Q&A: Which writing tool?

Q Which is the best working environment for developing and writing non-fiction books? What did you use when writing for MacUser?

A You may be surprised to learn who uses which word processor: for instance, all the early printed documentation by Apple, including long technical manuals, used to be produced in Microsoft Word, whilst many maths and science books have been published direct from marked-up text using Don Knuth’s venerable TeX system to generate camera-ready output.

Perhaps the most important factor is the software that your publisher is most comfortable with, which all too often sadly turns out to be Word.

If you have a free choice, Scrivener is an outstanding author’s development environment that incorporates storyboards and a host of features that help you assemble complex documents. Lesser-known word processors such as Nisus still have a loyal following among some authors.

But for magazine work, simplicity is usually the order of the day, provided that you can get accurate word counts as you work: more basic tools such as Bean often prove ideal. Most recently there has been a trend to using ‘distraction-free’ environments with the simple Markdown language, such as iA Writer Pro or Ulysses, from the App Store. These have the great advantage that they work with documents stored in iCloud, and have iOS versions (or companions) which allow you to continue working when you are away from your Mac.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 26 issue 25, 2010.