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NYT Magazine covers Scrivener, other OS X writing apps

An Interface of One’s Own

I was delighted to see my favorite OS X writing app, Scrivener, turn up in today's "The Medium" column of the New York Times Magazine. I reviewed Scrivener about a year ago, and still use it whenever I have to research, plan, and draft anything more complicated than a blog post. In fact, as luck would have it, I was actually working on my upcoming Macworld talk in Scrivener when I took a break to read the paper and saw this article. Kismet or something.

Columnist, Virginia Heffernan, notes the app's beloved full-screen capability:

To create art, you need peace and quiet. Not only does Scrivener save like a maniac so you needn’t bother, you also get to drop the curtain on life’s prosaic demands with a feature that makes its users swoon: full screen. When you’re working on a Scrivener opus, you’re not surrounded by teetering stacks of Firefox windows showing old Google searches or Citibank reports of suspicious activity. Life’s daily cares slip into the shadows. What emerges instead is one pristine and welcoming scroll: Your clean and focused mind.

High fives to other great apps mentioned in the article, including Ulysses, WriteRoom, and Nisus Writer. Slightly lower fives go to Microsoft Word, which, once again, takes its usual drubbing as The Application Everyone Wants To Get Away From™. Poor Microsoft Word, the mascara-smeared Gloria Swanson of word processors.

In the year since I wrote my own review of Scrivener, I still find myself relying heavily on it for housing the research, braindumps, and very early draft shapes of most longer pieces I do. Falling somewhere between OmniOutliner, DevonTHINK, and the aforementioned WriteRoom, Scrivener is still, in my opinion, the go-to app for all-in-one research and writing.

As ever, YMMV. This app is absolutely not for everyone (especially if you don't have the need for lots of complicated research and organizational hooks), but if you struggle to find a writing environment that maps to the way your own writing brain operates, I still highly recommend checking out the free Scrivener download.

Viscount Haldane's picture

yesno, consider InDesign's "story editor"

The dream program for me would be a standard word processor, but one that REQUIRES the use of styles for all text. No free-form. No manually applying and formatting, ever.

I agree 100% with this. I have no idea why no company has developed a standalone word processor that just applies styles. Scrivener would be next to perfect if it just had styles -- and it's not impossible; the developer could implement it the way he implements footnotes. Word is next to useless because once you set up your style library, all the rest of the features never get used and tend to get in the way.

Anyway, there is one modern program that does exactly what you want: Adobe InDesign. It has a raw text "story editor" window that allows no formatting at all, only the application of styles. Applied paragraph style names are listed alongside your text on the left hand side. Other than that it's plain text... complete separation of content and presentation; you have to go back to the main InDesign window to set up your styles and format things. You can create and collapse footnotes in the story editor as well. The story editor even comes with built in custom looks to emulate green text on a black screen, or the amber text on blue of WordPerfect of yore. Unfortunately it doesn't use standard OS X text rendering routines, so you may have to futz around until you find a font that looks good... on LCD monitors I also prefer to select the "soft" anti-aliasing option in the style window.

As a bonus, InDesign generates great looking output (it has fantastic hyphenation and general typographic layout routines, including niceties like microtypography and margin kerning). InDesign, being intended to lay out books, is also extremely reliable for long documents (light years ahead of Word here) and complicated, multi-page tables.

There is also a team-based version of InDesign's story editor called "InCopy" designed for groups of writers working on a single publication. If you're only writing for yourself, it's not different enough from the built in story editor to warrant a look.




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