How to manage a book diary in Ulysses

I’m a big fan of keeping a book diary while working on a project. Into it go things like…

  • A weekly record of the word count (every Friday when I finish work for me).
  • A note of emerging ideas and themes.
  • Records of things that are starting to worry me. Elements that don’t work. Repetitive phrasing.
  • Notes of tasks to be done before completion.

There are lots of diary apps out there. One thing that’s essential for me is being able to use them on a phone and tablet and not just at the desktop. Which we can do very well with Ulysses now, of course. And it’s very easy to set up an effective diary system too. Here’s how.

First, create a group called, naturally, ‘Diary’. I put this under the management group I create for each book project for storing character, location and research material.

Next change the sort order like this.

Ulysses sort order

When you’re writing a book you want your sheets sorted manually. But you can set the set order per group. So like this I get the latest entry at the top.

It’s a diary, and you can have fun with keywords, attachments, lots of other things just as you can with any other Ulysses sheet.

The fewer apps you use the easier life becomes. I keep pretty much everything inside Ulysses these days which makes it easy to find and manage, and a delight to work with.


How to start writing a book

Yesterday I started writing a book that ought to appear in 2018. What kind of book? Where’s it set? Patience, people. Much too early to start rabbiting on about those things.

But since writers get asked this question all the time let me say a few brief words on the subject ‘how I start writing a book’.

Do I outline everything in detail first? No. I will have a few ideas about where I’m headed but this is a journey into the unknown. I want to be surprised and enlightened along the way because if I’m not the reader won’t be either.

Instead it works like this…

  • I write an opening.
  • I write the reactions of important characters to that opening.
  • I conclude the opening section with a surprise or perhaps just the revelation that something we’ve come to suspect is actually true, and will pose a problem which the characters I’ve introduced will have to tackle.

That’s all.  I guess you could call it the setup. The creation of the challenge that will form the core mechanism driving the narrative of the story. It’s how I work but lots of other writers will work in different ways. Each to their own. Even so if you deconstruct existing stories and look at them in this context the setup idea still works.

Think Treasure Island…

  • A young lad called Jim Hawkins is befriended by a dodgy seafarer with a secret.
  • The seafarer is frightened by a visitor and dies, leaving his chest to Jim.
  • Dr Livesey, a friend of the family, deduces that the chest contains a map with the location for a secret hidden treasure and proposes to pay for an expedition to find it.
  • Jim, seeking adventure, and having just lost his father, goes along to help.

The opening is Jim meeting Billy Bones. The middle of the opening concerns the chest and Billy’s dodgy past then his death and handing on of the chest to Jim. The conclusion of the setup is Livesey deciding to set out for the treasure, and Jim coming along.

The setup is the fuse for the book to come. Light that and the rest should be well, not easy, but a sight less difficult than writing into a blank space.

Amsterdam Writing

Little Sister, the third Pieter Vos novel

I like to make each book in a series different to the ones that come before and this is no exception. The first two Vos novels have been very much city affairs based in Amsterdam. With Little Sister we travel outside, not far but to an area so removed from the bustle and grime of the city it’s hard to believe sometimes you’re only forty or so minutes away by bus.


Macbeth goes straight to number one in Germany

Macbeth: Ein Epos, my German dramatisation of the Shakespeare classic, only went live on Saturday. But I’m delighted to say we went straight to number one in the charts as you can see above. Thanks again to everyone at and the fantastic cast who worked on the production. You can see more here.