Software: My Favorite OS X Text Editors to Date

For years now I’ve been… well… collecting text editors. The reasoning behind this “hobby” can be boiled down to the fact that I am a writer and I like different tools for different tasks. Also, having a web development background, I have a huge appreciation for good UI/UX. I love the idea that something as seemingly mundane as software can make similar tasks (like typing text) a joy or, at the very least, elevate them to something else entirely.

There are a ton of options to choose from out there. It’d be impossible to write about all of them. So in this post I’d like to tackle typically encountered writing tasks and my favorite text editors to date that I use to accomplish them.

Bit of a caveat – All of these will be for Apple’s OS X, though some of them are available for different platforms.

As I’ve mentioned several times on posts here on this site, I am not against the other operating systems out there. They all have their strengths. I just prefer OS X for my computing needs and have been using it for so long now, that I don’t even know much about any other platform anymore. I used to, but there is only so many hours in the day :). I’ll make a deal with you though, I promise to mention other platform versions when it applies.

That said, please know that I have zero experience with that particular version of the software.

Ok, enough jibber jabber, let’s get to it!

Writing Letters

Periodically I drop everything to write a long letter to someone and when I do, I don’t use a Mail app. I’m utterly convinced that the Mail apps around today were built only for quick responses back to people – the distraction of additional emails coming in, the clutter, it’s multi-column UI… it’s pretty much become a long-form chat client.

When I write a letter to someone I want the experience to be spartan, distraction free, with clean easy-to-read fonts, a full screen mode and little-to-no editor tools. Luckily, there are more than enough options out there! What I’ve been using is a combo of iA Writer and Ommwriter. I like to use iA for correspondences that need my attention but not an overly emotionally-infused response. For the latter, I use Ommwriter.

If you’re an Apple device owner, than iA is a dream come true, as there are versions of the app for your Mac, iPhone and iPad. All three sync with each other seamlessly, have a UI that is almost nonexistent, are light weight, support markdown syntax and save to a flat text format that is easy to export into an email (or CMS interface).

Ommwriter is a bit of different animal all together in that it offers its own distinct and custom UI/UX when you fire it up and use it. Undulating backgrounds, full screen mode, individual keystroke sounds, soothing music – it may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. When I write to loved ones I almost always use Ommwriter to complete this task. It does very, very little other than offer a unique writing space. But for letters that deserve your undivided attention? It’s perfect. I am not sure where development is on this one, but it’s currently available on iPad, Mac and Windows PC.

Writing for the Web

While I’ve written a good bit on this site about the virtues of Scrivener as a blogging platform I still am a huge fan of Mou which is a markdown editor I’ve also written about here. I do know there are a lot of excellent options out there for this exact task, but I’ve really grown accustomed to Mou’s aesthetics and it’s lightening quick preview pane that displays your markdown in fully rendered html as you type, with very little lag.

Mou App at mouapp.com (image linked to that very site).

It’s still in beta (and thus, free) but it’s genuinely polished enough so that you don’t ever notice that fact. The developer is really passionate about this editor too, which gives me high hopes for the future. If you write in markdown (and you should if you are writing for the web) and are a Mac user, than you can’t go wrong with Mou. It’s a joy to use and does what it does (process markdown syntax) exceptionally well. Feel free to read my previous review if you are interested and want to learn more about it.

Long-form writing

highres-scrivener-logo

To date, I do all of my long-form writing in Scrivener. It simply handles lots of text in the easiest and best way that caters to how my brain works. Watching all of those small chunks of text pile up into a project that exports beautifully as a whole into any file format you could need, is a beautiful thing to behold. I am unabashedly smitten with it and haven’t witnessed any other editor even come close to what Scrivener does. It’s my one-stop shop for about anything I write.

So if you can only afford one new text editor, Scrivener is what you should get. Not long ago I finished an entire 508 page novel in it, you can read about it here if you want.

Scrivener is available for Mac, Windows and Linux

Note taking

OS X's very own Reminders App

I am never picky when it comes to taking quick notes. That’s why I often use OS X’s Reminders or Notes apps. They are dead simple to use, quick to open and they seamlessly sync with my iOS devices which is key, since 99.9% of the notes I take I will more than likely need as I am walking around during the day.

Mind Mapping

highres-scapple-logo

Here’s another niche that has a lot of options out there (good ones too). I personally love the ease of use that Scapple provides. It super simple and intuitive to ease into and with an export to PDF option it’s easy enough to share with others. Add in its compatibility with Scrivener, and it’s a no-brainer for my workflow.

