Okay, now this post is a perfect example of a writer’s procrastination. While I should be fearlessly typing away at chapter 1, I’m researching and compiling a list of heavyweight contenders for the perfect text editor.
Why? Because this blog is just as much about you as it is about me. I want to provide aspiring writers with the tips, tricks, and tools to just pick up and go. I’m doing the homework for you (and greatly procrastinating in the meantime.)
It’s just an editor. Who cares?
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold the phone, sista. It’s not just an editor. It’s the holy grail, really.
I’m not ready to call myself an artist, but I do have some experience making art. I started playing the guitar at a young age on very cheap instruments – Squires, hand-me-down acoustics, tinny practice amps. It wasn’t until I picked up my first US-made guitar and played it through a high-end tube amp that I realized the difference. Getting a good tone was almost effortless, fretting and sliding around the board was a breeze, and (while looks aren’t everything) the whole package just looked so darn good.
None of this made me a better player, or a better songwriter. I still had trouble reproducing what was in my head through the guitar, but that was only because I needed more practice. The nicer equipment simply removed the struggle of fighting with the tools, so I could focus on fighting with my own creativity. If it sounded bad, it was me – not the cheap amp, or guitar that wouldn’t stay in tune.
Tools (whether for work, or art,) should always be working for you, not against you.
Here are the apps that I’ve researched. If I’ve missed any good ones – please let me know in the comments.
The Power Tools
These are the tools that the pros use. They aren’t free, and they aren’t for everyone, but if you are looking to make a career out of writing, consider investing in some software that will help you organize and produce your works.
Scrivener – https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php
Scrivener seems to be the most popular word processor and writing organization tool on the web. After reading many reviews, and trying this myself, I’ve concluded that this tool is not for me…today. I very much hope to be a Scrivener power-user one day, but the learning curve, along with the bells and whistles, are a bit too much for me as a first-time writer. I’ll do a deeper dive for book number 2.
It also costs money ($45).
Ulysses – http://www.ulyssesapp.com/
Okay, I’m obsessed with Ulysses, a Mac/iPad-only writing app. It’s a plain text editor, but packaged within a unique minimalistic user interface that elegantly organizes your files. You use Markdown (my favorite writing syntax) to type effortlessly, and you can preview your styled manuscript in parallel, or at the click of a button. There are also many export options (text, PDF, ePub, etc.) Users can share their visual themes, so you are not locked into one look-and-feel. I can go on and on (but I won’t.)
Oh yeah, this costs money. ($44.99)
Writeroom – http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom
Writeroom is a no-nonsense text editor designed simply to get the words on the screen. It utilizes a full-screen distraction-free mode that also features auto-saving. For many, this may be nirvana – which is why despite its absence of “power features,” I still feel it’s a “power tool.”
Writeroom costs $9.99. Pretty sure it’s only for Mac.
The “Old Yellers”
I won’t go into full detail here. These are the old standby’s, likely the tools you grew up using for elementary school book reports, and high school term papers. I love them. I hate them. I love to hate them.
Microsoft Word – https://products.office.com/en-us/word
Pages for Mac – https://www.apple.com/mac/pages/
Open Office (Open Source Word Alternative) – https://www.openoffice.org/product/writer.html
…and that’s all I have to say about that.
The Hacker’s Delight
Let’s face it. Writers are hackers. You may be using a text editor of some sort to build complex scenarios and creatively solve problems, not unlike computer programmers.
Atom – https://atom.io/
Atom is a hackable text editor from the fine people at Github. There are a bunch of packages and themes you can install, and if you use version control for your work, Atom will conveniently color-code files to let you know their version status.
Sublime Text – http://www.sublimetext.com/
Similar to Atom, Sublime Text has a ton of features geared towards coders. This shouldn’t stop you from attempting to write prose with it. I found this great blog post about how to turn Sublime into the perfect blogging tool: http://www.sitepoint.com/sublime-text-perfect-blogging-6-ways/
Here are some honorable mentions from my coding coder friends…
emacs – http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/
Notepad++ – https://notepad-plus-plus.org/
In The Cloud
So, when I say “in the cloud,” I really just mean a text editor that you access from your web browser to edit files that live on a server (not on your computer.)
Google Docs – https://www.google.com/docs/about/
Google Docs is pretty much on “practical features par” with Microsoft Word, in my opinion. The real benefit to using Google Docs for your writing is taking advantage of all of Google’s cloud features – collaborative writing with peers, auto-save, easy-to-restore revisions, and access from any connected device.
You can export files fairly easily and in a variety of file formats.
There may be some fear that Google might lose, or misplace your files – I wouldn’t worry too much about that, it’s Google, but you can export backups if you feel so inclined.
StackEdit – https://stackedit.io/
I experimented with using StackEdit for blog posts. It’s a great Markdown editor in the browser that backs up your files to Google Drive, or Dropbox. I enjoyed the experience, but I didn’t quite understand how syncing worked. For example, I created a file on StackEdit, made some changes, backed up to Google Drive, then edited some files on Drive, and I couldn’t figure out how to pull those new changes down in StackEdit. I’ll keep tinkering.
The Little Macs
When I say Little Macs, I mean the underdogs. If you grew up the in 90s, you may know this reference:
TextEdit – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TextEdit
TextEdit is the default text editor that ships with Mac OS X. I never loved using it, to be honest, but I recently read this article on Lifehacker that gave some generous tips to optimize the experience.
I might give this editor another go if my current setup gets stale.
Pen and Paper
It’s so easy to get caught caught up in the hustle and bustle of digital hoopla. I mean, I just spent a decent amount of time introducing 13 text editors that all essentially do the same thing differently. Let’s not forget that one of the best venues for creative writing is sometimes good ol’ pen and paper.
I’ve always relied on freehand writing, and would later convert everything to digital as part of my editing phase. I’m trying to move away from that this time, only because I find I get more out when typing. My handwriting is so awful, it actually slows me down. If I get stuck, maybe I’ll revert back to my old ways.
So what should you use?
My current configuration is Atom editor with a separate text file for each chapter, or blog post. I sync all my files to Dropbox so I can access them from anywhere. This allows me to work from my laptop (Mac,) desktop (Linux,) Chromebox (ChromeOS,) even my phone (Android,) or any PC in the case of an emergency.
My desired immediate future state is possibly StackEdit if I can get the syncing right, or Sublime Text after installing some helpful packages, like Word Count.
My desired long term future state is all Scrivener, or Ulysses. I believe they are the power tools for serious writers (I know, I know – any serious writer can simply use pen and paper.) I can’t justify buying at the moment, but if I commit to writing future books, I’ll take them for a more formal test drive.
There you go, over a dozen options to experiment with. My title is misleading. There is no perfect text editor for everyone, but I’m hoping that after playing in the sandbox, you find the right tool for the job you are setting out to accomplish.
What are you currently using to write? How is it going? Good, bad, indifferent? Let me know in the comments.