Dan Murray Writing Tools & Apps

I’m constantly tweaking my writing systems to improve the efficiency and quality of my output for whatever writing task I have. I divide my writing by environment (Windows, iOS and MacOS), device and purpose (social media, email, blog posts and book creation). I use different apps for different workloads. These are my current tools of choice:

  1. Drafts (iOS) - for quote/note capture and composing tweets.
  2. Buffer (iOS, MacOS, web) - for scheduling tweets.
  3. Ulysses (iOS, MacOS) - for blogging and free writing.
  4. TextExpander (iOS, MacOS0, Windows beta) - for every kind of writing.
  5. Scrivener (iOS, MacOS, Windows) - for big writing projects/books.
  6. Hemingway Editor (MacOS) - initial editing.
  7. 1Checker (Windows, MacOS, online) - final editing.
  8. Marked2 (MacOS) - publishing.
  9. Focus (MacOS, iOS) - for Pomodoro-style time tracking.

Drafts & Buffer

My day starts around 4:30 a.m. by reading a book and then my RSS feed. I use Drafts to compose tweets and schedule them for publishing using Buffer. I generally do three to six tweets every day using Drafts and Buffer to spread them out. At the end of each week, I archive my tweets via iCloud.

Ulysses v2.7

One area that MacOS dominates Windows is text editing applications. There are so many good ones that it is difficult to pick. I have used several iOS and MacOS text editors including iAWriter, Byword and OMMWriter. They are all great. 

Ulysses’ latest release provides the best set of tools for me today. Its interface is clean and minimal. Its MacOS and iOS versions are compatible. Syncing them with iCloud is automatic. You can also use Dropbox, but it isn't as seamless. I can start a document on my phone, continue to work on my iPad and finish the job on my MacBook Pro or iMac. I love this flexibility!

The night and day themes provide uncluttered workspaces. You can float the Current Editor and Markup menus outside of the writing area. This keeps your progress and markup tools available but out of the way. I also love the typewriter mode improvements made in Ulysses v2.7. You can highlight lines, sentences or entire paragraphs. You can center text at the top, middle, bottom. Or, use variable-fixed scrolling to position the active text exactly where you want it.

Text Expander

TextExpander allows you to type faster using stored snippets of text. You type in a few snippet characters and TextExpander provide the full string. The older MacOS and iOS (versions 5.1.4 for macOS and V3.5.4 for iOS) have no monthly maintenance fee. Those are the versions I use. The current release offers some cross platform syncing advantages. But, it costs $3.33 per month for an annual payment plan and over $4/month for the monthly plan. The current release provides better cross-platform syncing. I may decide to upgrade to the most recent version in the future. Right now, I’m happy with the releases I’m using.

Scrivener

Scrivener is for big writing projects. I used it to write both of my books. It provides a superior set of tools including:

  1. Robust outlining features
  2. Flexible document arrangement
  3. Powerful publishing options

There is also an iOS version that integrates well with the MacOS version.

Editing Applications

Hemingway Editor and 1Checker provide spell-checking, grammar checking and readability scoring. I like to using Hemingway Editor for my initial editing and then 1Checker for final proofreading. 1Checker provides more detailed readability scoring. A new beta release of Hemingway Editor just came out that I haven't tried yet. The interface has looks more minimal. I’m not sure about the feature improvements.

Marked2

I use Marked2 to publish because it provides more formats than Ulysses. First, I export my final draft from Ulysses and save it in markdown format. Then, I open it in Marked2 to get a high-quality preview of what the post will look like. Marked2 also provides readability scores, proofing and keyword statistics. When I’m ready to save the file, I can export it in many different formats including HTML, PDF, PDF (paginated), RTF, DOC, DOCX, Markdown or OPML.

Focus

Focus is a Pomodoro style timer application with works on with your desktop, tablet or cell phone provided they are all part of the Apple family of products. The current release also integrates with Apple Watch. When I’m doing detailed work at my desk (writing a book, building dashboards, etc.), I like to set a timer so that I’m forced to get up and walk around at regular intervals.

Conclusion

That’s my current toolset. Because I do most of my writing on my Apple tools, I don’t really use my Windows laptop for much writing other than email. There are some good text editing tools for Windows, just not as many. My favorite is called WriteMonkey. This is another stripped-down text editor that looks a lot like the best of the MacOS text editors.

WriteMonkey supports Markdown and other markup standards. The interface can be customized and it offers something unique: typewriter sounds. Before I switched to the Apple stack, it was my text editor of choice. Just last weekend, I noticed that WriteMonkey will be available for MacOS and Linux by the summer of 2017. I hope to get my hands on a beta release soon for testing. When I do, I’ll share my thoughts.

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Dan Murray

Director of Strategic Innovation