Mac Zealots! Quickly! To Me! To Me!

So, I asked a while back about Macs.

I bought a Mac Mini.

I used that Mac Mini as a home theater component. It worked pretty well like that.

Then, yesterday, my PC pooped the bed and fell down the stairs and ate a gun.

I think it’s the video card — but could be anything. I used to know my way around the guts of a computer but it’s been a handful of years now since I really paid attention to that sort of thing.

Anywho — that’s not the point. Point is, at present, I am now a brand new bonafide Mac user! And it’s been fairly nice so far. This little keyboard lets me fly on it. I love the magic trackpad thing — the gestures are really sweet in terms of letting me zip through screens and open the dashboard and whatever.

Just the same, I’m all a bit lost.

So, I once more turn to you:

What do I need? What do I need to know? What are essential apps?

Further, I’m going to need to do some word processing on this bad-boy real soon, so I’ll need to know about that, too. What’re my best options? I want — nay, need — a word processor that will let me read and utilize Word’s TRACK CHANGES option, so does that mean I’m stuck with the Mac version of Word? Talk to me about Scrivener, too, and how well it talks to Word and… y’know, all that crizzap.

Help a brother out, Mac people.

And if anybody comes in here making a ding at PCs or Macs, I will punt your perineum through your brain pan. This is not the time or the place to take bullshit sides in a made-up tribal tech war. Stuff it.



  • Scivener: best writer’s tool there is. I will never, ever write another novel without it. I can word or google docs all day short stories, but novels. Scivener FTW.


    Buy it straight from Microsoft, and they’ll kick you right over to the download. Download, install and enjoy (or feel the pain, depending).

    I would still go buy Pages first and see if it’ll work for you. $20 ain’t much to try.

    For games, go download Steam and install it. Then you can just start grabbing games that look good.

  • Apple Stores have free workshops on a variety of topics every day of the week. If you ask nicely and prostrate yourself before the ghost of Jobs, they may let you in to the one to one program. Year of certified training on whatever you feel like asking. Only $99, but usually reserved for new Mac purchases at time of sale.

  • Hated Scrivener. HATED. IT. Pain in the butt to get anything done and too much unnecessary stuff. And I’m a visual person, so that’s sayin’ somethin’. And exporting the files (which was billed to be so very easy) turned into a Bataan Death March of Edit Fail. Maybe if you start with a brand-new chunk of nothing and work up from there…*maybe* it’s a good program, but for bringing in a file in progress and trying to continue from the middle, no feckin’ way. Word 2010 is the bomb and I can do whatever I want with it. I couldn’t find anything that Scrivener did better than Word 2007 or 2010, and the stuff Scrivener did that Word didn’t wasn’t of any real use to me.

  • I use the Apple app ‘Pages’. It’s Apples main wordprocessor. It is compatible with MS Word, by which mean it’ll open the files up, and you can save the files in .doc format. As for the ‘TRACK CHANGES’ feature, i have no idea, sorry.
    Thing about ‘Pages’ though, is that it doesn’t have a format for writing novels. I had to Google it and build the damn thing myself. Actually it only took about 15 minutes. It also exports in the ‘epub’ format. Which i guess is a good thing. ‘Pages’ costs me about £13.99 from the Mac Store (download) not sure of the US price.

    I do have Scrivener, but i don’t use it. You could just download the 30 free trial, see how you like it. If you have the time to screw around with that is.

    But then, lets not forget, Bill Gates said the Mac version of Word worked better than the PC version, so i might just be easier to use that.

  • Scrivener is great for organization and writing BUT I find that it’s hard to read something through as a whole — because it’s broken down into scenes, I end up with rough cuts when I compile the whole thing and always need to do some smoothing.

    The formatting can be screwy when you export to Word, but it does give you the option to correct most of it pre-export (the defaults seem to be the European system of underlines in place of italics etc but again, you can correct most of it pre-export. It also has the advantage of converting directly to several DIFFERENT formats including ePub and PDF.
    I’m definitely glad my husband found it for me on another author’s blog.

    I’ve had some issues with Word on the Mac and by issues I mean that it cut off the last 25 pages of my novel suddenly and without warning. I didn’t even know until a reader (not published, just a friend doing me a favor) told me she didn’t really GET the end. I went back to fix it only to find it was just… gone. I never figured out when it happened or how, so beware of that as files get larger. I was always paranoid about saving, but now I email myself, save to dropbox, and have everything in two different formats on my computer.

