The Best Distraction-Free Writing Apps for Mac (and iOS)
Utility • Aug.6, 2019
We write on computers. Computers have the Internet. Internet is an infinite pool of information and entertainment.
Once we sit down to write, hundreds of distractions including Facebook and social media notifications, news, weather alerts, and videos constantly scream for our attention, even if for one second. If we get tempted to look, that second turns into a minute, and then into an hour as we switch tabs, watch cat videos that never stop scrolling our feed, and get lost in the world of social media. When we try to brave these interruptions to get back to our writing, a tiny box pops up in a corner of our computer to inform us that XYZ bought a ticket to the Disney and is feeling happy.
Why don’t we switch off the Internet to write without getting interfered?
Writers, bloggers, and content creators need the web while writing to research the topic or to delve into language. But even if they disconnect from the Internet, various tabs and toolbars of traditional writing software distract them.
Traditional writing software such as Pages and Microsoft Word aren’t enough.
The most popular writing software — Pages (for iOS) and Microsoft Word — are losing their hold on creators for the market offers smarter writing applications now.
With these new distraction-free writing software, a writer can
switch to focused or typewriter mode
format her writing with markdown editors
design the outline of her novel and big projects
preview the writing in pdf form
— while never leaving the keyboard.
Pages and Microsoft Word lack all these above-mentioned capabilities thus forcing writers to find their best writing applications elsewhere.
Writing distraction-free is hard.
To help you write with no interruptions, we analyzed countless writing tools to come up with a list of the best writing applications.
Our favorite editor so far is Ulysses. Ulysses’s sophisticated features, slick interface, and an in-depth user manual for a really affordable price make it stand way ahead than other writing tools. iA Writer comes close to Ulysses in terms of a simple writing interface and has a rich markdown editor, but iA Writer isn’t as capable as Ulysses in terms of advanced features.
We have also provided a list of the deserving competitors of Ulysses and iA Writer. You can compare the most distinguishing features of these apps along their pricing to see which writing application fits you the best.
Let us go through these winner distraction-free writing apps one by one.
Our favorite app to write ‘Distraction-Free’: Ulysses
($4.99 USD per month subscription. Support Macs, iPads and iPhones.)
Ulysses is a simple markdown editor for focused writing. Along with basic edit features that standard writing software come with, Ulysses is a bundle of advanced features for all kinds of writers — while never making them compromise on their creative focus.
Let us go into the setup and features of Ulysses in detail.
Setting up and using Ulysses
Once you install Ulysses on your Mac, the application gives a simple to follow introduction guide on how to make the best of the app. The Library pane on the left side provides a rich user manual with easy to follow instructions while you are writing.
Ulysses’s interface is user-friendly and is meant for the most non-technical writers.
On the left sidebar, you can find the Library, Introduction to Ulysses, and Inbox — where you can see all your files.
Once you have read through the First Steps of the introduction guide, you can create content right away by clicking on the editor (the pen symbol).
All the documents or in Ulysses’s language — the sheets — that you create go under your Inbox which is uploaded on iCloud, without you having to change any settings. Download Ulysses on your iPhone and iPad and enable iCloud so that you can access all your documents while you are on the go. Ulysses will keep your work synchronized across your devices.
On the top right of the interface, you have the export and publish options, Statistics such as word count on your writing, markup options, and attachments. Click on any one of the choices to edit or add to your writing.
Getting distracted by the various options and just want to write? You can just switch to the typewriter mode in full screen. You can also choose between a dark or light theme to set your environment as per your convenience.
How much simpler can a writing interface get?
Now as we know how to set up and get started with Ulysses, let’s explore the advanced features of Ulysses in detail.
Focus and productivity
Ulysses offers a typewriter mode for focused writing. In this mode, Ulysses only shows you the editor window and hides all the other tabs. While writing in focused mode, you can highlight the current line, a sentence, or an entire paragraph. This way you only need to focus on what you are typing at the moment.
If you wish to edit two documents at the same time, Ulysses provides a double editor. You can use the double editor even in the highlight mode so that you don’t get distracted.
There is a minor flaw here. If you had chosen to display Library from the view menu, even when you go in the typewriter mode, the Library panel displays on the left. To make it go away, you will have to manually deselect Library from the View options.
Ulysses also has an inbuilt Markup Editor. Using Ulysses’s native markup language ‘Markdown XL,’ you can format your writing without ever leaving the keyboard. By using dashes, numbers, and command shortcuts, you can add lists, make a sentence bold, add images and quotes, and mark text for deletion — all with keyboard shortcuts.
During our testing, we used the Markdown XL to write richly formatted texts with just the keyboard shortcuts. What would be a better way to minimize distractions than never touching the mouse?
