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So What’s The Fuss About Ulysses?

There was a time when a writer’s most technological tool was the typewriter. With the advent of computers and the first word processors, writers entered the digital age. This early software was little more than a basic text editor but the ability to edit your work without having to retype an entire page or cover it in correction fluid was like alchemy to writers of the time. As word processors grew into the behemoths they are today, integrated as part of office suites with more focus on business than the act of actually writing, so writers found themselves falling out of love with the software. This frustration gave birth to an entirely new generation of writing applications, focused more on organising your thoughts and capturing your words rather than creating 3D effects or playing with fonts and kerning.

At the forefront of this latest wave of writing software sits Scrivener. Packed with features targeted for writers, its users love the ability to be able to break their novel projects into bite-sized chunks and work in a non-linear fashion.

With versions available on both Mac and Windows it seems that Scrivener has every angle covered, but there are a couple of areas where it has weaknesses and this has led to a number of competitors coming to market.

Whilst an iOS version of Scrivener has been promised, it has yet to appear and as a result iPad users have to use a number of tricks and tips in order to write on their devices. And as Scrivener has added new features it has become an unwieldy beast to those that want to focus purely on their writing.

Ulysses (logo)This is where other writing applications such as Ulysses have seen a rise in popularity meaning that Scrivener is no longer the only sensible choice for today’s writer.

Ulysses is currently available for both Mac and IPad. It features a leaner interface than Scrivener, putting its focus on markdown rather than WYSIWYG. The idea behind this is that the writer can then focus on the words rather than getting distracted by styling and layout. So if, for example, you paste some media into Ulysses, it will show as a link until you hover over it.

Whereas Scrivener splits a novel into multiple files, Ulysses uses a single database. Writers can, however, organise their work into sheets (collection of pages) and groups (folders) similar to Scrivener, although in practise it feels more akin to something like Evernote. It’s simple to merge or split sheets if needed.

Ulysses also features something called smart paste which allows you to choose how any copied text or links get pasted into your document whether it be rich text, markdown, HTML, or just plain text.

Like most modern writing tools these days, Ulysses offer s full screen mode for distraction-free typing. It’s also possible to tweak this so that, for example, if you prefer white text on a black background it can be configured. You can elect to use a typewriter mode so that the line you are currently working on is always at the same spot on your screen. Whilst these might seem like minor features they can make a huge difference when you are trying to focus on a difficult section of writing.

It’s possible to set goals for pages, be that number of words, number of sentences, a set number of pages or others. Even better it’s possible to fine tune these targets further by selecting whether it’s a rough target, “at least” or “more than”.

And then once you have finished your novel it’s a simple process to export it to an ebook format. Whilst Scrivener compiles Ulysses’ focus on markdown means that it’s possible to apply stylesheets to your output to ensure the finished product looks exactly how you imagined.

Of course, many of these features are semantics for a lot of writers. They just want to jump on their device and write, which is where Ulysses distinguishes itself from Scrivener.
There is an iPad version of Ulysses which whilst it doesn’t have quite as many features as the Mac version, operates pretty much the same way. It makes use of iCloud to sync your work, although it’s possible to configure it to use of other cloud storage providers.

For those on even smaller devices, there’s a separate IPhone app called Daedalus Touch that integrates right into Ulysses, meaning that if inspiration hits and you don’t have your Mac or iPad with you, you are still able to commit your words to the page.

Obviously the mobile and tablet apps don’t have as many features as the Mac version and buying all three could work out relatively expensive if you want to work over multiple devices. However, if you are finding that Scrivener has got cluttered to the extent that it distracts you from the actual process of writing then it might be worth checking out Ulysses. Similarly if you find yourself wanting to write on your iPad or iPhone then it might be worth downloading a trial from However, if you are more likely to want to also work on a Windows machine than an iPad it’s best to stick with Scrivener.


One Comment

  1. Avatar TCM says:

    None of these support Linux :/

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