Ulysses for short-form writing?

With the release of Ulysses 15, I once again ponder if I should move over and try it.

Doing a quick search on this forum, I see a lot of discussion regarding Ulysses, but here is the question I can’t find the answer to -

For me, I do a lot of short-form writing. 1000 word stories, quick lists and freeform writing to solve potential problems. To date, I use markdown-formatted text files, saved in dropbox, and use different text editors (byword, iAwriter, 1Writer, etc.) to access, edit and write.

I’m never writing documents that would be linked together, like chapters of a novel or sections of a long dissertation. I am often writing versions, where I like to see old versions of stories, in case there is something I want to go back to.

For someone with my use case, is there an advantage to Ulysses, or is it overkill?

For me there are three cases where I use Ulysses:

  1. I want to break the work down into sections, or paragraphs, or lower (“sheets” in Ulysses-speak), so I can rearrange by drag and drop, or turn off sheets from view, etc.
  2. I want to use Ulysses’ very powerful and flexible export (“publish”) features targeted at PDF, or HTML, DOCX, or ePUB types. In this case it’s better to do the writing in Ulysses rather than try to import it just to use Ulysses’ publish tools.
  3. Thanks to @bowline’s recommendation, Ulysses is very good for writing posts then publish them to Wordpress.

The iOS and Mac apps are virtually the same, and sync is reliable, so that’s a good feature too.

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Ulysses will work perfectly fine for what you’re doing, but for your use case I don’t particularly see a reason to use it over the apps that you listed.

Ulysses would be fine for that. The advantages extend beyond gluing/linking chapters. (The feature list speaks for itself - you have to decide if it’s useful for you.) The Ulysses writing environment is so much more comfortable for me on my Mac than my copy if IA Writer is, just because I can use my own fonts and colors.

And it’s a simple matter to save your files in Dropbox to share with other apps as well.
I keep most of my shared files in a Dropbox folder called BYWORD, which I never bothered to rename even years after I stopped using that app on Mac/iOS.

In fact Shawn Blanc just today wrote about using Dropbox with Ulysses:

If IA Writer’s devs trusted users to set their own themes with their own choice of colors and fonts I’d probably still be using it. It’s a good app, but I am simply more at ease when sitting in front of a Ulysses (or BBEdit) screen, where I decide how my writing should look.

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Mike Schmitz’ overview of Ulysses, also on The Sweet Setup, is a good companion to the article @bowline linked to.

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I’m a tech journalist; I write 4-7 articles per week, averaging 750 words or so each. So that’s almost exactly your situation.

For several years I used Ulysses for that writing, but a few months ago I switched to a plain markdown editor. The main reason is I’ve become a little obsessed with standardized document formats. I want my writing in something easily accessible from the Finder, not some proprietary or semi-proprietary database that might be difficult or impossible to extract from if the vendor goes belly-up, or if I decide to leave the vendor.

The secondary reason is that the Soulmen, who develop Ulysses, seem to be loading it up with features designed more for hobbyists, rather than people for whom writing is a job. It’s the difference between the amateur cook who prepares meals for families and friends, and the chef who’s trying to get food out to a restaurant full of people, with every table full and a line of people snaking out the door.

The writing app I now use for articles is MultiMarkdown Composer, but honestly there are several alternatives that are just as good. It’s a matter of whatever fits your personal style.

Thinking about your question further: It’s a nice-looking app, very easy to use, and while it has many capabilities that are useless to me – and may well be useless to you, also, because we’re both writing short-form documents – they stay out of the way.

And sync between the Mac, iPad and iPhone is nearly instantaneous and effortless. There have been times when I’ve found that valuable, particularly when I’m off not working and think of a perfect headline or lede.

So give it a try. There’s a 14-day-free trial. It’s easy to export text if you decide you don’t like it.

This is super helpful. I downloaded the trial, and started using the external folder option with dropbox. I like that it can sync to those txt files. I’m very bummed that Ulysses doesn’t support Markdown XL for external files, as that would be a really nice value-add, compared to the traditional markdown I’m using now.

