On Text Editors and Word Processors

How do you write your fiction? The chances are you’re using Microsoft Word or Apple Pages. A word processor, and that’s fine.

I understand why people use word processors to write fiction. There’s a certain satisfaction of knowing that what you’re seeing on screen is exactly how it will look when it is printed out.

I use a text editor, which helps to simplify the writing process for me.

If you want a word processor

Most writers will probably choose Microsoft Word. Pages is another option on macOS (plus it comes free with a macOS device if you have one).

Microsoft Word

Microsoft World is a word processor that formats the text to look like the printed output. A subscription to Microsoft 365 comes with 1 terabyte of cloud storage, plus other Office programs like PowerPoint and Excel.

The Word file format is the industry standard file format for submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers. Word has an outline view to help structure a novel and to check individual chapter word counts. Both the macOS and Windows versions have a distraction free setting which hides most of the interface from view.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows.

If you prefer a text editor

If you want something simpler, and prefer writing in plain text, Ulysses, and iA Writer are solid choices.

Ulysses

Ulysses provides a clean interface with a document navigation sidebar or ‘Sheets’ to organise the structure of your novel. It is a text editor (Markdown), which simplifies the writing process.

Platforms: iOS, macOS.

Highland 2

Highland 2 is another Markdown text editor. Unlike Ulysses it stays more purist to the Markdown philosophy by not hiding the Markdown syntax. In many ways it is equivalent to Ulysses but it comes at writing and organising text from a slightly different angle. As well as prose, it’s also designed for writing screenplays.

Platforms: macOS.

iA Writer

iA Writer is a text editor. It is even more stripped-down than Ulysses and Highland 2. You can’t change the built-in font, but it is a nice one. It does not have the same built-in organisational power as Ulysses, but some people might prefer that. Another difference between iA Writer and Ulysses is that Ulysses automatically re-names files (‘sheets’) when the main heading is changed, while iA Writer uses the more traditional method of having fixed file names and using a standard non-proprietary file format. It is a minor difference but some people will appreciate one over the other.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows.


What do I use?

I use different apps for the drafts, but I use Word for the final polish.


Honourable mentions:

Byword

I used Byword for many years. It’s a simple macOS text editor (Markdown). It doesn’t come with an in-app navigation view, so it’s best used for notes and short stories. Its main plus point is that it is very simple.

Platforms: iOS, macOS.

Scrivener

I used Scrivener for a while, before Ulysses. Scrivener is a powerful app with a lot of customisation, document navigation, and structuring options. The downside is that it’s also more complicated.

Platforms: iOS, macOS.

Pages

Pages is the free word processor that comes with Apple devices. It is slightly nicer to use than Word, because it’s less complicated. Word’s outline view is more powerful.

Platforms: iOS, macOS.