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 (http://textbundle.org) 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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 09.37.23
Web/Tech, Writing

Mac and iOS tip: a quick way to type accents

They say you learn something new every day. I’m not sure about that but last night I discovered something through Twitter that I never knew about: a quick way to generate foreign accents on the Mac and on iOS.

Foreign accents on Windows were always a nightmare for me. On the Mac not so much — you just have to remember the option key combination to get ‘château’ for example. But why bother with option keys? Instead just hold down the letter you want to add an accent to…

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 09.42.04

Hit the number for the accent you want and… bingo, it’s there.

Perhaps this has been around for years and I never knew. Whatever, I’ll be using it from now on.

Web/Tech, Writing

Dark mode in Ulysses… yes it works

I’m a big fan of writing full screen with no menus, no distractions, nothing but text and any ideas or notes I want included. But dark mode? You get it in lots of apps these days and frankly I always thought it was a gimmick.

Then, while struggling with something in a hotel room, I thought I’d try it. Tip: with Ulysses the nature of the mode depends on the theme you’re using. This one is Freestraction.

And actually. I love it. I’m sure I’ll switch back and forth from time to time. But for a quick way to get a fresh look this is hard to beat. You can move between the two very easily using the keyboard shortcut Command-Opt-L.

Here’s the same thing — a scene heading, a brief synopsis and a couple of lines of opening text — in normal light mode.


Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 09.01.31
Web/Tech, Writing

Ulysses gets even better… and an iPad app too

A new version of Ulysses is out today, a free update that makes what in my opinion is the best Mac fiction app even more amazing. Along with it comes a brand new companion iPad app, for $19.99. I’ll be revising Writing A Novel with Ulysses some time over the next week to reflect these changes, with a new chapter devoted to the iPad app. It will be a free update — just make sure you’re set up to receive them from your preferred ebook vendor.

AttachmentsI’ve been working with betas of both Mac and iPad versions for the last couple of months. The changes to the Mac version are wonderfully subtle, making it both easier to use and a touch more powerful too. I’ll cover them in more detail in the coming ebook but you can see one of my favourites here.

There’s a new panel that contains goals, keywords, notes and images for a sheet (or scene if you’re writing a novel). You get this using Command-4. So now you can effectively manage a whole project through four simple keystroke combinations. Command-1 takes you to your entire Ulysses library. Command-2 shows you the project part you’re working on. Command-3 is your main writing screen for an individual sheet — that glorious nothing-but-the-words view that makes Ulysses so productive. And with Command-4 you can get a quick glimpse of notes, statistics, keywords and any images you want attached.

It’s incredibly quick and very useful too. There’s more to the update than this, including a visual refresh to match Yosemite, but I’ll leave you to discover those delights for yourself. I’ve been using the beta so long now that to be honest I’ve forgotten what the previous version was like. But that Command-4 idea is probably the main new thing you have to learn. The rest of the changes are subtle improvements to routines you probably know already.

Now to the iPad app…

I have to be honest and say… I never really regarded the iPad as a proper writing tool. It is now — and a fantastic one. What’s really surprised me, though, is that Ulysses for iPad has actually extended the way I develop a project. This isn’t simply Ulysses for the Mac recreated on a different platform — though it is that as well. The app offers a new and very efficient way to write and edit easily and quickly on the move.

Here’s the first good news… if you know how to use Ulysses on the Mac, you know how to use it on an iPad. There are a few differences — OS X is not iOS. But they’re not huge and they are likely to diminish as Ulysses on the iPad matures. Here it is in action.

iPad app

The look is pretty much identical to Ulysses on the Mac. The command keys you use to hide and show the sidebars are replaced by simple two finger swipes to the left and right. If you hook up an external Bluetooth keyboard, though, you can use the command keys there just as you can on the Mac. Set up iCloud and your work will sync automatically. Just choose the sheet you want to work on and start typing.


I’ve never been a great fan of typing on the iPad but Ulysses has changed my opinion. This is very good for writing thanks to an extended keyboard. The best way to learn what this does is to play with it. First, get used to the very handy way it offers for moving through text. Just swipe right and left in the space bar and the cursor moves through your words. This is much easier than trying to click on the screen. There’s a configurable word count on the left followed by shortcuts above the letter keys for adding markup and common punctuation. The iPad won’t put smart quotes into text automatically but there’s a handy smart quote feature on the keyboard, for single and double quotes. When you need a smart quote just click that instead of a conventional keyboard character and it will generate the right one. You can also search within a sheet and add notes, keywords and images (though not goals).

You can tweak some features, such as the space bar sweeping and autocorrect, in the preferences available through the cog in the right hand corner. But I suspect the way they come out of the box will be fine for most of us. The best thing to do is just pick up your project from iCloud, choose the sheet you want to work on, hit the full screen button which is the first icon top right and get to work.

The app and its Mac equivalent also work with Apple’s Handoff feature which allows you to ‘hand off’ a file you’re editing on one device to another. This may be quicker than waiting for iCloud to sync though you need to set it up and have Bluetooth turned on. You can find the instructions for managing all this here.

There’s a bit more to be said than this but I’ll save that for the updated ebook. The short of it is that the iPad app is a true version of Ulysses that can handle the same projects you run on your Mac without any conversion or manual syncing. I’ve found it invaluable though not in the way I expected. Yes, it does turn the iPad into a kind of small laptop, especially if you hook up an external keyboard. For writing on the move it is a great MacBook Air alternative.

But it’s also more than that. I’ve found I’ve spent more time using it without an external keyboard, for revision not for writing. Without a keyboard you’re restricted to just a few lines of text from your manuscript. This means you look at them more closely than you tend to do on a desktop with a full page of type in front of you.

Seen this way, sentence by sentence, you get a closer focus on your work. I soon fell into the habit of carrying out an evening revise of something I’ve written through the day (occasionally, I have to admit, on a hotel bed). You spot little things you’d miss otherwise. The fact you’re reading your work in a different way reveals flaws that might otherwise be missed.

Congratulations all round to the visionaries at The Soulmen. They’ve turned the iPad from a toy into an incredibly powerful writing tool. One that’s instantly usable by anyone who knows Ulysses already. This is the best thing I know for writing on a Mac, a marvellous combination of power with simplicity. Love it…

You can download the iPad app for $19.99 here.

Ulysses costs $44.99 on the app store here.

You can browse my past posts on Ulysses here.

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.

Continue reading “Why is it so easy to write in Ulysses?”

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.