I might try using the regular sheets in Ulysses, but like you I am concerned being in a proprietary ecosystem.

Ironically, MultiMarkdown Composer is my default app at work. I don’t use it on my laptop because it reminds me too much of being in the office, haha!

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I’m a novelist by trade - I write long (LONG) books and series, which I do exclusively in Scrivener because I need the sheer power it provides. However, I do lots of smaller form writing: articles, interviews, and so on. This I do in Ulysses and it works beautifully. I still have trouble getting over the subscription price but hey, it’s a pro tool for me and its management of text and typography is unparalleled. So I would say this would work perfectly. Honestly, I prefer much to see Ulysses as a text repository ala MacSparky than as a novel writing tool (for which it seems too flimsy for my taste).

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Text repository? How so? You mean like TextExpander?

I use TextExpander as a text repository. Much easier now that I’ve worked search into my workflow and don’t have to remember all those pesky shortcuts.

Scrivener on the iPad or Mac? Both?

I have not written novels or much of anything longer than 10,000 words at a time. I used Scrivener for a couple years on my Mac. I appreciated many of the features such as the corkboard. But it was simply too big for me.

I went with Ulysses as being more agile. If I ever have the grit to take on a novel Hewson 2016 book gave me hope that my app choice will not be a roadblock.

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Why would this be an issue for short-form writing which is presumably going to be fairly ephemeral and published in other formats? Export from Ulysses is trivial, and can be done in many formats, in any case.

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Primarily writing on my iPad most days. One thousand word segments… Ulysses works great. I rarely spend time searching for bits and pieces because of organized storage features.

Overkill? Naw… This is not Word with a cumbersome mess of distracting menus. Ulysses’ power waits in the background. Always a clean writing environment…

When other forum members extoll the virtues of xxx, I think fine. The apps work well for them. Great!

I stick with Ulysses because it has the scope to handle present and projected tasks. I don’t dick around with learning new wrinkles.

See if this link about text versions is useful.

Try, as you are doing. Choose. Change when the app no longer satisfies. (When new app frenzy strikes… good luck.)

I mean rather as a bucket of (larger) text I’ll be reusing on various occasions. For instance I always need to send up to date bios of varying lengths for promotional purposes, that’s where I store them. :slight_smile: Something I could also store in a notes app, but for some reason I find Ulysses more suited for that precise use.

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Both, although I prefer it on the Mac (if only because I can use TextExpander to my heart’s content). Scrivener can be anything you like, that’s what I love about it. It’s as powerful (or not) as you need it to be, a bit like OmniFocus (which I also prefer over everything else). I’m currently finishing book 3 in a series of 5 and those books are between 180 000 and 250 000 words long each, and I keep everything, and I mean everything, in Scrivener. I am not sure I could have taken on such a big project if I did not have the power of Scrivener at my disposal.

That’s why I like iA Writer, but also Bear. Bear is one of the few apps that lets you easily export and backup your documents in the format you prefer. And not only on Mac (like Evernote tries), but also on iPad and iPhone.

Good for you. That’s a significant accomplishment!

If you have written about your research, world building, and writing processes, including your use of Scrivener and other software, please let us know.

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Thank you! :blush: I talk a lot about those things on my website to try and help young writers, and I’m producing a podcast with two colleagues about the craft (it’s a kind of French « writing excuses »). It’s all in French though :slightly_smiling_face:


I have the exact same use case as yours and I have been happily using Byword on the Mac (sans Dropbox) for years. Apart from writing 200+ pieces (1,000-3,000 words each) using the app, it also acts as my “scratch pad”, where any piece of text goes into it by default before I decide what to do with it. I’ve never bothered using any other app because why fix when it ain’t broke? Hope that helps.

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No doubt, Scrivener is a fine, powerful app. It’s on my list of fine apps that I drifted away from. I started looking for alternatives when they had problems getting the original iOS version to market (several years ago).

I’ll also add that Scrivener took some effort to build an understanding, but the many available tutorials were useful.