Managing a book project with Ulysses III

My mentions here of the OS X writing app Ulysses III continue to generate a lot of hits. And a few questions too such as… ‘How would you do in Ulysses what you do in Scrivener?’

Simple answer to that one: you wouldn’t. If you want what Scrivener offers you should go with Scrivener. Ulysses is a different kind of beast altogether — much simpler and with a sharper focus on writing rather than publishing.

Here’s the way I would approach building a book project using it. 

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Creating a handy quick info window with Scrivener

Character names. Don't you love them? Sometimes they're memorable. Sometimes, especially for minor characters, they're not. Scrivener lets you create detailed character profiles in a separate folder within your document if you want to. But here's the problem. You're part…

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A neat alternative to split screen in Scrivener

Here’s a familiar challenge: you want to work on one scene but know that what you’re going to write is dependent upon a scene, several stages back in the book, which is already done. The standard response to this situation, depending on the software you’re using, is either to split the screen between the two documents or open two windows, one for each bit of the book.

Perhaps it’s me but I’m no great fan of either. All those scroll bars and different bits of window get in the way. This is a book — one long story composed of different bits. I want to see it that way.

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How to read your manuscript like a paperback book

I’m a big fan of reading a draft manuscript in different formats. An A4 printout is good. So is a printout in paperback format — small pages, the same kind of pagination the reader will one day see.

Scrivener comes with a number of pre-formatted options for the latter. Even better you can use them to produce a pdf which will let you read your MS — and possibly mark it up depending on the software — on a smaller tablet such as an iPad mini or an Android or Windows equivalent.

Here’s how to do it. I’m using Scrivener on the Mac for this. I think you can achieve the same on Windows but you’ll need to play around to check. You can export the same way with Word, on Mac and Windows, by juggling page setup. But Scrivener does away with a lot of the faffing.

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Writing two scenes together apart

Here's the situation. You have three separate threads in your story and scenes that move between each. You want to write the follow-up to a scene that is several steps earlier in your narrative. Wouldn't it be nice to be…

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What a Scrivener project looks like when it’s getting ready to hatch

I wrote that last post because I used the tip in it to map out the final section of the current book. This happened because I couldn’t sleep last night for the story bugging me. So around midnight I grabbed the bedside iPad and dumped down all the thoughts I had into Notes there.

Magically they were waiting for me in Outlook when I dragged myself to the desk the following morning. Yesterday the run-in to the book was an inchoate mess. I knew the eventual destination. I’d no idea how I was going to get there, choreographing two linked storylines that still had plenty of holes.

That late night thinking solved much of the problem. Tinkering with index cards and Scrivener fixed the rest. Of course I still have to write this, and one side-effect of brainstorming is it drains from you the will to write. But there’s always tomorrow.

Here, in case it’s of any interest is what a Scrivener project looks like for me when it’s heading into the final straight. And below this very large screenshot I’ve pulled out the important component parts.

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Side-by-side synopsis and scene editing made easy

As a general rule I’m opposed to multiple screens and windows. They’re confusing and draw your attention away from the only thing that matters: the words.

But sometimes you need to be thinking on two levels with a narrative: the micro, namely the scene itself, and the macro, its position in the scenes surrounding it. Scrivener has a fantastic way of dealing with this by splitting the screen into two panes, one handling index cards in the corkboard, the other your documents.

Let’s make it work.

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How to keep your work safe for free

The last post asked the question: will your work live forever? As I said there… if it’s in a common format like Word, rtf or some kind of html I think the answer’s, ‘As much forever as you’re likely to need.’

The way we usually lose work isn’t through format changes. It’s clumsiness. I can’t remember the last time I lost something through a technical issue (one exception apart, which I’ll come to shortly). Mainly it’s just through mistakes — failing to back up, forgetting to transfer files when I change computers. All that kind of thing.

Here’s my routine for avoiding any nasty surprises.

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