On Text Editors and Word Processors

Some people prefer text editors that use unformatted, plain text. This can, in many apps, be formatted at the export stage. Other people prefer to have a WYSIWYG page view that looks like the final manuscript when it is printed out.

If you want a fully featured word processor:

Most writers will probably choose Microsoft Word. Pages is another option on macOS (plus it is free).

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 view individual chapter wordcounts. 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 enjoy the simplicity of a text editor:

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


Ulysses provides a clean interface with a document navigation or ‘Sheets’ sidebar to organise the structure of a novel. It is a text editor (Markdown) that is designed to help simplify the writing process.

It doesn’t have a simple always-visible numeric word count (you have to manually set up a ‘goal’, which is displayed as a circle).

Platforms: iOS, macOS.

iA Writer

iA Writer is a text editor. You can’t change the built-in font, but it is a good one. And you only need one good font. Document navigation can be handled by manually creating a folder with each file in the folder representing a chapter. If you prefer simplicity and reliability, iA Writer is the one for you.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows.

What do I use?

I use all three. I plan my novel out in Ulysses. Write it in iA Writer. And. Hopefullly. When I am done. I check through the final version in Microsoft Word.

Honourable mentions:


Byword for macOS is a simple text editor (Markdown) that’s been around for many years. It does not come with a navigation view to help structure a novel like Ulysses, so it is best used for shorter fiction or if you plan to manually create a folder and the use each numbered file as a separate chapter. The interface is clean and simple.

Platforms: iOS, macOS.

Focus Writer

Focus Writer is free to download (donationware). I use it as a text editor. It works on macOS, Windows and Linux. You can move text sections (chapters) up and down the sidebar which provides in-document navigation.

The look and feel of the app can be customised. It’s snappy, easy to use and regularly updated by the developer. There is a portable version for Windows that can be installed without admin rights. The downside is that the UI is more functional than elegant.

Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows.

MultiMarkdown Composer

MultiMarkdown Composer is a simple yet powerful text editor (Markdown) that is highly customisable. It has a in-document navigation sidebar (table of contents), which can be used to rearrange sections of text. It is a snappy and responsive app. It has an always visible word count.

There is no easy way to get a chapter by chapter word count though, other than by manually selecting the entire text within a chapter.

Platforms: macOS.


Scrivener is a powerful app that is designed for ‘writing’ (rather than producing office documents, like Microsoft Word). It has powerful export options and multiple ways of viewing the structure of a novel. The downside to this is that it is quite complicated. If you want to use a hightly featured and complicated program like this, you might as well use Microsoft Word.

Platforms: iOS, macOS.


Pages is a word processor. I find it slightly nicer to use than Word because it is less complicated. To get a chapter word count you have to do it the old way, and select the text manually.

Platforms: iOS, macOS.