Final Words on Ulysses (the writing software)

Pretty much, it's great.

I'll have to admit, I really, really wasn't hot on it at first. It takes time to work out its kinks and its features. I discovered many of these in the process of using it. On first contact, it seems confusing and limited. I felt as if I were restricted by unmovable, unnameable notes panels. Markdown threw me. If I wanted to edit styles, I had to dig into HTML-like text-files I felt sure would send most people unused to such things running (I'm used to such things, but that doesn't mean I want to have to deal with things like that).

Then, as I explored further, I slowly discovered that I could undock my notes, and a great deal more, and I got things set up more or less the same way I have them in Scrivener. It helps a lot that, like Scrivener, the people behind Ulysses are very quick to respond to questions (in my case, usually via Twitter). I discovered I could have non-printing in-line notes (like Scrivener) and add annotations to individual words, sentences or paragraphs (similar to something you used to get in an earlier version of Scrivener that got pushed out).

I've been using it exclusively now for about a month and if you're thinking of trying it, you definitely should: there's a demo version available for the desktop or laptop with a ten-hour limit which should be time enough to at least explore it a little.

That's not to say I haven't found niggles. I've found several, but I could say much the same about Scrivener. Don't get me wrong - I highly recommend Scrivener as well: but where a few months back I would have said Scrivener was comfortably ahead of the pack, I'd now say Ulysses is more or less neck-and-neck with Scrivener.

There are conditions to that statement, however. Ulysses is Mac only; Scrivener is available on Mac, PC and Linux. Scrivener does not have an iPad app yet, and even though there's been a lot of talk about one forthcoming - I still hold out hope for November for a possible release date - there's no sign of it yet. Ulysses has an iPad app that integrates perfectly with iCloud and syncs smoothly and automatically (I've read elsewhere that hasn't been the case for some people, but so far I've had no problems).

If you have a PC or a computer running some flavour of Linux, Scrivener is by far and away your best possible choice.

If you have a Mac, it's down to personal preference between Scrivener and Ulysses: Scrivener has a huge range of features which mean it can be used for tasks far beyond simple novel writing. Ulysses is much more bare-bones on the surface, but with a great deal of hidden muscle. Some people find Scrivener too complicated (although I must admit I don't understand why); they might have a better time with Ulysses.

If you have a Mac and an iPad, and want to write on the iPad and sync it with the desktop or Macbook, Ulysses is an absolute must-have.

Scrivener is powerful, but utilitarian: Ulysses is more limited, but beautiful to look at and work with.

In the past month and a half, I've written two lengthy outlines for two novels, each document about ten thousand words in length, and all in Ulysses. The real test, of course, is what happens when I write a novel.

And the only way to find out how Ulysses handles that is to do it. 


Unknown said...

Hi - you mentioned in your post "Ulysses on the iPad versus Scrivener on the Macbook" that the icloud syncing via Ulysses was really bad, yet here you say it syncs beautifully. Is this because the software has been updated or because you got used to it? Or is it only through the iPad that it syncs well and not via Mac? I have Scrivener but I've been looking to get Ulysses, it certainly is pretty...

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

Carolyn - I thought it was bad, and had heard it was bad: then I found out later when it syncs with iCloud, it does so *invisibly*: no files can be seen in that directory, but they're still there. I wasn't able to appreciate the syncing until I also bought the desktop version of Ulysses as well, and now I can go back and forth between my Macbook and iPad easily and be able to edit the same file on both. In my experience, it takes a few seconds to update on one or the other at the most. So far, it's been plain sailing.

And yes, it is pretty (I think they've got a thing on just now where you can take it for a test ride until early December).

Free Madness said...

Thank you for the article. I am going to be travelling for the next 6 months and would like to get a tablet to write on more portably. Can I use Ulysses just on the iPad without having a Mac? And does it open Scrivener projects? Thanks for your help!

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

FM - yeah, you can use Ulysses standalone on an iPad without too much trouble. It doesn't unfortunately open Scrivener projects. although there are some third-party iPad and much more basic writing programs that do. I'd personally recommend a Microsoft Universal Keyboard to write on it with, if you're thinking about getting one: I picked mine up after reading a lot of excellent reviews, and I've talked about it elsewhere on my blog as well.

packtramp said...

Scrivener on PC. Dying to get something for iPad that isn't frankensteined notepad to sync back to scrivener. Had a Mac, While they are ok, I have no intention of leaving my pc anytime soon. There is no Ulysses to Scrivener hope of syncing is there like with storyist?

Unknown said...

I was relieved to read your post! I've been jumping back and forth between the Ulysses demo and Scrivener for a week. I kept thinking..."Man, this Ulysses makes me want to write more." Of course, I tried to go back to Scrivener, but Ulysses is addictive. Plus that iPad app appeal is almost too compelling to ignore. At least I'm not the only one. Keep us updated on how it's working for you!