What’s great too, is that I know for a fact I am not even coming close to using Scapple to its fullest potential. But knowing that it caters to my needs quickly and easily makes it a perfect addition to my writing tool kit.

You can snag Scapple for both Mac and PC and there’s also a free trial for you to try it out if you are on the fence.

Using what works best for you

What I love so much about this golden age of apps is their ease of use, availability in app stores to download and the amazing variety of text editors that are there to choose from.

With so many developers out there clamoring to fulfill our individual needs (and our hard-earned cash), there is bound to be something out there for everyone. When it comes to writing, we are definitely all unique. What I use works for me, but may not work at all for you. I just sometimes find it helpful to read about what others are using and how they are accomplishing the writing goals/tasks in front of them.

If you have some suggestions, list them below in the comments. Let’s a get a complete and quality list here! Marked and Byword come to mind. Are there any others? Let everyone know!

Tips: Setting up Scrivener to Compile MultiMarkdown

Back in August I wrote a post about using Literature and Latte’sScrivener as a complete Blogging System“. What I wasn’t expecting was how that post drummed up a lot conversation about MultiMarkdown and writing in Markdown in general. After going back and forth with you all (a genuine pleasure), I realized that I hadn’t really covered the process of exporting your MMD documents from Scrivener into clean, valid html for whatever web-based platform you were using.

I thought I’d take care of that now and write a companion piece on both setting up Scrivener to use Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkDown and, once installed, how to easily compile your documents and export them as clean html that you can then copy and paste into the WYSWYG of your preferred blogging platform.

First, let’s get MultiMarkdown installed (if you don’t have it installed already)…

Markdown Export

One thing I failed to mention in that original post was that you actually may not have MultiMarkdown installed on your computer. I say this, because I didn’t. The easiest way to tell (without using the command line)? Open Scrivener, click the Compile button and hit the drop down at the bottom. If you see just “MultiMarkdown” as an option and nothing else, you don’t have everything you need to compile your MMD document into html.

Here’s what you need to do (don’t worry, it’s easy I promise):

  1. Go to Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown downloads page and grab the install that matches the OS you are using on the computer in front of you. I usually download to my desktop to find it easier.
  2. Unzip the file that downloads and double-click the installer within.
  3. Follow the onscreen directions to complete the install.

That’s it! Told you it was easy.

What now?

If you had Scrivener open prior to the download, save your project and quit. Now re-open Scrivener and you should now see a whole new host of MultiMarkdown options under the drop down at the bottom of the “Compile” menu!

mmdoptionsinscrivener

For most of you, the “MultiMarkdown -> Web Page (.html)” option is all you need. Click that and then click the “Compile” button. Again, I like to save the exported .html doc to my desktop to find it easily, but feel free save the document wherever you like and open it in a text editor. To do this, right-click your new .html file and choose an editor like Textmate, Coda or even good old Notepad. Once open, you’ll see that all of your MultiMarkdown has now changed from this:

mmdcode

To this:

ScrivMMDExport

The code you are interested in (unless your working with a static HTML-based site) is within the opening and closing body tags (<body></body>). Copy that code and post it into your site’s editor. When you do this, make sure you are in HTML mode in your site’s editor (in WordPress it’s under the “Text” tab), otherwise you’ll end up with a post contains all of your text as well as all of the html tags. Trust me, it looks funny and broken when you do it.

Hey, this is great! Thanks! But what’s the point to all of this?

Well, put simply, WYSIWYG editors have come a long way over the years, but they are still far from perfect.

If you’ve ever written a post, pasted it into the editor of your site and spent the next hour cleaning up code the editor thought you wanted, you probably wouldn’t want to write on your web site again for a while. On the flip side though, these same web site editors will just about always take clean and valid html code and render it correctly – displaying everything just as you’d expect. Still, trying to write in html (not to mention valid html) is a pain in the butt too – we shouldn’t have to frankly – and, luckily, with Markdown we don’t have to.

That’s why it’s so damn convenient that Scrivener supports it!

What this post didn’t cover. (aka: I smell a series comin’ on!)

I didn’t go over actually writing in Markdown.

I am assuming if you read this far, you already know how to write in Markdown (which lends easily into MultiMarkdown) and that wasn’t really the point of the this post anyways.

If there is interest, I’d be happy to write another post on how I write in, and rely intrinsically on, Markdown for all of my web publishing. If you’d like to hear more, leave any specifics in the comments below (even if it’s just a “Yes please!”) and I will do my best to accommodate them in a future post.

Hope you found this useful! Now get back to blogging in Scrivener!