Ulysses knocks Scrivener off pedestal 🥊

I’m a long-time Scrivener fan. I’ve given workshops on Scrivener. I loved it so much I negotiated a discount for members of The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. I’ve been as loyal as a dog to this app. But I’ve just subscribed to Ulysses, and love it. Here’s why…

I bought Ulysses some years ago, way back in the day. There were some things that didn’t quite gel with me, and when it moved to the subscription model I threw my toys out of the pram and flounced away in a huff: pay a subscription for software? You must be joking. I was, truth be told, a bit tight-fisted. I much preferred to make a single, up-front payment for my software. I’d use an app until it just wouldn’t work any more, or lacked a feature I really needed. I used Office 2008 for about ten years, only upgrading to 365 when I really had to. My preference for this payment method meant I stuck to Scrivener and iA Writer for my own writing.

But my work is changing. While I’ve previously spent a lot of time writing scripts, novels and short stories, these days I’m doing a lot more blogging and work on a variety of things. I’ve tried to organise these in Scrivener, but it’s just not that kind of animal. I know some people use it for blogging, but that just doesn’t work for me. Scrivener’s fantastic for complex projects such as books, short stories or scripts — I can’t see my writing that sort of thing in Ulysses, although I know people do — but for lots of separate smaller pieces, such as ideas, snippets and blog posts for different platforms, Scrivener just doesn’t do it for me. Ulysses, however, excels.

I resisted subscription to software for so long, but now recognise that this is the reason why Ulysses is so well done

As a fan of Scrivener, it pains me to acknowledge that its development for Mac is slow. I informed the folks at Literature and Latte about a problem I’d encountered back in February, and was told that it’s a known bug; here we are seven months later at the time of writing, and it’s still a bug.

And I was never previously bothered about Scrivener’s use of Dropbox for syncing, because I didn’t use the iOS app that much. But Ulysses’ slick iCloud approach makes the former look like something from the dial-up era. I’ve realised that Scrivener’s clunky syncing method was the reason I didn’t use the iOS app that much.

I resisted subscription to software for so long, but now recognise that this is the reason why Ulysses is so well done: subscriptions allow investment of time in development. Ulysses’ founder Max explains the switch to a subscription model in this article. It makes a lot of sense. I won’t be subscribing to many apps, but I have no regrets as far as Ulysses is concerned.

Subscriptions also allow the developers to invest in excellent support. When I was tweaking Ulysses a few days ago I experienced a crash, and submitted a report. A few hours later I received a personalised response from Andrea; I replied, and got a further reply in turn. That’s almost worth the sub in itself.

…easy access to a wide variety of texts is where Ulysses shines

I was concerned the ability to customise the app would be a distraction, but I’ve not found this to be the case. I’ve tweaked Ulysses just enough that it’s become invisible to me, and that’s exactly what you want from writing software: something that gets out of the way, and does exactly what you want without having to think about it. It looks fantastic, too, and utilises gestures very well. Organisation of your writing is easy, and the ability to publish straight to Medium is great.

iA Writer offers similar features, but doesn’t have the same intuitive design or ease of navigation. It looks nice, and syncs well, but although I’ve wanted to like it for so long, tried to find a use for it, iA Writer just doesn’t work for me. The library feels like a lot of separate files; I know it’s the same in all these apps, but Ulysses handles the interface so much better. I can’t quite put my finger on the difference, but it is considerable. Scrivener does this well for files within projects, but easy access to a wide variety of texts is where Ulysses shines. You don’t even have to open a file: your writing’s just there.

Having committed to the subscription I’m really enjoying Ulysses. In fact I would say I’m inspired by this app. I’m writing more than ever, especially now I’m publishing on Medium, and that’s got to be a good thing. Scrivener will still be my go-to for fiction and scriptwriting, where each file is an individual project and certain tools are really useful, but for everything else, Ulysses wins hands down.

Ulysses is now available with a fully functional two-week trial.

I’m a novelist and scriptwriter, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow and Advisory Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Click here to get the lowdown on updates, insight into projects, and a look behind the scenes on creative stuff. You can also follow TFW on Twitter, or like the Facebook page.

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