Notes app for longer writing and book summaries or outlines

Currently I use Apple Notes for “small” form notes such as grocery lists - I love the checkbox feature. I am evaluating Drafts for ephemeral or actionable notes as well.

I’m also looking for a notes app for writing such as book summaries and outlines I write for myself; notes on online courses I take, and other “longer” and more serious writing I may do (blog posts for example, if I ever do that).

The requirements are:

  • Good Mac app - I will do 95% of my writing there
  • Not super heavy or a jack of all trades; focused on writing
  • Supports Markdown and syntax highlighting for programming language code
  • Easy-ish way to export notes and documents if I ever switch
  • Good sync, preferably through iCloud or the app’s own servers

Happy to pay for quality, but would like something with a free trial or lighter feature set before subscribing or purchasing.

I could use Apple Notes or even Drafts for this but I want to hear what’s out there as well. Thanks!

I take notes in Pages and store documents in folders in the Finder. I write in Ulysses and then when I’ve completed an article and published it to the Web, I export the text as markdown to the appropriate Finder folder.

Bear and Ulysses would tick all those boxes. Lately though I’ve been trying iA Writer, which would do the job as well.

Ulysses or IA Writer would be my main recommendations, though there are lots of decent contenders. They’re different enough to meet your needs in different ways, depending on how you like to configure your writing environment.

You don’t list a budget though. The first is a subscription app, the other isn’t.

I didn’t list one because I can’t imagine a notes app being to expensive for me :grin:. Both iA and and Ulysses are fine pricing-wise, as well are Bear. I think I’m going to all three for the length of their trials.

Why not use a text editor ?

Ulysses matches your requirements, runs on iOS too.

There are several other apps that will do the job. Trying different ones …good plan.

I use Ulysses because its organizing schemes make sense to me. I’m comfortable with the ways it implements markdown. The designers update and expand the product while preserving a clean writing environment.

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+1 for Ulysses. i currently have over 1.1 million words in it and full-text search and sync are blazing fast on all devices.

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I agree with this, I use Notes for short snippets of text. If I want to write a longer series of notes on a book or something like that, I switch to Pages. I’ll often start off in Notes and when I realize it is getting too long, just copy and paste it into a Pages doc.

You could also take a look at Alfons Smidt’s Notebooks App (on both Mac and iOS)

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For outlining, I find that Pages does really well, especially using Harvard style.

No mention of alternatives for grocery lists. Why not Reminders instead of Notes?

As far as more featured note taking, I’ve never found a universal solution to the problem. I was a big user of Circus Ponies Notebook (RIP) and earlier One Note on Windows (Mac version is garbage). So I’m stuck with several apps:

  • Growly Notes where I want something freeform (like travel planning).
  • The reference/notes facility in Scrivener for writing.
  • Notes for things I want synced with my iPhone. This has been primarily wine tasting notes.
  • Stickies (yes!) as well as actual post-it notes.

We’ve discussed grocery list options several times here in recent months. (FYI I use Anylist, which is free, or a cheap subscription for cross-platform+web and a bit more for a family plan.)

As for Notebook, you might be interested to learn that its sister app NoteTaker is coming back from the dead. The original devs of the NeXT outliner NoteBook split up and produced those separate apps for the Mac, based on the NeXT app’s original UI (perhaps even the original code, at first).

I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s apparently over a year late from its promised release.

Where did they promise a 1.0 release for 2017, Tom?

Read their blog on their site. In late 2017 they promised 4.0 by the end of that year.

I didn’t see it there. Are you sure?

Small update - I’ve decided to use iA Writer for the following reasons:

  • Best styling for markdown I’ve seen - I love the left aligned #### for headings for example
  • Saves to a markdown or text file instead of proprietary format (most good editors do this now)
  • One time fee - I don’t mind subscriptions but see below
  • Gets out of my way

I wish I could use Ulysses, but I am not a writer. I may go weeks without writing notes. Therefore, a subscription service is not for me.

Bear looks good, but I am not a fan of the program font and style. I’m happy with Apple Notes.

Only thing I want is to be able to fold text under headings. This is available in the Windows version of iA Writer… guess it’ll take some time to make it to the macOS version.


IA Writer is great. I bought it before I started my Ulysses subscription, and I still use it. (I also backslide and continue to use BBEdit, because the key commands are ingrained in me after so many years of use.)

If you pine for folding you might like something like TaskPaper (Mac, but there are 3rd-party compatible iOS apps that sync via Dropbox), or an outliner like Outlinely or OmniOutliner (both Mac/iOS, or an online outliner like Workflowy or Dynalist. I ownTaskPaper but never completely gelled with it, but I do work in OmniOutliner and I fold like a madman, and write a lot in it…

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If I wanted to make a change from Ulysses, iA Writer tops my list. This is based on touchy-feely exploration as opposed to real use.

Besides, being ancient I used word processors that I needed to enter commands to mark the end a paragraph, format letters to bold and… I had to walk five miles to school. Seems like a 40 column screen in blue and white was also involved. The tools we have today are a joy.