Writers of the past didn’t have much choice when it came to the selection of writing tools. Of course, they could choose a typewriter brand, paper quality, or notebook type, but as far as the writing process was concerned, that was pretty much it.
Computers were not there yet, so no word processors or fancy magic tools could be of any help. And even though the first word processors, like WordStar (1978) and Microsoft Word (1983), were nothing but powerful typewriters capable of editing and sharing the text without any paper waste, they changed the way we perceive the writing process.
Today, forty years later, the list of available word processors, both commercial and free, has grown by tenfold and is constantly growing. The offering is so wide that many writers tend to stick with familiar all-in-ones like Word, Pages, and GoogleDocs that suit most writers and purposes.
However, every writer has a different personality, tastes, and writing strategies. If so, what tools could suit different writer types the best?
In this post, I talk about the four popular writing tools on the market that can suit different types of writers. I hope it will help you pick a new tool for your writing arsenal.
If you are one of the writers who need a distraction-free user interface, you will like iA Writer. The app offers a unique environment for writing down your story using nothing but plain text with some basic Markdown components (heading, lists, footnotes, etc.). The only thing you need to do is select the preferred level of focus (sentence, paragraph, or line) and start writing. If you select sentence-level focus, everything except the sentence you are writing is dimmed, including previous sentences, headers, and everything that comes after. It creates an immense sense of focus, sparing the temptation to look back at what you’ve written, thus saving time and forcing you to care only about the current sentence.
In addition to focus mode, iA Writer allows you to track how you use parts of speech, highlighting nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and conjunctions with different colors. I don’t find this feature useful during writing, but it is definitely helpful when reviewing your text, as it can help to spot parts of your text overloaded with certain parts of speech.
What: simple yet feature-rich Markdown editor with superior typeface and several focus modes.
Top features: grammar syntax highlighting, unparalleled focus mode, style check, the export of your drafts directly to Medium.
For whom: for writers who like to write fast without losing their focus.
Another text editor equipped with basic Markdown features offering a unique writing experience.
Unlike iA Writer, Ulysses is available exclusively on macOS. I have been using Ulysses regularly for more than a year and must admit: if I ever face a choice of going on with a MacBook or buying a PC, I will stick with my MacBook only because Ulysses is there.
Seriously, Ulysses has replaced most of the writing software I had used in the past. I use it for writing blog posts, poems, taking notes, storing recipes, and anything writing-related.
What makes Ulysses unique is an easy document management system and flexible export options (for PDFs, you can choose between dozens of beautiful styles you won’t find anywhere else). As for the document management system, I like it because it allows you to create groups of documents, give them any name (e.g., Medium, Recipes, Notes, etc.), and use custom icons to help you navigate in your writing more easily.
Ulysses has many more useful features that I use when I write. Some examples include visually appealing and not distracting tracking of word count, a preview of reading time (for the slow, average, fast reader, and even reading aloud), and detailed text statistics.
What: a powerful plain text editor capable of turning your drafts into the most beautiful documents ready to be shown almost to anybody.
Top features: tracking goal word count, setting deadlines, custom icons for document groups, and powerful export options (including directly to Medium and WordPress).
For whom: writers who know the exact amount of words they want to write and those obsessed with perfect typesetting of their final drafts.
It is almost impossible to write an article about writing tools and not mention Scrivener, so I won’t say much as a lot has been said before. All you need to know about Scrivener is that it is one of those tools you respect. You may also think you know it, but it has more to offer than you’re able to discover in a lifetime. Seriously, if you think of one software for big writers (writing big things), nothing compares to Scrivener. Everything from synopsis to scene planner, from character sketches to story outliner, from index cards to distraction-free mode, and much more. Scrivener is a paragon of a tool for writers working in different genres, be it screenplays, novels, poetry, journalistic essays, or academic writing. Whatever you write, Scrivener gets you covered.
What: all-in-one feature-rich writing software designed by someone who knows something about the writing process.
Top features: incremental manuscript building, flexible drafting options, space for storing research findings, and industry-grade export features.
For whom: for plotters and serious writers who waste no time on trifles.
This minimalistic writing tool takes distraction-free writing to the next level. The idea behind Flowstate is simple: it helps you beat the inner critic and finally start writing without looking back. Honestly, you wouldn’t be able to look back because if you stop typing for seven seconds, everything you have written during the writing session will disappear. Yes, forever. There is no copy-paste command to save you writing, no other tricks that will help you cheat and feel just half of the challenge. The challenge is real.
The only thing you can control in Flowstate is the timer setting (between 5 and 180 minutes). Once it ends, you are able to save your writing to the hard drive and even edit it. You should make sure that no one is going to disturb you during the writing session. But most importantly, you need a lot of courage and be not afraid of accidentally killing your darlings.
What: an extreme minimalistic writing tool that will make you experience a flow state every time you start writing.
Top features: no mercy.
For whom: writers who like to challenge themselves from time to time and those who experience writer block.
Depending on how you approach writing, some tools may suit you better than others. My favorite one is Ulysses because I really like its user experience and some features like word count tracking and beautiful export.
However, I still use other tools from time to time, depending on my mood and needs. For example, Scrivener is instrumental when I need to track multiple storylines or tell a story from different viewpoints. iA Writer is perfect for writing blog posts, and Flowstate is more of a fun tool that I use only rarely to challenge myself or get rid of the fear of writing after long breaks.
I hope that this post helped you decide if you want to try some of the tools I covered. The choice is totally yours, of course. Perhaps, you have already found your favorite one, and it is not even on my list. If so, I would be happy to hear your opinion.
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