Frankly, it doesn’t take much to be a writer these days. Blogging websites are free and anyone with access to the internet can begin cranking out cranky prose like a machine using the best of intentions and any text editor that captures and saves words. It’s that simple. But not that easy.
Writers tend to be a bit persnickety about which tools are used to help them write. Some prefer PCs with Microsoft Word. Others prefer Macs with a word processor tuned to their specific needs. Other than games and todo list apps, I don’t know of an app category which has more contenders than writing tools.
At the high end there is Ulysses which is more of a Mac writing environment than a feature laden word processor. That’s because the process of writing involves more than just slinging words to the screen. Ulysses comes with a very good text editor built in, but the real value isn’t just the writing component. Organization of thoughts, ideas, and snippets of text and phrases– the supporting cast– may be as important as the original idea.
Ulysses brings all three creative modules together– a mini-word processor, a text library management system, and options to export the finished product to a variety of formats. The text editor is Markup-based so it’s worthy of highly polished and prolific bloggers. It comes with two fullscreen modes (light and dark) and simply typewriter scrolling for easier focus.
The Markup lets you view headlines, quotes, lists, comments, and text, including links, annotations, and footnotes, but with drag and drop image placement options.
Also built-in are spellcheckers, grammar checker, auto-correct, and another dictionary, but there’s support for dictation and speech, too. All the basic statistics are included, too; word count, character count, etc.
Any Mac user who writes for a living knows the value of file management where every note, snippet, idea, catchphrase, or character bio can be stored and retrieved. That’s built-in to Ulysses, and everything can be grouped, filtered, tagged, versioned, and backed up.
The simple three-pane layout makes it simple to view and access files in the library, the editor, or the sheet list (one click to hide it, too), but there’s also full keyboard navigation with plenty of color palette customization available.
Files can be exported as Markdown, HTML, ePub, DocX, and PDF. Ulysses lets you save files to use between Macs and iPad version via Dropbox and iCloud, and backups can be automatic and scheduled so you won’t lose something you’ve worked on but may not remember later.
I choose to describe Ulysses as a writing environment because the centerpiece, for me, is the snippet file management that’s built-in to the sidebar, so it’s perfect for any Mac (or iPad; there’s a highly recommended iOS version available) use who juggles writing projects and needs a place and method to store ideas.
The only issue I’ve run into was trying to import an unpublished not-quite and maybe-not-ever fiction piece I wrote over a decade ago that’s nearing 25,000 words. I don’t know if it’s the format or the bulk but Ulysses doesn’t like it. Otherwise, there’s a good reason it gets so many four and five star reviews. Ulysses is a well balanced writing machine with just enough customization options to satisfy the 21st century Hemingway in all of us.