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.


Setting up a joint climax — Ulysses in action

I wrote here the other day about how you can use Ulysses to read and edit non-consecutive scenes. Here’s an illustration of that in action from the book I’m writing now, the third in the Pieter Vos series (with you some time in 2016).

This is about halfway through the book when we’re heading for two different climaxes to a pair of story threads. They need to resolve issues raised in earlier scenes separated from the climax scenes by other action. It is much, much easier to deal with these though as if they were written consecutively.

So all I do is use Command-Click to choose the connecting scenes I want and that’s what I get — just the scenes I need. It’s a really efficient way to deal with what otherwise might be a complex task, and I also often find myself improving (hopefully) the earlier scenes I’ve written along the way.



Enter Vellum… the closest ePub's got to WYSIWYG

I put up a new short story earlier today, formatted more professionally than anything I’ve ever self-pubbed before. I don’t pretend to be a self-pub expert. If something suits that medium I’m happy to do it. But conventional publishing — sorry I won’t call it ‘legacy’ because that’s plain daft — remains my bread and butter and I’m happy for it to stay so.

Technology primarily interests me through what it makes possible that couldn’t be done before. I love short stories but the conventional publishing market for them isn’t great. Delivering some now and again direct makes a lot of sense.

What held me back before? The hassle. I like my work to look good, and that’s not easy with ePub and Kindle. Yes you can go through the format routine with Word. Scrivener, Pages and Ulysses will alll publish direct to ePub too, and do competent jobs. But the finer points of publishing — custom design, drop caps, handsome styling — are hard to get unless you dirty your hands with code. That’s beyond me and it will stay that way.

And then along came a remarkable OS X app called Vellum.

Web/Tech Writing

So Game of Thrones is written in Wordstar

Here’s George R. R. Martin explaining why he still writes on an old DOS computer using Wordstar 4.0…

Good on him. Writers should use what they’re happy with, not what they feel fashion forces them into.

I was never a Wordstar fan and it wasn’t just for the interface, below.


For one thing I was a Mac user from the moment the Mac came out. So, apart from an early dalliance with other machines, I was on Microsoft Word from the start. But one thing about Martin’s choice does amaze me. Those early word processors really screamed at long files. It wasn’t until the late Nineties that hard drives and memories finally allowed me to write an entire book in a single file. Before that you’d hit crashes as early as the 10K word mark when documents got too unwieldy for the machine.

Perhaps Wordstar’s different. But I wouldn’t want to go back to the days of writing a book in separate files just to keep the computer running.

Interestingly though perhaps we’re going back to some of the earlier ‘show me just the words’ ideas that seem to attract writers like Martin. Here’s the dark, full screen view from Ulysses which breaks books down into sections and chapters but shows you them as a combined whole.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 12.52.00

It’s a lot more attractive than Wordstar… but quite similar too in some ways.

Browse the Ulysses themes library here and you can see plenty of people looking back to those simpler days too.

As always… whatever works for you. I’m not sure I could write in white type against a black background. But I may try all the same.