  • Holding “Command” and then “Tab” toggles between open applications, which is real time saver when copying & pasting.

    Also, are you aware that “Tribal Tech” is the name of a pretty cool Jazz Fusion band? Seriously, I have two of their albums!

  • Oh yeah– Pages might be worth an inexpensive test drive since it’s also supposed to be pretty talented at wrenching text into a number of ebook formats. I haven’t tried that trick, but at the very least I expect it to be a necessary tool to format things correctly for the Apple book market. I got it for a $20 download but almost never open it… perhaps not the best recommendation.

  • Scrivener is cool, I use it, but I don’t really think it’s what you’re looking for, and it’s a bit pricey. Pages is waaaay better for messing around with other formats, it’s only twenty bucks, and frankly it’s got a less hellish learning curve.

  • Also don’t miss the built-in Dictionary application (took me about 4 months to realize it was there). Gives you searchable copies of the Oxford New American Dictionary, American Writer’s Thesaurus, Thesaurus of English and Oxford Dictionary of English right out of the box (as well as some Japanese dictionaries, if you should happen to need that.)

  • Scrivener for the early drafts and planning (and the difference in Mac vs PC is just that it’s not as advanced yet for PC. It’ll be caught up, almost, next round). Once you get it to submissions stage and then editor revisions or workshop revisions, you’ll need to move it to Word. That’s okay. But you’ll probably like Scrivener up to that point. If Office would integrate OneNote, Powerpoint slide sorter, and Word, you wouldn’t need Scrivener (and it would be better), but they haven’t thought of that, yet, though I have told some Office product design people whom I happen to know what I think. We’ll see. I doubt they’ll do anything. MSFT is entrenched as, you know, an OFFICE product, not as a novel-writing product. For Scrivener training, I’m right now taking this awesome class with @Gwen_Hernandez. She charges $25 for a 4-week session, emailing the topics daily, and you work through it on your own and then you can ask questions.

    Office for Mac is not as good as Office 2010 for Windows, but it’s still better than most other options, IMO. If you like Office 2003 you’ll probably be happy. It’s closer to that than to the later versions of Word for Windows, but overall there are more mouse-clicks and there’s less right-click menu functionality (than with the Ribbon versions), which is the case overall with everything in the Mac world. That just means you have to memorize a lot more shortcuts (which in Mac mean a lot more key combos than in Windows) and/or mouse around more, which is harder on your tendons. Excel seems fine. I haven’t messed around with PowerPoint yet.

    Mac does not have as good a built-in screen grabber as the Windows 7 Snipping Tool, and it there’s nothing in the Mac world comparable to Live Writer for blogging. Also, of course, you’re losing OneNote, if you happened to use that. I’m grieving. But you can get it via SkyDrive if you like, though like EverNote, it’s always out there in the ether and it’s a few steps further away than EverNote. So, I haven’t abandoned my PC because of Live Writer and OneNote! Also all the email addresses on Outlook, which I’m too lazy to figure out how to move over, if I can. (I also have Outlook on the Mac, just haven’t copied the addresses over, if I can, as I said.) I sort of prefer the simpler Outlook interface on the Mac, since I really don’t need the steroidal corporate version in 2010 for Windows.

    It will be a great day when I can have the hardware I want and the software I want and everyone just stops being a prick about what will work with which.

  • Not true what someone said about it being hard to get a big view of the novel in Scrivener. The beauty of the program is that it’s broken into scenes, yes. If you want. You can write the whole thing in one scene if you want. But you can also write it in separate scenes and then click on a larger folder (a chapter, a part, or the whole book) and view, read, or write the whole thing as one whole scroll. And then click down into the separate scenes whenever you like. The point about the scenes is the ability to look and see what you’ve got–how much tension do I have? What is the balance among action/reflection/poetic musings, whatever…. The ability to switch between text and storyboard views. It’s pretty cool. Check it out. Anyhow, I think it’s much easier, actually, to see the big picture, than it is with Word, where all you have is a bunch of chapter files or a pile of pages and it’s pretty hard to remember what happened where after a while. I feel like I have so much more visibility into my project now–esp after coming and going over time. But I would agree with those who are saying it’s harder midstream… if you care about formatting, forget about it. Scrivener isn’t about making your book pretty. It’s about getting your thoughts clear. Make it pretty after you kick it out into Word.

