When I get the urge to write something I either reach for the closest instrument I can or, if available, the one that provides the most comfort. My iPhone is almost always with me and I'll write there if I must, though I much prefer my iPad when lounging in a recliner or my Mac if at a table or desk. Maybe I'm a bit overly particular, but I prefer my writing environment of choice to be as similar as possible across my three devices. This is one reason I love Day One for journaling and why I loved Byword for most anything else.
Yes, I said loved. Past tense.
There are a number of reasons why my beloved Byword fell out of favor with me. The frustrations were mainly with iOS. It started to feel buggy, and sync often bogged down the app, or ended with conflicted copies of files. In short, it became unreliable.
Now, I don't mean to disparage Byword. It will always hold a special place for me. But sentiment isn't something that should keep a tool around of it is no longer working well. It is ultimately only a tool.
Enter Ulysses. I bought Ulysses for Mac some time ago and experimented with it a bit, but I never committed as the story on iOS was only for iPad, and I often start my ideas on iPhone. It felt like an incomplete tool for my writing process.
Of course, hints and rumors have circulated for a while that The Soulmen, the makers of Ulysses, were working on an iPhone version. When they announced a beta, I quickly signed up, and, thankfully, was quickly accepted.
To put it briefly, Ulysses has captured my heart and the words pouring from it.
The best apps are the ones that offer an experience. They have a story to tell when you use them, and that story is expressed consistently on each device. Ulysses is such an app. It aims to encourage writing. It has all the tools one could want whether you are jotting a note or penning the next great novel.
Ulysses is powerful when it comes to organizing your writing. First up is the Library, where you create groups, sub-groups, add icons to groups for context, and more. The Library is as sparse or detailed as you want it to be. I use several overarching groups to separate writing for this site, work, and a few other things. Under each of those I typically have some sub-groups for additional context, such as Drafts and Published in my group for Full City Press.
Once you delve into a group you have the Sheet List. Think of Sheets as separate documents. Like a sheet of paper, it is a blank canvas. It doesn't need to have a title or a file name. It just needs words.
Once you create or select a sheet you're in the Editor. This is where the magic happens, and the true joy of writing with Ulysses is found. The Editor is clean, putting your words first. But it also places every tool you'd want within reach, kind of like Batman's utility belt. You can add keywords, set a writing goal, add a note, or even an image via the attachments sidebar. I make use of the writing goals to ensure I don't go overboard on words, and I love using notes to drop links I want to reference without mucking up my main text. I could see a novelist keeping notes about a scene or characters there, as well.
The best part is Ulysses is familiar whether you use it on a Mac, an iPad, an iPhone, or any combination of the three. Every tool you use on one device is found on another, in a sensible place for the size of screen being used.
Write. Anything. Anywhere.
I love the Ulysses’ slogan of Write. Anything. Anywhere. For the 2.5 release The Soulmen focused on the anywhere aspect of it. Bringing Ulysses to the iPhone is easily the capstone feature of this release. As I mentioned earlier, most of my writing starts on my iPhone while I am out and about. An idea hits me and I quickly jot it down, usually with a working title and attaching some notes to capture my general stream of thought. If the occasion permits, I may even tap out the first paragraph or two right there on my iPhone.
Ulysses, by default, leverages Markdown for styling text, which I have long held is the markup language every writer should learn and use. The various symbols you use for Markdown are easily accessible on a hardware keyboard, but can be a bit of a chore when using the on-screen keyboard on iOS. Ulysses again keeps the tools you need close by with the Shortcut Buttons that reside with the iOS keyboard.
Shortcuts are separated into three categories:
- Blocks: Headings, Lists, Quotes, Comments, and the like.
- Inline styling: Strong emphasis, regular emphasis, links, and more.
- Special characters: All the special characters you could shake a stick at.
Ulysses keeps all of these a single tap away while writing, instead of having to toggle the keyboard to symbols and maybe tap and hold on a key to reveal further options, as one would normally need to do things. These are located right in the QuickType Bar on the standard iPad keyboard, and are elegantly placed just above the keyboard on iPhone.
It is astounding how much attention to detail there is to keeping you focused on writing and not worrying about where things are at. Ulysses simply steps out of your way when writing while keeping any tools you may need within reach. To make another superhero reference, Ulysses is the Jarvis to your Tony Stark.
Keeping It All Together
Ulysses can be the one-stop shop for all your writing if you want it to be. It keeps everything organized. And when you use it on more than one device it also keeps everything in sync. Ulysses does this all through iCloud, and requires zero setup. It really just works.
Now, iCloud sometimes gets dirty looks when it comes to sync. Those aren't unwarranted as iCloud has definitely had quirks in the past. That said, I can't say I have had any trouble with iCloud sync in Ulysses. It has indicators in the Sheet List to show whether a particular sheet is uploading or downloading, and everything has always come across on all my devices. I don't even think about it. Ulysses has proven trustworthy that when I close it on one device, my work is there when I open it on another device.
Get to Writing
You don't need a fancy text editor to write. You can use paper, you can use TextEdit, Pages, or any number of tools. Ulysses is not needed for you to write or to write well. I don't think The Soulmen would disagree with that.
That said, when you set out to accomplish something, the caliber of the tool you use matters. There's a tremendous difference between using a generic tool and a precision instrument. Ulysses is the latter. It is designed to make a difference in your writing by taking care of all the things that typically steal away your attention while trying to focus on your writing. While it cannot create focus for you — that part is up to you — it does not create distraction.
Ulysses is the tool I whole-heartedly recommend to serious writers. Whether you write poetry, short stories, reviews, quips, thought pieces, or novels, Ulysses can handle it.
Write. Anything. Anywhere.
Ulysses is available on the iOS App Store as a Universal app for iPad and iPhone for $19.99. The Soulmen told me that price will be going up soon, so now is a great time to buy it. The Mac version of Ulysses is available on the Mac App Store for $44.99.
These apps are worth every penny, and I applaud The Soulmen for pricing them to be sustainable so Ulysses can continue to be the best writing tool for ages to come.