Essential OS X Apps for Writers

Apple-Logo-rainbow Please excuse the clickbait-y title. I don’t claim to speak for #AllWriters with this post. Instead, I’m going to highlight a few Mac OS X desktop applications that I find essential to my writing process. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’m going to leave off mobile apps (with some exceptions) and browser extensions because they’re their own separate category of useful.

Also, with one exception, all of these apps have a Windows version as well. I’ll give a couple of alternatives to that when I discuss the app in detail.

Scrivener-logo1. Scrivener

Scrivener bills itself as “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.”

Scrivener is always the very first app that I reinstall when setting up a new computer. I mostly use it for long-form pieces that require a lot of outlining, resources, and time invested. Scrivener is infinitely adjustable. There are templates for short stories, novels, and screenplays, and if none of these work for you, you can create your own. Each template comes with appropriate documents and folders for you to keep your work organized. You can upload images, large files, and webpages to the project file, and there’s even a corkboard view for use when you’re doing a little outlining. You never have to worry about losing your project: multiple backups are created and saved to your computer’s hard drive (you can tweak how often this happens in the preferences menu), and you can even tell Scrivener to upload your project backups to dropbox.

There is a bit of a learning curve to Scrivener (I’m still finding out tips and tricks FOUR YEARS after my initial purchase), and the $45 price tag can be a bit steep. To offset this, you can try the app for free for 30 days–and that’s 30 days of actual use, not a 30 day timer that activates when you install the app. Scrivener is an app that i recommend every writer try at least once.

selfcontrol151-695x2402. SelfControl

Steve Lambert: “SelfControl is an OS X application which blocks access to incoming and/or outgoing mail servers and websites for a predetermined period of time.”

It’s really that simple. If you find yourself using your writing time to read about the pet cats of various conquerors, you probably oughta give SelfControl a try. You can set the timer for a desired amount (in 15 minute increments), and your access to the internet will be blocked until the timer runs out. If you’ve just gotta read about those conqueror cats, you can add selected websites to your whitelist. This will allow you to visit the desired website even though you’ve blocked the rest of the internet.

SelfControl is Mac OS only. However, browser extensions like Chrome Nanny and Windows applications like Focal Filter do the same thing. Oh, and Self-Control is definitely freeware, so give it a try.

cloud13. Cloud-Based Note Taking Apps

I’m talking Google Drive, Google Keep, and Evernote. These apps are essential to my short story process. My short fiction usually begins as a nebulous nugget that I tap out onto a mobile note-taking app (Keep). If I’m, say, driving and unable to write, I can use Evernote’s voice recording feature to talk through the idea. Then I get into Google Drive in my chosen browser (or Evernote’s desktop app) and flesh out the idea, adding essential bits of character, plot, and setting. Of course, I could write short stories without this setup, but it works for me.

There are some cons to this, though. Evernote can take FOREVER to sync, and Google Apps are nothing short of a pain to use in iOS. But they are an option for multi-platform use (I have a macbook and an android phone), and I haven’t encountered any significant drawbacks.

All of these apps are free, and usable across a variety of operating systems and devices.

spotify-logo-primary-vertical-light-background-rgb4. Spotify

I don’t always listen to music when I write, but when I do, Spotify is my chosen app. Spotify boasts a large collection of independent artists in their catalog, which helps me perfectly because I like to write afrofuturist cyberpunk flash fiction pieces while listening to lo-fi experimental trap influenced witch-hop tracks.

You can save albums that you like, listen to the radio, or make playlists. I have a writing playlist that’s about 200 songs in length, and I just let it rip when the mood for music strikes. If you haven’t tried spotify yet, they’re currently doing a campaign where you can get three months of premium services (more radio skips, offline album availability) for $0.99. That’s how they got me to subscribe after months of vacillating. A note though, after the 3 months is up, the price goes up to $9.99, and Spotify is perfectly fine when using the free version. Either way, give it a try.

Calibre_logo_25. Calibre

Calibre is “a free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books.”

This isn’t a writing app exactly. I use Calibre for editing purposes. Calibre allows you to convert Microsoft word documents and PDFs into passably formatted ebook formats (.epub, .mobi, etc.) so that you can read them in on tablets and in e-reader programs. Calibre helps me to avoid spending all of my editing time in front of the computer. Instead, I can read a work in progress on my mobile phone, or from my computer in an e-reader with cloud sync so that I don’t lose my place. Of course, I have to make notes on the book in a separate place, so this isn’t a perfect system. Still, it makes it handy to give my work a once-over when I’m on the go.

Honorable Mentions go to the standalone Facebook Messenger desktop app, which allows me to chat with people on Facebook without having to open the actual page in my browser.

As always, I’m open to recommendations. What apps do you use to make your writing life easier? Did I miss something that you find to be an essential installation? Let me know in the comments.

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