  • Chuck, I’m new to your site and have been following the writing tips – which are great by the way. As a complete Mac convert, I’d suggest paying for the AppleCare, it’s well worth the money. Also, the best buy out there is Mac World magazine. Its $20 a year and every issue is filled with App reviews and hints to help you be more productive or have more fun with your Mac, which ever you prefer.

    Welcome to the other side and you will soon see “once you go mac, you’ll never go back”

  • Holy crap. Wordswordswords.

    My pennies:
    +1 for OpenOffice. Microsoft Office for MacOS can feel clunky.
    +5000 for scrivener if you’re writing for stage or screen, or for prose if you organize in scenes as you write. Uh-Maze-Ing.

  • Wow, this is what I get for not having time to respond in the morning, and coming back to this post after getting home, late at night: having to wade through a zillion responses to see if anything hasn’t been mentioned. But wonder of wonders, there are a few things:

    One really important thing I think every Mac user should have that no one seems to have mentioned yet is some kind of system maintenance/repair utility that lets you do things like run the UNIX maintenance scripts (which are normally set to execute at 3am or something like that – a time when many people’s computers are asleep or off) any time you want, repair file permissions, check finder integrity and that sort of thing. Using one of these regularly can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Yes, I know there are people who’ve never used them and still not had any trouble with their Macs, but the chance of having trouble is a lot higher if you don’t use them and lower if you do. The best known are Socks ($15 from and Onyx (free from but a little clunkier and less intuitive than Socks).

    Another maintenance/troubleshooting program that’s worth looking into is TechTool Pro ( – it’s a lot more expensive than the others because it’s made by a Real Software Company rather than some guy in his basement, but it does a lot of stuff they don’t do, notably test all your hardware for mechanical problems. (Although the others also do some stuff that TTP doesn’t, so even if you buy TTP, get one of the others too.) You don’t vitally need this one, but if your Mac ever starts acting up in a big way, you’ll wish you had it.

    Those are the main things I can think of that haven’t been mentioned yet. But I do also have to second the various recommendations for Scrivener. Love it, love it, love it. I think it’s one of the main reasons that after various previous novel attempts that never got past a couple of chapters, this time I’m nearly up to 70,000 words and still going strong. And I think it’s mainly because of a factor a few other commenters have mentioned: it lets you write non-linearly, which is pretty much how I think. I don’t always know what I want to write for the next scene, but sometimes I know just what I want for another scene three chapters later. With Scrivener, jumping back and forth through my outline is so easy that I almost never get stuck any more. There’s always some scene I can work on… Plus, I love the way it lets you keep character sketches, research notes, etc. all in the same project file, shift between different types of views, etc.

    Now, you asked (in a comment) about games: a lot depends on exactly what kind of games you like, but here are a few that I like:

    * Pretty much anything from Spiderweb Software (, most notably the Avernum and Geneforge series, and Avadon. Big, sprawling, plot-heavy RPGs with lots to explore. Fairly primitive graphics, but complex, twisty, interesting storylines and good writing (plus a wonky sense of humour sometimes). Also, interesting moral quandaries, and plotlines that can diverge in radically different directions depending on your choices and allegiances. Put me in front of one of these and pretty soon the sun will be coming up as I say to myself “Just one more quest and then I’ll go to bed…”

    * Aquaria ( – not quite as story-heavy as Spiderweb’s games, but this is made up for by AWESOME visuals and sound. It’s a kind of mystery game set in an underwater world full of weird sea creatures and remnants of a lost civilization, and you’re a sort of shape-shifting mermaid-like creature trying to figure out who you are and whether anything else like you exists.

    * On a completely different note, some of the arcade-type games on the Ambrosia site are pretty entertaining if you like that sort of thing. Although in my view, some of their best were back in the pre-OS X days, and sadly have not been updated for OS X. (I still miss “Harry the Handsome Executive” which was a truly warped parody of corporate office life.)

    * Oh, and one more that really, everyone needs to have: Plants Vs. Zombies ( Just because.

  • I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Scrivener — however, I have no idea how well it talks to Word, since I haven’t used Word in years. You can probably export scrivenings as .doc files, at the very least.

    As for Scrivener? It’s amazing. It lets me keep notes in the same place as my actual work and the corkboard view is incredibly useful for making outlines. Definitely worth the $40.

  • I’m just a sysadmin, so the only text editor I use is vim, which obviously is of no use to you.

