Working with Ulysses: Why All Writers Should Consider It

Some kind software-developer folks gave me the Ulysses III App for Mac to try for free. I don’t usually rave about swanky apps, but this is a pretty good investment for all regular bloggers and writers, if you want to give I Tunes forty euros.

I wrote this review:

‘Does this mean you’ll be writing like James Joyce?’ an interested bystander asked when I redeemed the ULYSSES III app for my Mac. The notion pleased me until she continued, ‘You know, no full stops and that kind of thing…’

I hadn’t explained “Plain Text Enhanced Editor” very well. So, to be clear: there are full stops. There are also commas, semi-colons and anything else you might choose to use (or not use). But, what a ‘Plain Text Enhanced Editor’ doesn’t have are distracting, time-wasting styles and formatting menus. (I have no previous experience of ‘Mark Down’ or ‘Textile’, by the way. Nor do you need it.)

ULYSSES III provides simple, flat text in an Editor pane. It can appear intimidating so do bear with it if your confidence in IT is low. It’s only the first encounter, and you’ll figure out as much (or as little) as you need to get this to work. Besides, the instructions show a sense of humor, which made feel me instantly comfortable.

I immediately took to using the ‘Dark Theme’, so my screen is black and my text white. For MS Word aficionados, it’s something like the ‘Focus’ mode although on a more eye-friendly scale. There is no list of fancy font types to try out, which may make some writers sad. On the left hand side of my screen is an easily navigated list of “sheets” or documents; this can be hidden if I want to focus only on the words.


If you haven’t used ‘Mark Down’ before, there’s a period of time when you feel like you’re typing into an old Amstrad computer. Do you remember those 1980s machines where you typed in commands with numbers and shift keys? That stage passes quickly. Bold and italic are easily accomplished with a key tap, and for footnotes I simply type FN.

Fiddling with formatting and shifting between content and notes in footers is a thing of the past and this means no excuses for paltry word counts. And a few extra minutes on Twitter if that’s how you choose to the spend the time… Or go and put on the kettle.

Until you get the hang of the shortcuts, they’re easily accessible in a Cheat Sheet on one side of the Editor pane. In fact, I thought it would take a while to get up to speed with all the features, but the great thing about this app is that what you see when you open it up is exactly what you get. And it’s pretty much all you get. The time I had set aside to ‘get familiar’ with my new app was my own again. To type. To write. It was just me and the words. And the kettle. Scary. Liberating.

Sheets can be merged and split, and this (along with header and comment tools) mean it’s ideal for a large-scale project. At the same time, the lovely thing about using ULYSSES III is that it feels like a notebook: all your ideas are visible and accessible, even while they’re separated. I thought I’d found a problem when I couldn’t check the word count on my blog post — but never fear; it’s there. I’d been looking in the wrong place. It will also tell you how fast you’re typing, which is less lovely. Goals can be attached — in lines, pages or words — if you need a personal trainer for your writing.


I’ve been using WordPress for a while, but that seems like a monster after the ease of posting images or links on this screen with a simple click. In fact, I’ve a suspicion I won’t be able to manage without this app. I’m already considering buying Dedalus — the iPhone component.

You can while away the hours writing: tapping and rearranging, creating headers, lists and inputting quotes with the least amount of effort. But the real fun comes when you’re ready to export it — or publish it, if you’re ready to launch into the E-publishing world.

Herein the biggest issue of my new writing app: with ULYSSES III I can no longer put off the e-publication I’ve considered for so long. There’s a part of me that wants to delay this process with a complicated list of instructions and formatting guidelines. I’m starting to think of ULYSSES III as a fierce editor that doesn’t accept any excuses.

For when I hit Export there’s a simple box asking if I’d like a PDF, a Word or TextEdit version. I can send it to Pages or Word for more work. I can preview it, change the font, and even attach a cover image for my book.

And that’s that.

James Joyce would hate the lack of effort involved. But then he also hated full stops.

And what would he know about Mac apps? I’m excited.

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