Battle Royale - Ulysses vs. iA Writer vs. Byword vs. Drafts

These are the big 4 (in my opinion) when it comes to writing. I have been through all of them. Just recently jumped back into Ulysses after taking the Learn Ulysses Course from Shawn Blanc, and some posts on the forums that helped me start thinking differently about writing. Plus, having a 3 month free trial I think @MacSparky had a special offer recently.

Doing a 3 month test of just using Drafts (quick entry) and the Ulysses for all writing. Take a page from the setups of Shawn Blanc, Sean McCabe, and Cam Brennan (their Ulysses interviews). It’s been a week, I feel more organized with my writing and clearer motivation. (This could also be the newness of this style)

Share your thoughts and setups for these apps!

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All the named apps accomplish their mission but they are not equivalent. I recently started a threads on the sweetsetup class for Ulysses and one as Drafts being a one and only app.

I like the idea of having all my writing in one place. I wondered about promoting Drafts to that position. But, I’m not going in that direction.

I’ll keep Drafts and use its export action to create sheets in Ulysses as needed. My main driver is still Ulysses. Drafts is my ephemeral app.

For the next few weeks, I’ll follow own advice and work on refining my use of what I’ve got.


Why not include Scrivener in the mix? I’m finding it superior to anything else for all sorts of writing tasks and curious why you wouldn’t consider it as well.

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Exactly. It’s like comparing one car company’s hatchback to another’s sedan.

I’m not understanding why there’s a “battle” between apps? I’ve written elsewhere here that I must use Word for work, but other than that I’ve been happy to have a lot of writing tools, software and analog, and grateful to be able to switch off. If it’s a bulging tool bag – then the more the merrier :slight_smile:


@RichardC may you share the link please? Is it on this forum or another?

Drafts to Ulysses? Go to the Action directory . This is a must know resource for a Drafts user.

Sorry I meant the thread for the sweetsetupclass. Does Sweet Setup have their own discourse instance?

The course

Some thoughts on Byword versus iA Writer and Ulysses

Some of this may have changed in the last few months, but these are some random notes that I composed at the end of January 2019, as I was trying to decide between Byword, iA Writer, and Ulysses. I’ve settled on Ulysses. I’ve kept Drafts as “input” only. “That’s where text starts,” and I know it can to much more, but I get confused of apps are being used for too many different things.

Advantages of Byword

  • It's very simple to get started. The focus is on the text, not on the text in a larger setting.

Disadvantages of Byword

  • It doesn't really allow for organizing. For this, even Drafts is better.
  • There's no way to tag anything.

Advantages of iA Writer

  • You can see the preview right next to you (Ulysses has this too now.)
  • Very easy to navigate
  • "Open in" functionality for folder-based organization.

Disadvantages of iA Writer

  • N0 support for TextExpander; dealbreaker.
  • Many fewer options for export

Disadvantages of Ulysses

  • It’s a package, so it’s harder to manage from Finder on Mac
  • Very annoying bug that inserts a backslashes-“\” in front of all markdown symbols when importing from Drafts. (It does this for RTF files too, which makes sense, but Greg Pierce, the maker of Drafts insists that the problem is on Ulysses side, not his; and I believe him.)

Advantages of Ulysses

  • External Folders are really, really cool.
  • Lots of useful options for formatting/export
  • fantastic share-sheet function on Mac (allows you to file into folder right away)
  • keywords autocomplete!
  • easy to assign keyboards
  • With IFTTT, all highlighted text in Instapaper files is included in External Folders
  • The URL-callback to OmniFocus is key (Thanks Kourosh Dini!)

Ways to get the Ulysses to do it all

  • Exporting actually very easy! Once I’m done with a project in Ulysses, I can tidy up the folder it’s in, move (with ⌘-drag-drop) the folder to the relevant “External Folder” (e.g. Digital Ethics Course > Digital Ethics 2018 ARCHIVE), and the first line of each “Sheet” becomes the title of the file.
  • Tagging rocks!: If add a keynote to a sheet in Ulysses, and then export it by moving it to an External Folder, it adds a Finder tag to the file that is created.
    • And if you tag a file in Finder, and that file is one of your External Folders (I’ve only checked this for iCloud), then
  • Importing is a bit trickier: PDFs don’t import (except via the Shortcut in iOS, stripping the formatting); if notes that are in a Word document is converted to RTF or plain text, that will import, and the first line becomes the title. The tricky thing is getting the title integrated into the text.
  • I have to say that, as I start to get the feel for Ulysses, the attraction of Scrivener is lessened.
    • I should be able to import Scrivener files, since they are RTF