    There are a few thing’s I’ll install as soon as I get a new mac though, and perhaps a couple of them might be of some use to you.

    First and foremost… minecraft, and worms
    (what did you think we did all day when your system was working properly?)

    quicksilver: best launcher app bar none (imho)
    dashexpander: replace a few letters with text snippets
    growl: popup notifications used by lots of different programs
    gnupg: what can I say.. if you need to encrypt files.. this is the chap for you.

    For email, I can’t say enough good things about mailtags, lets you add all sorts of flags, keywords, filtering etc, to your mail in Mail,

    For research and keeping ‘stuff’ together, you may want to take a look at something like yojimbo, or Devonthink. Although I think I saw evernote mentioned above, and that is the same sort of idea

    Finally, I’ve no idea if it’s any good. I installed it just to look at it, and never played with it seriously, but there’s an app called ‘Jers novel writer’ that apparently does some useful stuff for writers. Keeps a database of characters etc. on a per novel basis.

  • Not going to regurgitate what every one else has said so I’ll give you the 20 second version of scrivener:

    Drag and drop scenes – made novel writing 100% easier
    Corkboard view – amazing for organizing.
    Intuitive interface – hated when Word went to ribbon view
    Easy conversion to Microsoft Word, RTF, PDF, HTML, ePub and Kindle
    Free trial – why not give it a shot
    20% off –

    Also, they just announced a 2012 release for an IPad and IPhone version. Don’t know if the ability to work anywhere will be a godsend or great big pain in the ass. Enjoy!

  • What Inkgrrl said. Absofuckinlutely. Just visit Scrivener’s site and check out their vids. And the free trial, of course (love free stuff).

  • Scrivener for sure, but the one app I use just as much is a key remap app called DoubleCommand- – Rather than function+delete to delete forward, with the tic of a check box, DoubleCommand lets you choose a little-used key (my favorite is the backward slash just below the delete key) to delete forward. DropBox of course but also Sugar sync for the extra extra backup and Typinator- – for things you type over and over.

  • I’ve been a Mac user for several years now. I’ve always used the Microsoft Office set-up for Mac-word has the track changes option and it works just as well as it does on a PC. I also bought Scrivener for my computer and have no problems with it. I’ve never tried working with Scrivener and Word together though…never really thought about that. Scrivener has so many more functions than I know what to do with.

  • Here’s one section from my book, “The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese:

    An Ode to Scrivener

    I use Scrivener as my software for novel writing. Those of you who have participated in National Novel Writing Month may already be familiar with it, because the company helps sponsor that annual orgy of writing bliss. Now that Scrivener is available for both MAC and Windows, I can’t imagine anyone needing anything else. It’s an endlessly versatile program that manages to keep almost every item of the book-writing process in one spot.
    There’s a section for research, which can hold notes, pictures, maps, and “messages-to-self.” I keep lots of pictures there, so that when I am writing about a particular location or character, I can open a picture and keep it on my screen while I write. That adds detail to my descriptions and saves me from making silly mistakes about things like what you can see from a front porch or whether a character sports a mustache.
    In fact, it has a whole section for character sketches. You can fill out their questions about each of your characters, defining their back story, their foibles, their nervous quirks, their speech impediments, their hair and eye color, their family relationships—whatever is important to define the character. Then while you are writing, it is easy to click on a character name in the left-hand column and jump to a description.
    Scrivener provides a separate template for locations, too, where you can record thing like vegetation, wildlife, smells, sounds. Is your location overgrown with vegetation? You’ll need to list what kinds of things grow there. Are bugs important to your story, as they may be for mine? Then you can add their descriptions here. My location files have picture, of course, but also descriptions of the smell of pluff mud and the clicking sound palmetto bugs make as they stomp across a wood floor.
    Do you write in chapters or in scenes? Scrivener offers you both options, and once you have all the parts in place, it can put the entire manuscript together for you—in the right order, with chapter numbers. Are you used to working with index cards? Scrivener can display your material in that format, with little cards tacked to a virtual corkboard. You can color code the cards, and you can move them about as you would if you were tacking them to a wall. I used this feature to outline all the chapters of The Road to Frogmore. Need more or less writing space? Stretch it out or shrink it. Want a blank screen with nothing but your words filling the screen in front of you? You can do that, too.
    Once I’ve set up the various available folders, my planning stage for the next book is more than complete. I know who’s not going to be in the book. I’ve killed off all the unimportant folks and dumped their first draft chapters and character sketches into a holding tank labeled “Outtakes.” They’re easily retrievable if I change my mind. Once I’m really sure they are dead, I’ll move then to the trash. They’re still not gone, however, because the trash doesn’t empty until I tell it to. I’ve identified my main character and some secondary ones who will play important roles. I’ve outlined all the ideological clashes and the main themes. I have a complete plot outline, with the important points highlighted. Now all I have left to do is write.

