Revising with Ulysses III — some simple techniques

Revision. I love it. My modus operandi these days is to chug ahead with a part of the book then, when it’s finished, give everything a thorough revise before proceeding further. This way I hope to avoid any dismal gotchas — ‘this could not have happened because of what you wrote on Page 182, idiot’. It also means I have a better feel for the story too, and where it’s headed.

So how do you revise? The standard advice — and I’ve given this in my books on writing too — is to turn on track changes in Word so that you lose nothing of the original then tear into your raw manuscript with gusto. The latter part is good practice always. The former… let me be honest. Yes, I use track changes in Word. But it’s mostly out of habit. I can’t remember the last time I went back and reintroduced something I’d previously deleted.

Ulysses doesn’t do track changes. So how do I approach it now? With a delightful and rather old-fashioned simplicity. Let me explain.

First let’s get the ‘edit with gusto’ bit out of the way. Ulysses keeps past versions of all your sheets, as many as you’re ever likely to need. It does this automatically. Or you can save a version simply through the Command-S key combo you’d normally use for Save. Go to File> Browse All Versions and you’ll get something very like Time Machine (which it isn’t). On the left you’ll see your current version. On the right all the earlier ones.

Browse all versions -- a quick way to get work back
Browse all versions — a quick way to get work back

If you choose Restore you will replace the current version with the old one in its entirety. Or you can simply copy and past from one version to the other. In other words… you can hack away at your work without fear of losing anything. These versions don’t depend on your having Time Machine working to a backup disk by the way. They just happen.

Fine. But how do we deal with deletions and annotations for our work in progress? Here the answer is incredibly simple: the way we used to, back in the days when we used typewriters. We annotate and delete directly within the document using markup, much as we once used pen and editing marks.

Here, in one paragraph, you see all three marks I think you need.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 15.18.46

I’m trying to achieve three things here:

  • Delete something I may wish to restore later because I’m not sure it really needs deleting.
  • Make an inline note of something I ought to check.
  • Make a larger, more visible note to do the same thing.

You do all of these things by using markup to give the text the marks enclose special characteristics.

All text enclosed in upright dashes like this ||will appear as deletions||.

All text enclosed in two plus marks ++like this++ will be regarded as an inline comment — in other words one that is within a paragraph of normal text.

Any paragraph enclosed in two percentage marks will appear as a paragraph of comment.

The colours and general appearance of these editing marks will be controlled by the theme you use. If you use these marks a lot you can record keyboard shortcuts to make them easier to insert. You can always pull up a quick reminder of all the markup available to you by hitting Command-9 too.

None of the text enclosed this way will be exported when you output your manuscript to Word or PDF. So you can mark up your work as much as you like for reference within Ulysses then produce a perfect final revised copy in an instant.

There’s more detail on all this in Writing A Novel with Ulysses. There you’ll find more details and ways to tweak things. But that’s it in a nutshell. Best revision process I’ve ever found.