Web/Tech Writing

Dabble – the future of novel writing?

I don’t know what other authors are like but I go a bit funny whenever I’ve finished a long project. It’s easy to be sucked into trying to write something straight away but I long ago discovered this is a mistake.

You need time to recover. Time to think. So I often take a long look at my work processes — the tools I use for the job — and try to work out if I can do things more efficiently next time. I’m not talking about ‘inspiration’ here. I’m talking about processes, approaches, the day-to-day practice of writing.

Years ago I came to the conclusion that standard word processors don’t cut it for me when it comes to dealing with the complex, threaded business of putting together a book-length narrative. I was an early user of Scrivener, a piece of software I still admire and use, and later adopted Ulysses, a lovely app on the Mac and iPad that combines power with simplicity.

Today I flit between both depending on the project. Scrivener is by far the more complex but better, it seems to me, for multi-threaded stories. Ulysses excels at simpler narratives without too many twists and turns. Most people will stick to one app, of course, which is eminently sensible. But when you write for a living, five days a week or more, you sometimes need a change of the daily scenery. Which is one reason why I always try to keep an eye on what’s happening elsewhere in the writing software scene.

Time moves on. Scrivener was originally a Mac-only app. There is a Windows version but it’s some way behind the current Mac one at the moment though the release of Windows version 3 appears to be imminent. You can get an iPad app too but Scrivener is complex and awkward when it comes to syncing between devices. I gave up on the iPad app long ago since moving between screens something I do all the time. Ulysses does that without a second thought and, unlike Scrivener, doesn’t mind if your story is open on another machine elsewhere. But these are still both conventional computer programmes designed to run on individual devices. Meanwhile mainstream writing apps have often moved, very successfully, to the web and given up trying to demand you use a particular operating system to get on with your work.

Microsoft Word is the ultimate destination of all my work except scripts, since that is the lingua franca of book publishing, the format we’re expected to deliver. Once a very closed product limited to Windows and an inferior Mac version, it’s now available across the spectrum, for iPad, iPhone, Android phones and tablets, and with a version that runs very well in a browser. It does all this through smart web storage. I can have a Word file open on my desktop and add a note into it on my Android phone while walking down the hill. It doesn’t care what device I use or where I am. That is something I’ve come to like a lot.

This approach, it seems to me, is the future of most apps we use. Not as standalone programs on standalone computers, but as web-based systems that work however and wherever you want.

So how about a dedicated novel-writing app that thinks this way? There are several out there, all young, all developing. I tracked down three, Novlr, LivingWriter and Dabble. They all offer free trials. They all have some odd omissions — Novlr, for example, has no search and replace, while LivingWriter seems to think a Word-style format bar is needed. I don’t.

So I soon found myself warming to Dabble over the others and decided to give it a test with an actual project, currently at the 25k mark. Here is what I made of it.

Web/Tech Writing

Fine tuning the last revision of a book

A month from now I’ll be back in Venice working on the final revision of a new book before delivery. I’ve been doing this with everything I’ve written for more than a decade. I enjoy the seclusion and the focus Venice brings, and maybe it’s a superstitious thing too. Nothing beats hitting that send button from Dorsoduro somehow.

Since people are always curious about the mechanics of writing — and my methods for the final revision process have changed over the years — let me set down how I handle this essential job these days. Oh and answer a few questions too…

Web/Tech Writing

Quick revision tip for Ulysses users

I’m currently in revision mode for something new. Revising’s so important to me. It’s the last five per cent of polish that can add so much.

Ulysses has a great trick up its sleeve to make the job incredibly efficient and powerful. It’s all here…

Web/Tech Writing

Ulysses 2.7 is out with some useful new features

An update to my favourite (as in I wrote every word of Romeo and Juliet: A Novel in it) writing app Ulysses just landed. There are some nice new touches, including the ability to have your sheets open as tabs on Sierra, above. And if you’ve got one of the fancy new MacBooks with a touchbar that’s supported below, too.

The full list of changes is below. Just a reminder… I have a cheap little ebook for anyone starting with Ulysses who wants to write a novel.


The Touch Bar is the new touch display situated above the keyboard of Apple’s latest MacBook Pro. Replacing the function keys, Touch Bar can adapt to what a user is currently doing, and display app-specific, contextual functions. Ulysses 2.7 allows owners of the latest MacBook Pro to assign markup tags directly via Touch Bar while they write.


Users know tabs from their web browser; with macOS Sierra they are now available as a system feature, and they also made it into Ulysses 2.7. Tabs are a natural fit for Ulysses, as the ability to quickly switch between multiple open texts within the same window makes for an even more powerful writing tool.


Ulysses’ new version now offers full support for the TextBundle format ( outside its iCloud library. TextBundle combines Markdown text files and referenced images in a single file, and users have long wanted Ulysses to properly support the new format. This addition allows them to use images when working from Dropbox or other storage providers.

Also, it is now easier than ever to switch from Evernote to Ulysses. Ulysses 2.7 allows to import ENEX files, Evernote’s proprietary export format. Users can even import ENEX files containing multiple notes — Ulysses will then create a separate sheet for each imported note.

Writing goals allow Ulysses users to determine the length to achieve when writing a text: a number of characters, words, or pages. With Ulysses 2.7 the feature was extended: users can now even set a reading time goal.