Ulysses Is the Evernote Style Plain Text Writing App I’ve Always Wanted
I’ve been a fan of plain text for a long time for everything from notes to general writing, but it’s only recently that I’ve found my holy grail: an app that can sync across multiple devices and handle multiple types of output. Ulysses . This is the plain text version of Evernote I’ve always wanted.
Ulysses has a couple of tricks that I want to mention beforehand: firstly, it is only available for Apple devices (Mac / iOS). Second, it is expensive: 44.99 dollars per application for the Mac (although the trial version you can try for free) and 24.99 dollars for an application for the iPhone / the iPad . Both iOS and Mac apps have the same feature set, so you can easily switch between them.
Considering apps like Evernote are free, the price is definitely a lot, but it’s also the only app of its kind that I liked. Scrivener came close , but its ugly design and lack of mobile options prevented it from being my only tool. Ulysses doesn’t have that problem, so it’s worth it. Now that Ulysses has become a solid part of my workflow, I thought I’d share a few tips for using it.
Ulysses is not just a text editor, it is a writing environment
Ulysses is not an ordinary text editor. For a long time, Ulysses’ presentation was about “improving plain text,” and while I hate to succumb to advertising phrases, Ulysses describes it really well. It’s a smarter version of plain text that can work like plain text, or handle a lot more if that’s what you want. Moreover, Ulysses is a whole medium for writing. To use Ulysses properly, you’ll want to dump everything from your notes to the manuscript of the book into Ulysses.
If you’ve used an app like Scrivener, you know a little about what to expect from Ulysses. The main text editor in Ulysses is just a text editor. You can type comfortably without distraction. You can add formatting if you like, that’s all. One little feature that I love is how Ulysses automatically hides the interface when you want to type, making it very easy to just dive in and get started.
As for the writing itself, you can write in plain text, a special version of Markdown, classic Markdown , the HTML Textile markup engine, or you can create your own markup language (this is handy for books in which you work with a publisher). specific markup style). You can pin notes anywhere, create groups to keep things organized, and even add images. Basically, Ulysses is what I envisioned Evernote if it was built specifically for writers.
As I said at the beginning, Ulysses is much more than a text editor, it is a writing environment. This means a ton of tools for organizing.
Create groups for every project and don’t be afraid to create tons of sheets
Ulysses’ organizational characteristics are its greatest strength. This is what sets Ulysses apart from minimalist writing apps like iA Writer . While the organization features are great, it can take a little mental effort to get used to how it works, because the system in Ulysses is a little different from other apps.
Ulysses is a standalone system and in this system you can create standalone small projects. Instead of notebooks, Ulysses divides projects into groups. Each group can have an unlimited number of subgroups. Each group or subgroup can have an unlimited number of sheets. Sheet is just a fancy word for a text document. If any of this language confuses you, don’t worry, it took me a while to get used to it, but once I actually started using groups and subgroups, it made my life a lot easier.
Let’s say I’m working on a book. First, I create a group in the sidebar, give it a name, and then select the icon I want to represent. This is a common group for the project as a whole. Next, I’ll create a subgroup for the first chapter. When everything is ready, I will create a new sheet. Depending on the project, I usually create one sheet for the outline and another for the writing itself. While Ulysses has a built-in notes feature with which you can add notes, images and URLs to any sheet, I also usually add a work sheet to keep track of everything I link to. Finally, I add an Idea Dump sheet to this subgroup. Here, I will be discarding ideas that I have when I’m on the go, or when they just pop into my head while I’m typing. Then I start typing. When finished, I select the sheets I want to export and Ulysses glues them into one large document.
If it’s not obvious, I like to organize things before I write, and Ulysses gives me complete control over that. I understand that not all are like that, and if so, Ulysses will probably become superfluous for you. However, if you like to categorize, outline, track sources, and jot down notes in one place, Ulysses will do the job just fine.
Search is a powerful tool, use it
Apart from a solid system for organizing your letter by hand, Ulysses also has an incredibly powerful little search engine inside of it. Press Command + O and enter your search term. The results will include any text for this search term. Find the sheet you want, hit Return, and Ulysses will take you directly to that document’s text editor. It doesn’t sound like much, but thanks to it, you can easily switch between sheets without even touching your mouse, which is useful when you just want to write.
Use tags and smart filters to organize your writing automatically
While Ulysses searches can open sheets incredibly quickly, you can still use tags to organize your text a bit. This works for two reasons. First, adding tags to a sheet has the obvious advantage of making it easier to find when searching. I usually do this to put notes together or add multiple thematic tags if I’m working on an idea that might be related to a broader purpose. For example, if I were writing Game of Thrones , I would tag each sheet with the main character in each chapter so that I can easily find them.
Ulysses also supports auto-updating filter groups that work just like the smart folder in Finder . When creating a new filter, you can select a tag, keywords from the text itself, or a modified date. Ulysses then automatically populates that group with whatever fits. This allows you to create a group to collect a specific keyword so that you can easily find it again. In Game of Thrones, I could add the keyword “death” and then create a group that tracks each chapter with death in it so that I can easily find it again.
Feel free to customize Ulysses to your liking
If you love to tinker, then you will appreciate how much you can change in Ulysses. You can change the look of your writing environment, create your own document export options, and even customize the markup language.
Ulysses uses themes to change editor. You can download a number of popular themes from the Ulysses website, or create your own if you don’t like any of them. With themes, you can change the color, appearance and behavior of the editor. I’m a big fan of the 80s New Wave theme because it gives a ridiculous circus look to everything I write, which makes me giggle every few minutes. If you’re working on Fallout fanfiction, the Early Computers theme pictured above is the theme you want to use to get yourself into the right mood. Regardless of your preference, the beauty is that themes don’t affect how you export your document, so you can choose the one that works best for you to write without worrying about further formatting.
Ulysses uses styles to export your texts to other formats. When you’re done writing, you can export it as PDF, ePUB, Rich Text, or HTML. When you do this, your document will be formatted in the style of your choice. As with themes, you can check out a number of user-created styles on the Ulysses site . Styles are incredibly useful if you work with multiple media or plan to self-publish. Basically, you can write a simple form of plain text and then export that plain text in a more elegant way. For example, if you are writing a movie script, you can use the Filmscript PDF style to export text in a studio-friendly script format without worrying about formatting while writing.
If none of the downloadable themes or styling options suit your needs, you can create your own in the Settings panel. This takes some work, so I suggest looking at the downloadable options first. If you decide to create your own, you can find a complete guide to this on the Ulysses website .
Finally, Ulysses supports several writing modes that are worth mentioning. From the menu bar, you can switch to dark mode for easier writing at night, switch to full screen mode for distraction, change the font in a text editor, or enable the typewriter scrolling option that pushes text up as you type. Personally, I tend to use dark mode and full screen mode the most, but it’s always nice to know that there are other options if I decide to use them.
I have long wanted to love Ulysses, but I was always held back by the lack of mobile options. With the release of iPhone and iPad apps, it is finally at home and does whatever I need it to do. I can type larger and longer text on my computer, but I have instant access to everything I write on my mobile phone. I can drain everything into it without worrying about losing anything. It also does one important thing that every writing application must do: it doesn’t get in my way when I just want to write.