Decluttering iStuff: Mac Writing Applications

It’s fitting that this is the first week I begin culling the underused applications from my Mac, seeing as I’ve just acquired a shiny new 11-inch MacBook Air. My old machine (2007 model 15-inch MacBook Pro) was equipped with a 320 GB hard drive. Even by going for the higher end stock unit, my new notebook can only hold 128 GB of stuff. While I’ve exorcised my music, photos and movies to my Drobo, the new machine could still use some decluttering of the Applications folder to keep it as free of undesirables as possible. The first thing to go: writing applications that are no longer my cup of tea. After all, I have more of that type of app than almost any other type out there. Almost.1
This entry in the Decluttering iStuff series has been (by far) the hardest to work through. I’m a writer, after all. And I like my writing tools.

Many of the apps are in constant development, which demonstrates how committed to them they are by those who created them. Others serve a particular purpose — or a wide variety of purposes — that I like having in my arsenal. And some are just a joy to use. I had a tough time with this, but I think I came up with a solution that is going to work for me over the long haul.

Here are the applications I have installed on my Mac that allow me to write in some form or another:

  • Scrivener
  • WriteRoom
  • Byword
  • Mariner Write
  • ia Writer
  • nvALT
  • TextEdit
  • Final Draft 7
  • Evernote
  • Pages

I’m going to remove Evernote, Final Draft 7 and TextEdit from the list. Why?

Evernote serves as a note taking tool, with very little writing done beyond that with the tool. I could write more with it, and maybe one day I will, but it essentially serves as a digital file cabinet for me. It’s not what I would consider a writing app, based on how I currently use it.

Final Draft 7 is a screenwriting app, and I’d be keeping it as a means of writing scripts with it. I don’t use any other app for that, so FD7 would’ve stuck around as my primary screenwriting app…but now it won’t work. Exit Final Draft. Enter Celtx.

TextEdit is the default text editor for the Mac. It sticks around by virtue of that.

As for the others…


Scrivener works like a writer’s mind works, from top to bottom. And it should…it was designed by one. It is the most comprehensive of the apps that I have in my writing toolbox, and allows me to pull off some really heavy duty lifting when I need to. Research folders, word counts, index cards…and that just scratches the surface, folks. All that power at a very reasonable price.

But I don’t use it for writing articles (unlike Dave Caolo at 52 Tiger).

It’s where I’m going to craft longer pieces, such as books. The Eventual Planifesto was built in Scrivener, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to try to assemble it in any other app. Scrivener is a mainstay on my Mac, as it has too much power to be denied a spot.


I want to like WriteRoom. I really do. It offers that overused “distraction-free writing” atmosphere that so many writers cherish2, and it is a solid choice for most writers. It can handle big or small projects, and it gets the job done just fine.

But it’s not for me. I’ve given a try on several occasions, and it just doesn’t feel right to me. Personal preference, I know. But it’s my MacBook Air, right? And my MacBook Air doesn’t have WriteRoom on it anymore.


This app has been getting rave reviews since it came out, and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Even though I’m not writing in Markdown2, the fluidity and feel of the app makes it a pleasure to use.

Mariner Write

I don’t know what it is about this app, but it feels too “juvenile” to me. It didn’t grab me from the get-go and because I’ve spent more time elsewhere (and despite its “heavy by comparison” price tag), I’m giving this app the ol’ heave-ho.3

ia Writer

The iPad version of this app was heralded by yours truly when put through the paces, and I’ve given it a good run on my Mac as well. It is smooth, easy-to-use and the transition from using it on the iPad to my main writing device has been pretty much seamless. But…

It’s that dang “feel” thing again. ia Writer feels like an iPad app, so I am going to be using it on that platform. But it doesn’t make the cut here on my Mac. But a 50/50 split isn’t bad, right? Right?7


I am writing this post in nvALT, so there you go.

nvALT is free, it syncs up with Simplenote (which I use on my iPad for online writing) and it lets me get to the writing without getting into anything else. I was using the app that this is essentially a fork of, Notational Velocity, but Brett Terpstra has amped up the goods with nvALT — and it has displaced the parent app as a result.

This is the app that I compose much of my daily writing with, and it not only stays on my MacBook Air, but it has a place on my Dock. A rare achievement indeed.


It is pretty. It is developed by Apple. It works. But it doesn’t iWork for me.

Whew. Again, that was tough…but here’s what I’m left with:

  1. Scrivener
  2. nvALT
  3. Byword

Before anyone mentions that I’m supposed to get down to two apps, I’ll address that concern by categorizing the remaining three as follows:

Scrivener: Lengthy writing (such as a book)
nvALT: Daily writing (such as an article like this one)
Byword: Backup writing tool (that can handle book and article writing)

And that’s all she wrote.

UPDATE 12-8-12: I have actually started to use Byword more often for all writing other than working on a book (that’s still Scrivener territory). The ubiquity of Byword with its iOS apps and my Markdown writing style is more aligned with Byword than nvALT. I love Brett’s work, but Byword was won out.

1 Wait until I go through my productivity apps. That’ll be a doozy.
2 Further illustrated as only Merlin Mann can.
3 Yet.
4 But I do love my Paperless…so don’t hate on me too much, Mariner folk..