Writer’s corner: Working with words on a Mac

Writing the "wicked" way
Writing the “wicked” way

I’ve been looking for the perfect word processor for the Mac for quite some time. When I first broke free of MS Word, I was loving the open-source community and I was all about OpenOffice.

Then, when I made the jump to Linux, I simply adored Abiword and wondered why I had dealt with the bloat of Word and even OpenOffice for so long. (I still use Open Office for other features, but don’t like waiting for the launch for a word processor.)

When I went to the Mac platform, I traded in my OpenOffice for a Mac-specific version of the same called NeoOffice. Frankly, I got tired of waiting so long for it to launch to jot down the idea that I was trying to wrestle, so I started looking for faster options. I looked at Mellel (which was reportedly a favorite of many writers). It came in one of my MacUpdate packages, which pleased me. I liked it ok. I used it for quite awhile. But it always seemed to be a bit lacking. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.

I considered getting one of the “blackout” programs that turned the full screen into a writing surface without any distracting menus or pop-ups. I test drove a couple. WriteRoom (with the Windows version being DarkRoom) and even got the iPhone app for WriteRoom to try that one on the fly. Neither worked as I had hoped, I needed it to do a bit more than just blacken the screen for $25, so when the Mac trial ran out, I left it.

I also started looking into notes options that would launch quickly… something like the notepad gadget on Windows… but something with a bit more umph. From there, I discovered TextWrangler, TextEdit (which came with my Mac), and even played with Stickies (also came with the Mac) and a dozen or so others, all in an attempt to find a quick way to keep up with my notes.

I gave up finding the perfect tool(s) and hobbled along, busy with all the other balls I was juggling. Finding these holy grails joined the mass of items on the “I’ll get back to it” list. I find that locating the perfect tools (software) on a Mac can become a full-time hobby all by itself. There are so many options! There are dozens of options that I tried that didn’t even make it into the top contenders list.

But, recently, I found my perfect option. I have a four-pronged approach to the office suite thing – one is for quick notes on my Mac, one is for word processing and “darkening” my distractions, one is for full featured word processing (which I seldom touch these days) and one is mobile.

First, I have a quick-launching multi-note system in XPad. It offers a quick way to get the thoughts down and to make lists for specific projects, ideas and writing projects. It also offers a “slide out” list of all the mini-documents contained therein. It offers cool tools like fonts and highlighter and color options without cluttering the interface with more stuff than I need or want. XPad launches when I turn on my Mac and stays “at the ready” for me to use. And, it’s FREE!

Second, I have Bean. Bean is an oddly named, but beautifully built word processor that launches quickly and handles 90% of what I need. In addition to being there in a couple seconds (literally), it also offers bullets, formatting, highlighting and several advanced features. It even offers a “full screen” mode that blacks out the rest of my computer and helps me to concentrate on the business of writing. I changed the blue background with white text to the retro black background and electric green type of my youth. I love it. LOVE IT. And, it’s also free.

I keep a copy of NeoOffice on my machine, although I seldom launch it for anything other than the spreadsheet app. I don’t really do much with advanced features like mail-merge and the like, so I don’t need those “hefty” features because I don’t do admin work. And, I don’t want to sit and wait. I hate waiting for a program to launch. I despise it.

On the “mobile” front, I absolutely adore that feature-rich note system in Awesome Note for my iPhone. I love that it’s wherever I am, and that it’s able to sync with Google Docs — even the Google Apps version! So I can backup and restore my notes from any location. It’s richly textured and as graphically beautiful and visually appealing as it is functional. I may like bare-bones programs on my computer – clean and crisp is fine there – but on my iPhone apps, I expect beauty. I can’t explain that, but the graphics (even the icon for the app) seriously affects how often I’ll use an app. I’m iPhone shallow, I guess.

I’m a writer by trade — mostly a content and marketing writer for my clients. I write, do web work, and SEO submissions. That doesn’t take much word-processing power. It takes a little knowledge and a lot of creativity — and the ability to capture the creative sparks when they fly. I find that having to wait for my software to launch actually discourages my productivity. If it’s a quick launch, I’ll add a thought or an idea on the fly. If I know I have to sit and wait for it to launch — even for an additional 5-10 seconds — I think, “Oh, I’ll just remember this and jot it down next time I’m working on that.”

The fact is… I don’t remember and I’m not patient. I’ve quit trying to pretend that I will or that I am. I know my foibles and I now find the tools I need to work around them. Resistance is, after all, futile. It’s particularly so when fighting my own nature. These tools make my life better and my business stronger and for under five bucks, I have them ALL.

Even in this economy, that’s a GREAT deal!

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