This post is Part I of a series of three. Part II will cover utility apps for Mac and iOS. Part III will act as a catchall for everything else.

This past year has been one of trials and tribulations. I’ve tried out many more apps, both free and paid, than you will find listed in this series of posts. Some apps hung around for a while; others were swiftly discarded. With one exception, I use the apps listed below every day. Scrivener is the exception, but only because it’s a heavyweight writing tool that has far more features than I need for my everyday writing tasks.

A few words about links

For each app, I provide a link to the official website, accessible by clicking the app title. I also provide direct links for the Mac and iOS versions of apps – where applicable – in both the iTunes US and iTunes UK stores. Click dollar amounts to jump to the iTunes US store, GBP amounts for iTunes UK.

Bear in mind that if you live in the UK, for instance, you cannot buy an app from the iTunes US store simply because you think the exchange rate works in your favour. You can only use the iTunes UK store. I know, life can be unfair, but that’s iTunes’ policy.

So, to the apps…

Byword

Byword is a Markdown1 writing app, available on the Mac and iOS. I own both, but do most of my writing in the Mac version. It is set up as my default external text editor in nvALT – Preferences > Editing > External Text Editor (in nvALT) – for those times when I want to hide all the clutter and make use of Byword’s distraction-free writing environment.

I’ve tried many writing apps on my Mac – there are currently more than a dozen installed in the applications folder on my MacBook Pro – but I always return to Byword.

Byword for Mac screenshot

Mou

I’ve been using Mou on and off since early 2012. Lately, more on than off. The increased usage came about when Mou’s developer introduced the option to sync directly with Scriptogram, this website’s host. That single act simplified my post-publishing workflow considerably: write post, select ^⇧S, click OK. Job done.

Mou’s dual pane – Markdown on the left, HTML-ified output on the right – is useful, although not unique. Mou remains free while in beta. If its developer, Chen Luo (@chenluois), continues to add powerful features like the aforementioned Scriptogram syncing, I can’t see its free status lasting for long.

Oh, and you can auto-post to Tumblr.

Mou for Mac screenshot
  • App Mou, official website App Mou, official website
  • Free

Notesy

Notesy, an iOS-only app, is the most recent addition to my writing arsenal. I use it to access the notes I make on my Mac in nvALT. At one time this task fell to Simplenote, before it started having syncing problems2.

The Markdown preview in Notesy is a bonus.

Notesy for iPad screenshot

nvALT

My most-used note-taking app comes second only to InDesign in terms of my overall app usage.

Don’t be fooled by nvALT’s free status. It is a full-featured app, indeed fuller-featured than many paid apps.

nvALT supports Markdown (and Textile), has a built-in preview window (⌘^P) and in-app file management, permits file tagging, and can be powered up using Textexpander and Alfred. I could go on… It also syncs beautifully with Notesy, the app I use to read and add notes when on the iPhone or iPad.

The only item on my wishlist for nvALT is inline Markdown highlighting. Otherwise, it’s a truly great app, and one that I couldn’t live without. Hence, I made a donation to help keep its developer, Brett Terpstra, interested.

There appears to be no lack of interest on Terpstra’s part. I’ve been using the latest beta version for a few months without issue; it’s at nvALT 2.2b94 if you’re interested.

nvALT for Mac screenshot
  • App nvALT, official website App nvALT, official website
  • Free

Scrivener

Writing a book? A screenplay? An in-depth post that involves masses of research? Then Scrivener is the app you should be using. It’s a complex tool but one that will pay dividends if you invest the time. Outline, edit, storyboard and write, all in a single, focused environment.

There’s even a Scrivener for Dummies manual ($16.49 | £10.87) to help wandering MS Word deserters over the learning curve.

I find Scrivener useful when I want to gather all my research around me, whether PDFs, web pages or images. Throw everything in a project’s ‘research’ folder and it’s accessible – and readable – from within the app, with no need to launch multiple applications, such as browsers and PDF readers, to open the different file formats.

Scrivener for Mac screenshot

Let me know your preferred writing apps in comments, while I set about Part II in this series.