. Fail to stick to these conventions and you’ll just look like an amateur. Final Draft makes it easy write your next screenplay professionally.
- Final Draft is $249.99 for Mac.
12. Slugline - Simple Screenwriting Writing App for Mac
Final Draft is undeniably a professional app with a professional price tag. If you’re just looking to get to work on your first screenplay, it’s understandable that you’d want something that’s a little less expensive. This is where Slugline comes in.
For $39.99 you get a beautiful screenwriting app that’s designed just for the Mac. A printed screenplay written in Slugline will look identical to one written in Final Draft. It might not have as wide a use in the film industry, but it is being used in more and more productions.
As I said at the start, the biggest factor you need to consider when choosing a writing app is what you need. Slugline is awesome if you’re writing a movie, but it’s not very useful if you just want to publish an occasional blog post. Word is still the de facto standard, but Google Docs and Pages are decent, free competitors. Look at what you want to do and pick the app that suits you best. Many also offer free trials, so don’t be afraid to download a few different ones before you buy.