To maximize productivity, you can even create goals with Ulysses. While tracking goals within Ulysses, you can track your writing progress and stay on schedule — without using any other application.
After thorough testing of Ulysses’s interface, we conclude that Ulysses’s typewriter mode is one of the best digital typewriters in the market.
Organization and management
The job of a writer not only involves writing, but writers also need to organize their work well. Ulysses provides filters and groups to classify similar sets of writing together.
If you have draft blog posts, you can put them under a group. If you are writing characters of a novel? You can can right-click on the group , select ‘New Filter’, and then add the characters under a new filter ‘character.’
Even within a document, you can insert bookmarks to return to the same paragraph later and edit.
Ulysses is meant for a multi-genre writer without having the writer remember what goes where.
Synchronization across devices
Ulysses keep your documents synchronized amongst iPad, iPhone, and Mac. With Ulysses’s perfect synchronization, you don’t have to wait to access the device you last edited your document on.
Ulysses acknowledges that writing ideas occur sporadically and provides a well-integrated environment across devices to write tension-free.
Ulysses even takes a failsafe automatic backup of your entire library on the local hard drive. Even if iCloud gets full or a system update deletes folders, you never lose work.
Export & sharing
Unlike the standard software like Microsoft Word and Pages, you can live preview your document in Ulysses. Whether you need your work as a pdf report or a html file, you can select the preview option from the top-right corner of the screen to see how the document looks.
If everything looks perfect, you can export the document to five formats: Text, html, EPub, PDF, and docs. Or you can even publish the file to Ghost, Medium, and WordPress with Ulysses’s Publishing feature.
Like traditional editors, Ulysses provides word, character, space, and paragraph count. But the impressive feature of Ulysses is that you can even see the time taken to read the document with slow, fast, average, speeds or while speaking it aloud.
This feature is gaining popularity for many publications only accept writing under a specified reading time.
With preview and statistics, you can finalize any writing piece within Ulysses. Then export or publish from within Ulysses to continue writing without getting distracted by the world of the internet.
Apart from these advanced features that can make any writer’s life easy, Ulysses offers Intelligent search, various themes and the option to create your own writing environment, a support of more than ten languages, and much more.
A minor disadvantage of Ulysses is that you might take a bit of a time to get used to the advanced interface of the app, like other writing applications. But once you understand how the shortcuts and full-screen mode works, Ulysses keeps you safe from all distractions.
While testing Ulysses, we have become a life-time fan of Ulysses for the app offers everything that a focused writer wishes for.
But how much do we have to pay for this brilliant writing app?
Availability and pricing
Ulysses has a free trial which you can use to test the software before shifting to a fully-paid environment. Ulysses’s subscription costs $4.99 for a month or $39.99 yearly (3.33 per month) — in the US. You may also get Ulysses from Setapp.
With extensive features and a simple writing interface — while not forgetting the price you pay — Ulysses is by far the best writing application present on Mac and iOS. For the sophisticated features, Ulysses isn’t costly and also offers a special discount to students.
($29.99 USD one-time purchase. Support Macs, iOS, Android and Windows)
iA Writer is an advanced, markdown text editor for all writers. With a no-nonsense editing interface, iA Writer lets you do what you do the best — write.
iA Writer has a typewriter and focused mode to write distraction-free. You can highlight the current sentence or paragraph in iA Writer similar to Ulysses.
iA Writer’s full-screen mode even hides the open tabs to create the best writing environment for you.
The simple markdown editor of iA Writer provides enough keyboard shortcuts so that you never have to touch the mouse. If you forget the shortcuts, just hover to the bottom of the screen to find the right keyboard shortcut on the markdown toolbar.
With iA Writer, aspiring writers can improve their writing style for this editing tool highlights adverbs, adjectives, verbs, nouns, and even conjunctions. You can track the usage of modifiers, indirect verbs, and weak words to keep them at a minimum.
While in Pages you cannot go into a focus mode, and Microsoft Word first asks you to choose a layout before writing, iA Writer let you type right away on a minimal screen.
But iA Writer lacks Ulysses’ primary features such as live preview without exporting, synchronization amongst various devices, double editor, reading speed, and automatic backups.
When it comes to pricing, iA Writer has a variant pricing for all the platforms. iA Writer’s license costs $29.99 for Mac, $9.99 for iPhone and iPad, and $19.99 for Windows. You may download free trials of iA Writer for Mac, Windows and Android, no free trials on iTunes.
Overall, though iA Writer doesn’t stand against Ulysses in terms of advanced features, if you are looking for an app to simply write and not worry about anything else, and if you prefer one-time purchase over subscription — iA Writer is your best bet.
Other distraction-free writing applications to consider
Ulysses and iA Writer are our best picks. But here are some competitors that are worth mentioning if you have specific requirements for your writing software.
