August 21, 2014
What it is
Ulysses is a markdown editor for the Mac. It has a simple drafting model that makes it easy to organise ideas and move between them. Pieces of writing are represented as sheets that can be tagged and grouped together - the grouping can be made manually or using filters. There are no files, the sheets are entries in a single database that is synced with iCloud. Because everything is plain text it won’t eat up your storage space. Individual sheets can be archived for use with Mac Os X’s versions feature.
You can get a companion app for iOS called Daedalus Touch that will also sync to iCloud, but I have not tried that yet.
Ulysses is full of useful features: when a word count is set a simple indicator tells you whether you have met the target yet. Images can be attached to sheets but I find it easier to deal with images in the WordPress post editor so I have not used this feature a lot. You can easily export to HTML, RTF, PDF, and ePub formats - with the option to preview beforehand. The HTML preview can be copied to the clipboard, which is great for blog posts.
Why it helps
I now use Ulysses III to write nearly all of my posts. I use it to start writing anything long form, even if I have to transfer it to another format later (as is the case with blog posts). Because of the grouping features I can keep blog stuff away from other works in progress. Within particular projects Ulysses encourages structure, which is something that I like a lot.
I like to brainstorm lots of ideas for posts. I set up multiple sheets in a group and type out the titles, while sketching out notes and details as markdown comments. Because my ideas are arranged into groups (by theme, whether research is required, etc), I can make sure my posts are varied1 in terms of subject and depth.
The word count targets make sure that I write enough for each post (and help me to identify quick wins in posts that are nearly finished). The export feature introduces another chance to edit into the writing process, so I feel like my writing is getting checked more often.
Because almost every feature can be accessed from the keyboard, time spent in the app is mostly spent with your hands down typing not rooting for some buried feature in the menu system or tapping some icon.
Ulysses III doesn’t implement Mac OS X’s system-wide autocorrect and the spell check doesn’t show mistakes as you type. This might not be the worst drawback because you can still check through words at the end, besides there’s nothing more frustrating than when OS X decides to change a word that you are typing when you are still halfway through it.
I think that it is a shame that you can’t export comments to HTML. Most of the time you don’t need outline comments in finished code but it would be useful if I could export various metadata to WordPress in the form of comments. I have asked the developers whether they might consider a toggle in the settings and they responded quickly to say that they’d consider it.
All my other minor problems are ones of how to better manage moving what I write from Ulysses over to WordPress but even so I think the process is already as frictionless as it can be.
It would be amazing if someone were to write a Ulysses-style LaTeX editor.
I got it half price and that was about the right price for its usefulness. This means that at the moment it is about twice the price that it really should be. By anyone’s definition that makes it expensive.
Is this an ad?
Not really, I am just sharing the tools that I use for creating things. I also wanted to share what I like about software that I use regularly, so that I am more aware of those things in future. I’ve deliberately not used any of their logos in the hero image, which is ULYSSES by Fedor Ø, (cc-by-nc-sa-2.0).
Forget that crap about finding your niche! I say write ALL THE THINGS!↩