  • Scrivener: Trial version 30 nonconsecutive days, has “How to’s” on Youtube for free. The Help key in the program is……..very helpful.

    I don’t have a Mac but, my best advice is to try it for yourself, follow the “How to” on youtube and in the program itself…(using the program itself to teach you is probably better …….depending on your comprehension speed), play with it , test files, pics, etc. If they are still only charging $40 for the program…….its still cheaper and easier on the memory (and sanity…..maybe) than say, a physical binder, drawers full of notes, walls torn to poo because of tape and thumb tacks, people mistaken your napkin that you wrote a bad ass scene on as a bogey catcher…………

    ***I’m trying to reciprocate for the great pdf i received for only a dollar…………thank you****

  • Sorry to post two comments, but I realised I didn’t actually answer your questions. So:

    Scrivener has two ways of showing changes, one called Marking Revisions and one called Snapshots. The latter is (I think) closest to Tracking Changes in Word, but neither is exactly the same. As I said, you can visit their website at and watch their videos to see if it’ll meet your needs.

    Pages has a Track Changes feature, but I’ve never used it, so I can’t comment, sorry.

    As for games, visit the MAS and type “zombies” into the search field and you’ll get a bunch of options to hone your skills in preparation for the coming invasion. Stupid Zombies is my favourite (blood spurts and heads roll, wheeee, KILL ‘EM ALL!), but it’s very old-school arcade, just point-and-shoot.

    Hope that helps. Enjoy your Mac!

  • I use Scrivener, but I did have to get Microsoft Office because of the track changes issue (when I bought it last year it was not possible to buy just Word for Mac even though you can do that for Windows).

    My advice is not to buy direct from Microsoft or Apple (no discounts!). There are other sellers that offer downloads (and really, all you need is a valid serial number to get a downloaded version to work whether you buy physical disks or a download) at a discount.

    In Canada the best price I found was at (there is a .com version for Americans too), but there are better discounts available for Americans. The trial version of Microsoft Office that you can download works for 30 days so there is lots of time to look around for a deal. :)

  • I’m a bit late with this comment (sorry about that), but I’ll +1 Scrivener with a caveat — I really like version 1.5, and don’t much like version 2.0 at all. The previous version had far fewer features, and as a result is far less cluttered. It gets out of the way, but gives you the organization tools that really do help (folders, the cork board, drag and drop re-arranging). It doesn’t have the great ebook export options though.

    I wish 1.5 had the fancy export options and also iCloud support. Those two things would make it perfect for me…

    Other apps I use and recommend:

    - Office 2011 (It’s actually great on Mac, and worth the $120 or whatever it costs if you need to share MS Office documents with people)

    - MindNode Pro. It’s in the AppStore, and there’s a free version to try too — the pro version adds iCloud and a few other bits. Very good for creating mind maps.

    - Reeder. For RSS feeds.

    - TextMate, for plain text editing. This is a bit of a funny one, because it kind of lost its way a bit. It used to be #1 for programmers on Mac, but it’s generally very good for any plain text editing. Anyway, a few weeks ago it was open-sourced. Hopefully that means there’ll be a package soon that you can install for free, and give it a shot. I still use it daily in my work.

    - Gitbox. I’m a programmer, and I use Gitbox (from the AppStore). It makes working with git nice and easy and saves me a little bit of time with each commit.

    - Alfred, for handy keyboard shortcuts to various tasks. Alt + Enter and start typing…

    - CyberDuck (free), or Transmit or Flow (paid) for transferring files over FTP/SFTP.

    - Dropbox, of course

    - Byword, for distraction free writing (it has iCloud support!)

    - ColorSchemer Studio, if you work on the web and need to create color palettes.

    - 1Password (a bit expensive), or LastPass (free or less expensive) for managing passwords. 1Password rules the roost of password managers on Mac. The reason for using a tool like this is 1) highly secure passwords, 2) no password

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