Let us go through these fine writing apps one by one.
($19.99 one-time license, support for Mac)
Focused is a one of its kind markdown editor that offers soothing inbuilt soundtracks to listen while writing.
Focused has inbuilt Zen soundtracks for better productivity. You can listen to any of the eight tracks while writing to get maximum focus. As the music comes along with Focused, the writer never has to leave the editor or switch applications to change the song or pause the music. Focused is the best tool for people who write with music.
Focused also comes with a markdown editor and a typewriter mode with sentence and paragraph highlighting to write with full concentration.
With a typewriter mode and inbuilt music, Focused might look like the best option to write distraction-free.
But unlike Ulysses or iA Writer, Focused doesn’t have an option to preview writing in pdf format or highlight adverbs and adjectives and misses many other advanced features of our two favorite writing software.
A one-time license of Focused for Mac costs $19.99 — which is better than iA Writer and Ulysses. For the price you pay and depending on the features you need, Focused could be the right fit.
WriteRoom adheres to the literal meaning of the application’s name as the app is just a black screen with green text – An environment that takes you away from the regular world and into a writing room. WriteRoom is for the minimalist writers who don’t want to exit the writing room until they have written their heart out.
Minimalistic writing interface is WriteRoom’s stand-out feature.
WriteRoom’s Mac OS license costs $9.99 — which seems fair for the simple features provided.
On days you find it hard to write, you can switch on WriteRoom and forget about the world. But if you need more features or editing options, you would have to move out of WriteRoom.
($56 one-time license, support for Mac, iOS and Windows)
Scrivener combines the features of a smart digital editor with a real writing process.
Scrivener offers inbuilt templates for novels, dramas, essays, poems, recipes, and even stage plays. While starting a new document, you can not only choose the required project format, but you can also select if you want to create a character or a chapter and then provides the right template.
You can write distraction-free with the full-screen or composition mode of Scrivener with typewriter scrolling.
During the writing project, Index cards can be used to write nascent thoughts. Scrivener’s digital corkboard can be used to arrange these ideas and find a connection between them.
Scrivener also offers an Outliner view for viewing the structure of your writing project. Scrivener Outliner view allows dragging and dropping sections, adding or moving headings, marking to-dos, keeping targets, and tracking progress.
Scrivener is a really smart editor equipped with many advanced editing and project management features. With Scrivener’s Insert tool, you can even add tables, images, Bibliography, and math equations to your writing.
Hundreds of testimonials by recognized authors on Scrivener’s website would agree that Scrivener is an excellent writing and managing tool for a novel or a large project.
But if you want to write a short story or simple blog articles, Scrivener might not be the best option for the interface is not straightforward. During our testing, we found the editor interface complex and full of hard-to-understand options.
Scrivener’s license is priced at $56 for a Mac and $49 for Windows. The iOS version costs $19.99. You can also buy a bundle of the app for Mac OS and Windows that would cost you $94.
For the pricing and the complex features, Scrivener doesn’t look like the best option but it is still a great writing tool for writers who want to manage and plot their entire novels on a writing platform.
($70 USD per year subscription, support for Mac, iPad, iPhone, Windows, Web Editor, Chrome Extension)
ProWritingAid is an editor, grammar checker, and style editor. Apart from using the Desktop versions of this application, you can add ProWritingAid to Google docs or install its Chrome extension to edit everything that you write.
As you write, ProWritingAid provides word suggestions or a contextual Thesaurus. It also highlights overused and repeated words to improve writing. By suggesting to delete redundant words, ProWriting Aid fastens the editing process.
The tool emphasizes complex paragraphs and sentences to make the text more readable. While also assessing readability along with other relevant statistics, ProWriting Aid allows you to create your best piece of work.
When its time to publish or send your work to publications, you can check for plagiarism from within ProWritingAid to make sure you didn’t write a duplicate statement.
Even though ProWritingAid is one of the best style editors, unlike Ulysses or iA Writer, ProWritingAid doesn’t have a TypeWriter mode, options to preview writing before exporting it, and markdown keyboard shortcuts.
A one-year subscription to ProWritingAid costs $70, two-year costs $100, and a life-time subscription costs $240.
For this pricing, ProWritingAid seems to be a great grammar and style editor — but it is not one of the best distraction-free apps as even in the full-screen mode you see the application’s toolbar.
($1.49 USD per month subscription, support for Mac, iPad, iPhone)
Bear is a simple writing and note-taking app.
Bear allows you to write in focused mode with the application’s markdown editor to achieve maximum productivity. With Bear, you can make cross-notes, create checklists within the document, sketch in between text, insert links, and organize your writing with tags.
In addition to the markdown language, Bear comes with twenty programming languages. You can write and code, both, with the same application.
