Experimenting with Ulysses

If there is a modern equivalent to a writer collecting typewriters, it is a writer collecting writing software. I have played around with lots of different writing software over the years. Among my favorites are tools like the versatile Scrivener, and the cloud-based Google Docs.

This week, I have added a new tool to my collection: Ulysses. Ulysses is a Mac and iOS-based writing tool that manages to do many of the things that I think are key to a good writing tool:

  1. It separates the content from the presentation layer. This allows me to focus on writing, and not worry about how it will look. Ulysses has all kinds of styles to which it can export a finished document. Scrivener does this very well, too, allowing you to focus on the content, and then “compiling” the finished document into the desired format.
  2. It eliminates distractions. I am not overwhelmed by icons or menus or UI elements that I will never use. It also has a nice full-screen mode. Here is what this post looked like on my 27” iMac screen as I composed it in Ulysses:

    Ulysses Full Screen

  3. It keeps things simple. Besides not having a WYSIWYG interface, the entire application is small and seems to focus only on those features that are absolutely necessary for writing. The files themselves are plain text with markup. They are stored within the application library, which abstracts even the file management to make it easy. It syncs with iCloud so that I can move from this machine to my laptop or iPad and continue my work.
  4. It has a simple theme system that makes it easy to customize the look and feel of the UI. This last point might seem like a small thing, but it is one of the main reasons that I am giving Ulysses a try. I have written elsewhere about how my favorite word process is Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS. I found a theme in Ulysses that made it easy to emulate what the screen in Word 5.5 for DOS looked like. (For those wondering, the theme I am using is a slightly customized version of Blue Screen.)

The last point might seem silly. Yet for me it is no different than a writer who pines for the old Olivetti typewriter they used to work on, and for which they can no longer find ribbon. Call it nostalgia, but something about the way Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS looked and behaved appeals to my sense of happiness in the days that I started out writing.

This is post is the very first thing I have written using Ulysses. I’ll need some time to experiment before I decide if it will work for me in the long run, but I’ve got to say I love the UI so far. If it turns out that it works for me, I’ll begin looking for ways to automate it into my other writing-related processes.

For now, if there’s anyone else out there who uses Ulysses, I’d be interested in the feedback you have. Drop your thought in the comments.


  1. FWIW – similar results just using a markdown compatible editor and something like dropbox. With the added bonus you can use it on your smartdevice too (it’s all just plain text anyway) and it’s already compatible with a certain set of word counting google scripts.

  2. Ditto all you said, although I’ll pass on the Word DOS theme. Transfer from Ulysses to Word is easy and seamless, which is a big plus since books all have to end up Word eventually. Organization for long-form is excellent, as are the tagging/keyword features. Would be very interested in how you automate with the rest of your workflow (I’m currently using Ulysses for writing & Workflowy for plotting).

    Have been a long-time fan of Scrivener, but Ulysses offers fewer distractions. Do prefer Scrivener’s word-count goal functionality, but that by itself isn’t enough to keep me (especially since I can device-hop so easily with Ulysses, something only possible with some contortions on Scrivener).

  3. I have also recently started using Ulysses and used to use Scrivener. I’m writing a 40 page school paper and I like not having to worry about format so I can just get the content down. I am also using an iPad Pro, and Ulysses for iOS has been very simple to use so far.


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