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The best writing app of 2019

Warning: This review includes anecdotal evidence and is completely biased. For a comprehensive review check this. Also, I focus on software made primarily for Apple devices, but most of them should work everywhere.

I’ve been testing a writing app. What’s the point of a “writing app” you’re asking? Isn’t every notes app a writing app?

Well, in this postmodern universe, nothing is so simple anymore.

As with games, camera gear, and mechanical keyboards, there are communities of people discussing the best writing app. Also called a word processor, there usually isn’t a clear winner. Because in something that seems simple, it is more nuanced than ever.

And if you’re like me, and you like to type away thoughts regularly, you will contemplate whether investing (that’s how we justify these purchases) in this piece of software is worth it.

Recently, I got an iPad and a keyboard case. I haven’t use an iPad since the iPad 2, and back then it was just a large iPhone that didn’t work.

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I’m loving the iPad. I don’t touch the MacBook unless I need to use Adobe. They optimized the human-computer interaction to a maximum on this device. It’s designed for perfect focus on a few tasks. Yes, that means you can’t do everything, and neither should you.

However, those tasks it carries out with a delightful elegance that makes you want to come back for more.

It makes work pleasant. It makes it natural. And that’s what we want, don’t we?

The Problem

These are the attributes I am looking for in an app:

  1. No stress file management — cross platform use

  2. Comfortable — make it attractive

  3. Inexpensive — it still just a word processor

  4. Tools — counters, goals, and export options

I have to point out that if you want a comprehensive review, I’m not sure one can do better than this. Adrian does a great job dissecting the features of most of the apps on the market, and adds a some anecdotes from his considerable writing experience. So there you go, you’re welcome.

As I’m settling down to write long-form, I’ve been feeling a little disorganized with the current way of handling drafts.

Headache.

The status quo goes like this: I scribble down ideas in a physical notebook or in the notes app on iOS / Mac. Then I go into FocusWriter (more on that later maybe) and write Hemingway mode. That means focus mode writing only, no editing, deleting, second-guessing, obsessing, contemplating the Aristotelian ethics. None of that. Brute force typing. It’s disgusting.

But that’s how it’s supposed to be done.

Then, I copy-paste the contents into an editor and / or a secondary grammar checker. We do not excuse sloppiness in this house.

Finally, I copy-paste into Medium and add the final formatting, links, and media. This process has become clunky so I’m looking to remove some of the steps.

It’s worth mentioning the type of writer I am, so you can relate to these experiences. I write daily for my blog; I write copy for commercial communication, and I’m sure I have a few books in me. Writing is essential to my daily work so I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make it more pleasurable.

For this review slash comparison, these are the apps worth-mentioning as a go-to writing solution with cloud sync as a non-negotiable feature:

  1. Apple Notes / Evernote

  2. Bear App

  3. Scrivener

  4. Ulysses

Apple Notes doesn’t feel right and I know no one who uses it as a primary app for anything. The formatting is awkward. It lacks export options, the workspace settings are limited and you have to go to another app to access them.

But it’s free, it’s simple, so I would call it the gateway app into the space of cloud based note taking.

Evernote would be very similar as Notes with a lot more options and cross platform support. The free version is in fact well-packed with features, which makes you wonder how the company makes money. Then maybe they don’t.

Getting Serious

Scrivener is the go-to solution for serious writers. Dubbed as the best writing software with glowing testimonials from best-selling writers, it seems it has helped compose several major books.

It’s packed with every feature imaginable and more. If you want a better way to organize your book or thesis, this seems like the way to go. There is a special approach to research, tools for outlining and brainstorming, and all the editing and exporting you will ever need.

And that is also what’s holding it back. It’s got everything, but most of the time you don’t need everything.

Most of the time, you need just enough.

Although you can customize everything in Scrivener, it becomes a drag to deal with all the icons and options it provides.

If you love writing and want it to stay that way, you look for a solution that will give you a sense a private and focused space. For me, it has to be attractive with a few bells and whistles to make it my own.

Ulysses and iA Writer

These two seem very similar with two main differentiators. Ulysses is a subscription model and is iOS / Mac only. iA is one time purchase and works on other platforms.

Feature-wise, Ulysses can do everything iA Writer can, except maybe the Syntax Highlight feature, where iA Writer highlights adverbs and adjectives in your text. As I use third party checkers, this would be useless.

Both focus on optimizing the writing experience. iA Writer seems more minimal and more focused on the writing experience. Ulysses does that, and more.

The writing experience in Ulysses is stunning. It stays minimal though most of it is customizable and the toolkit is complete. You get to same experience on desktop and mobile. It’s well thought out.

Plus, it introduced me to the Typewriter Mode.

I was appropriately mind blown by this. On the iPad, it creates an amazing experience of fixed line scrolling, just like your typing on paper. It’s fantastic.

Typewriters are awesome. Now, you can have something close to that, even better I’d say, on your iPad. It’s genius. I’m sure Scrivener and iA Writer also have this feature.

But the focus and attention to features you want now is so well thought out in Ulysses, it makes it a winner for me.

It’s a winner because it makes me fall in love with writing every time I pick it up. It keeps me writing more. And that’s what I was looking for. It doesn’tstand in the way. It paves the way.

Note: I’m sure iA Writer is very similar. So either would do the trick. I liked the export options on the Ulysses so I went with it.

Honorable Mentions

The Bear app seemed like a real contender. The experience was charming and customizable, the inline tags (same as iA Writer) seemed helpful for organizing large documents. It sports a custom version of Markdown, which I’m not a big fan of. Present are basic tools and exporting options if you subscribe a modest 1.49 USD monthly plan. That also gives you cross device sync.

Special mention goes to FocusWriter. This is an open source word processor focused on a customizable focused writing experience.

It’s not cloud based, so your drafts stay on your desktop in a folder somewhere. And you have to save them every time. I know, right? Dreadful.

Other than that, it’s great. You can customize your editor, you can set goals, and a bunch of feats I haven’t explored. I’ve used it a lot, but now I need (read want) more.

From what I hear people use text editors like Sublime and Atom for writing and compiling text. That seems like a way to go if you’re looking for absolute control of the output. That’s not what I’m looking for right now, and it lacks the streamlined file management some of these cloud based solutions provide.

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WritingMartin Uhnak