While syncing your writing on various devices and Apple watches, Bear lets you write on the go. Bear also offers export in different formats and direct publishing to Medium, WordPress, and Evernote.
If your focus is on taking notes, writing down inspiration, and project management, Bear is a smart application to achieve the same.
Bear subscription plans are monthly and yearly — $1.49 monthly with a one-week free trial and $14.99 annually with a one-month free trial.
As per the smart pricing and features, Bear is a good choice for content creators who put together inspiration from various sources to create the final draft. But Bear still doesn’t beat Ulysses or iA Writer in terms of a distraction-free interface or advanced features.
($10.99 one-time license, support for Mac and iOS)
Byword is a straightforward markdown editor for Apple users.
Byword also has the Focused Typewriter Mode to help you write without getting disturbed. With the simple markdown editor of Byword, you can type within the document and use keyboard shortcuts to format your writing.
Byword provides the options to choose between dark and light themes as per the time of the day and user preference. Byword syncs documents across all Mac, iPhone, and iPad devices.
The app comes with standard pdf and html export. You can also publish to Medium, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, and Evernote from within Byword.
As Byword says, Byword is a Markdown app for writing in plain text efficiently.
Byword is a simple and elegant writer for fiction writers, bloggers, and content creators alike. You can purchase Byword’s license for $10.99, which is a great price for a writing app with the included features. But Byword doesn’t have a free trial to try the app before purchasing.
Another writing tool for Apple users, Storyist, as the name says, is for storytellers, novelists, and screenwriters. With inbuilt templates for screenplays, plays, and novels, Storyist has a rich text editor which supports comments and images as well.
Similar to Scrivener, Storyist has inbuilt templates for stories, novels, screenplays, and plays. While starting a new document, you can opt between the various default templates for scenes, characters, settings, plot points, and outline to get a head-start on writing.
Storyist provides index cards to note your thoughts, then rearrange or expand to build on the idea.
When finished writing, writers can export their writing in pdf, html, rich-text, and many other useful formats. Storyist comes with unique export features as you can export a book directly in the Kindle format from the app.
Storyist is a competitive editing tool for storytellers.
If you are looking for a distraction-free app, Storyist might not be the best choice as there is no focus or typewriter mode. Also, while creating a new file you have to choose from a plethora of templates before you can start writing.
But for a $59 one-time license, Storyist is a powerful application to develop plot outlines, characters, and scenes.
Writing is more about collecting your inspiration and editing than putting words to paper. Here is our curated list of applications that will aid your writing process by helping you edit, providing grammar and style suggestions, offering the right tools to help you write faster, managing your references, and providing aid with technical writing.
Grammarly (Chrome Extension, Mac OS, and Microsoft Windows)
Essentially a grammar checker, Grammarly is an intelligent tool which highlights grammatical errors and suggests style improvements. You can add Grammarly to your Chrome as an extension and edit everything you write on the web — your emails, messages, WordPress articles, and social media posts. Or download the Desktop version to check your writing before sending it or publishing it on another platform.
If you are a beginner writer, consider using Grammarly. For Grammarly has many features that can help a new writer improve her writing — such as providing contextual synonyms, highlighting grammatical errors or complex wording, pointing out redundant and overused words, checking the text for plagiarism, and assessing readability as per the audience.
Grammarly can give you a head start on your writing process.
TextExpander (For Mac OS, iOS, and Microsoft Windows)
As literally as the name goes, TextExpander is a nice text expansion app that allows you to insert ‘snippets’— paragraphs, standard replies, email addresses, code pieces, images — in your writing with the abbreviations you have created. As you write, TextExpander then transforms these snippets into the longer text.
If your work involves sending a lot of emails, adding various signatures, or including standard code chunks, try TextExpander to save time and get your work done faster.
Bookends is a reference management system that helps you manage your references collected from various sources.
With Bookends you can add, delete, or search through attachments. You can add and edit your notes or search through them using Notecards. The Tag Clouds feature of Bookends helps in visualizing the stored information. You can then drill down to the reference that the word is sourced from.
Writers and creators need an effective reference system else all their ideas will get mixed up, and they could never sort through them. Bookends is a great tool to organize references and access them easily.
Focus at Will provides you the right music to increase your productivity and help you focus while writing. Using human neuroscience, Focus at will has developed music that reduces distractions, maintains productivity, and enhances focus for a longer time.
After asking your priorities and other personality questions, Focus at Will provides you with a channel that you can listen to while working and an additional fifty channels to choose from.
This is our best selection of writing tools and supporting writing applications that will help you write and focus better.
Ulysses is an excellent distraction-free writing app. iA Writer is also a smooth and interference-free application to write. Choose an application as per your devices and platforms, requirements, and writing features while keeping your budget in mind.
Now pick a tool and let your creative juices flow.