It used to be that when a moment of inspiration struck writers, they would have to rush over to a stone tablet, or find parchment and ink, to record their thoughts. Later, writers had to find paper and a typewriter, or a laptop or desktop computer, to get busy with their storytelling.
Nowadays, they can write into a smartphone and tablet app almost anywhere when an idea seizes them. So what are some of the popular apps for scribes?
$15 for iOS
Storyist is the writing app I use most often to write this column, books, and other articles. The app is a full-featured text editor, giving people the ability to customize fonts, colors, and page formatting, embed images, and more. The app also has predesigned page formats to help write screenplays, manuscripts, and novels.
To help build a novel, Storyist provides different types of “story sheets” to work on. You can use the sheets to note information about characters, plot points, scene settings, and other details. This part of the app is surprisingly powerful, and I have found that the preformatted sections of the story sheets (for example, the Smells heading under the Settings story sheet) help me think about characters and scene settings.
Storyist works well with or without a keyboard. It also saves documents seamlessly to the cloud so you can begin your work on your tablet and edit it on your phone. But its interface is a bit complex and takes some getting used to.
$5 for iOS, free for Android
For a writing app with a simpler interface than Storyist’s, check out iA Writer, which has little on-screen clutter like buttons and controls. The app borrows the look and feel of its writing interface from a traditional typewriter, including the font you type in.
The app’s cleverest feature is its “focus mode,” which fades out everything else in your document other than the line or paragraph you’re working on. This works similarly to how your eyes stay focused on the words you have just typed on the paper when using a traditional typewriter. Another clever option with iA Writer is that you can highlight adjectives, nouns, verbs, and the like in different colors, which may prevent overdecorating of text.
To preview the final result, there is a visually neat mode that shows what the document would look like if printed in a traditional book format. The app also has some traditional word processing tricks like find and replace, and you can export your text in a format that is compatible with other word processors, including Microsoft Word.
$5 for iPad
OmmWriter is focused on creating a calm writing environment. The app makes it easier to concentrate on writing by removing as many distractions — like editing features — as possible. The Zen feeling is nurtured visually: The page you write on is decorated with delicate images of objects like trees. The app also encourages people to wear headphones while writing and plays a selection of gentle background music and natural sounds.
I found that OmmWriter’s simplicity helped focus my mind — but the app is not a real word processor, so those who want to do more complex edits may want to copy their text to another app. OmmWriter’s on-screen keyboard also takes a lot of getting used to, and I found myself making many more typos than I did when using Apple’s built-in keyboard.
$20 for iOS
Another app, Scrivo Pro, has a similar complexity to Storyist’s. Its most powerful feature is that it can work with files exported from Scrivener, a very popular creative-writing app that runs on traditional computers. Scrivo Pro is capable and powerful, but it has a steep learning curve.
Free for Android
Lastly, check out Monospace, a writing and note-taking app for Android. While Android apps sometimes lack the polish of iOS apps, Monospace has a clear and elegant design.
“Writing is easy,” Mark Twain once said. “All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” With these apps, heeding his advice may now be easier on a smartphone or tablet than on paper.Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter @Kiteaton.