Web/Tech Writing

Why is it so easy to write in Ulysses?

As anyone who’s listened or read me on the subject of writing knows, I’m very sceptical of word targets. It can be all too easy to fool yourself into thinking something’s working on the basis of a word count alone. Cutting the words you don’t need is as much a creative act as writing them in the first place. Equally, setting down words you don’t want — and will have to cut later — is the opposite of creativity.

That said I’m now a good way through my current novel, the third Pieter Vos title headed for 2016 publication. It’s the first book I’ve written in Ulysses and boy is it happening quickly.

I trust I’m not fooling myself here. I read and edit in phases with a work in progress. I’m not the kind of writer who just whacks it all out and hopes to find a way to fix it in the end. This is an interesting, winding, twisty book and will doubtless need some fixing and tweaking after the first draft. But I think it’s good. It’s how I want it to proceed.

And boy is it happening at a pace. I keep an eye on progressive word counts primarily out of interest. Eighteen days ago the book stood at 50,000 words. This morning, after writing a thousand-word scene first thing, I find I’m here.


Another thirty thousand words on. I don’t work weekends. I don’t work nights. I’m also engaged in an altogether different project at the moment too so at least three of those days I went nowhere near this manuscript at all. In truth that’s about thirty thousand words probably in twelve days or so, not full days either.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a book this quickly and I don’t doubt for one moment that Ulysses is the reason that’s happening. Why?

Here’s my theory. When I knock off for the day I always make sure I leave a note of scenes to come, with a brief synopsis at the top of the sheet (as recommended in Writing A Novel with Ulysses).

When I come to the desk the next morning I can look at those unwritten scenes and pick the one I feel like writing. I choose the sheet then I hit full screen — Command-3 — and all I see is the synopsis at the top and a blank page underneath. No distractions. No toys to play with. Nothing to do but get down and write.

So I do.

Normally I’d be thinking at this point of when to move the whole project over to Word for the final run-in. You can read about that with Scrivener here. With Ulysses the final run-in is going to happen in the app itself, with a last export to Word for delivery. I couldn’t imagine doing it any way. And when I hop on the plane to Reykjavik tomorrow for Iceland Noir the work will come with me, on my laptop, automatically. I’m looking forward to getting in an hour of work on the plane and I simply can’t imagine I’d feel like that with anything else.

Now back to the next scene, and to put in a few synopses for the ones to come. If you’re in Iceland and see me somewhere with a laptop just ask and I’ll happily show you how this works.