Designing the Ulysses Editor

Ulysses is intended to be a great tool for any kind of writing, equipped with elaborate organizing features and a powerful export function. However, the core piece of the app is the editor – the part where you, well, write. Minutes of a chat with Soulmen co-founder Max Seelemann.

Max Seelemann
Max Seelemann, cofounder of The Soulmen

How important is the editor for Ulysses as a whole? 

Well, Ulysses is a writing application. And while there must be features for organization and export, users spend most of their time writing – in the editor. The editor is clearly the most important of all parts, and using it needs to be the most pleasant experience. We placed the same emphasis on the editor during the creation of Ulysses: the overall development of the first version took about 18 months, and of that we spent almost one year on the editor alone.

Why did you go for plain text editing in the first place?

Many writers are eventually more productive using plain text. It is a bit like writing on a classic typewriter, or even writing on paper. You’re not distracted by anything – when there are no formatting options, you can focus entirely on your text.

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Attention Daedalus Users: Upgrading to iCloud Drive in iOS 8 Will Prevent Syncing

Daedalus users relying on iCloud sync with Ulysses: In case you upgrade to iCloud Drive after installing iOS 8, you will no longer be able to sync your texts with Ulysses running on a Mac! iCloud Drive is a new storage system that syncs with the yet to be released OS X 10.10 Yosemite operating system only.

In order to prevent syncing problems, please make sure to select “Not now”, when asked if you want to upgrade to iCloud Drive during the iOS 8 installation process.
iCloud Drive

There is no workaround and no way to undo this change: Once you upgraded to iCloud Drive on any of your mobile devices, syncing will only work with devices that run iOS 8 or OS X 10.10 Yosemite.

Please also note that this applies to all apps relying on iCloud syncing. For more details, please refer to this article by Realmac’s Nik Fletcher.

Make Yourself Comfortable – A Guide on Customizing Your Writing Environment in Ulysses, Part 2

This is the second part of our 10-step-guide to make Ulysses’ editor your writing home. In case you missed steps 1 to 4: this way please.

Step 5: Adapt Editor Settings

Preferences allow you to adjust the settings of the editor. Feel like a different line height and indented first line would make for a nicer look? Give it a try.

Preferences

You can also set paragraph spacing. Default for this is Zero, since many of us tend to simply put a blank line to structure our writing. With Page Width, you can alter the number of characters before a line breaks. And finally, there are two different cursors to choose between.

See how such tiny adjustments affect the appearance of the editor:

Font: Georgia, Line Height: 1, First Line Indent: 2

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“I Like to Have a Great Deal of Control Over My Writing Environment”

Novelists, journalists, academics, screenwriters – all kinds of authors are using Ulysses for their writing. We asked some of them to share their story. In this post, sociologist R.J. Leamaster explains how he uses Ulysses for academic writing.

Reid J. Leamaster
Reid J. Leamaster

Please tell us something about you: Who are you, what is your profession and what are you working on?

I am a PhD candidate in sociology preparing to start at my first faculty position in August. Right now, I am working on my dissertation and a couple of unfinished manuscripts. I also have the beginnings of a novel sitting in a Ulysses that I hope to start working on again at some point in the future. I am married with three kids and love to spend time with my family doing outdoor activities. I also love sports, especially basketball and American football. 

Which role does writing play in your professional life? What are you writing and how much?

Writing plays an important role in my professional life. I write mostly academic articles, course papers and, of course, my dissertation. As far as how much I write, my dissertation is the length of a short book, and the articles and course papers I write are around 30 to 40 pages each. I try to write at least a little each day and at certain points, most of my time is spent writing.

I also used Ulysses for my freelance work as a Mac and iOS app reviewer. 

Could you describe what you use Ulysses for?

I use Ulysses for pretty much every aspect of writing up to the point of getting the first draft out to my collaborators (for manuscripts where I am the first author). This includes writing notes and memos, storing text from articles on the web, outlining, brainstorming, and actually writing out the first draft. After I export the first draft, I normally use Pages to collaborate on future drafts. 

Why did you choose Ulysses? What are the benefits of Ulysses for your kind of writing? 

I chose Ulysses III because it provides a flexible set of tools for organizing longer, complex documents, while still helping writers focus on the text. For example, all of my dissertation memos, notes, and early drafts are in a group titled Dissertation in Ulysses. This makes it very easy to access reference material while I am writing, especially with the Quick Open feature. Ulysses’ sheets concept is also very helpful for the organization of manuscripts. I like to make each sheet a different section of the manuscript — this helps outline the manuscript and makes navigating the manuscript very simple. 

What do you like best about Ulysses? Do you have a favorite feature?

Wow, this is a hard question! I would have to say that the ability to have a great deal of control over my writing environment is the thing I like most about Ulysses. From the ability to choose how many window panes to display, to choosing the minute details of the theme, to choosing the font really helps put me in the writing frame of mind.  

“I also love Markdown XL.
I annotate my drafts like crazy”

I also love Markdown XL. I annotate my drafts like crazy, then, when I am ready to export, I can choose to include the annotations or not.

Attaching notes to sheets is also a very valuable feature. If I have a random thought about a section of the manuscript I am writing, or want to have a quote around for reference, I attach a note to the sheet – so its there when I need it.

Some weeks have passed since R.J. answered the above questions. In the meantime, he successfully defended his dissertation dealing with gender inequality in religious institutions and started his first faculty position. Visit his profile page to learn more.

Adjust Ulysses’ Markup to Your Needs

Markdown is great for focused, productive writing. But it might happen that it gets in the way of your specific writing task. In Ulysses, there is a simple solution to this problem: Just change the markup.

Let’s assume you’re an academic who writes a lot of references in [square brackets]. Ulysses is using these to markup links. You can escape this by writing \[, but you'll probably find it inconvenient to do it over and over again. The alternative: adjust the link markup.

Creating New Markups

To customize your markup, go to Ulysses > Preferences and switch to the “Markup” tab. Click on the markup selection pop up button in the upper left corner and choose “New Markup”. Select a name for your first personal markup and a template to use as basis. For now, you should stick with “Markdown XL”, Ulysses' default markup language.

Editing Definitions

Once this is done, you are seeing an overview of all definitions in the markup. Scroll down to get to the Link markup, then double-click it to modify it. You can now, for instance, change the link tag to use angular brackets < > instead of the square brackets. An alternative could be switch to double square brackets [[ ]] – just choose what suits you best.

The Markup Switcher

To use your new markup, switch back to the Editor. When moving the mouse pointer over the topmost area of a sheet, you can see the markup that is currently in use. Click and change it to the new one you’ve just created. Voilá: Square brackets will no longer be considered as links – but angular links (or double squares) will be, from this point on.

What’s more, all existing links in your sheet will be automatically converted to the new markup. And of course, you can apply this tip to all other tags in a markup, not just links.

Please note: Markup editing is currently only available On My Mac and in iCloud.

Make Yourself Comfortable – A Guide on Customizing Your Writing Environment in Ulysses, Part 1

You are writing a lot, maybe several hours per day? Then you might want to add a personal touch to your text editor. Ulysses offers several options to do so. It is a little bit like creating a pleasing ambience in a room: One can select a vernal mint-green or a distinguished off-white for wall paint, arrange a Victorian suite of furniture or simply choose a desk from Ikea, place a flower bouquet for inspiration or keep it the most simple and distraction-free. And what else is a text editor but a room, your virtual writing room?

That’s why we assembled a 10-step-guide on how to customize Ulysses’ editor to your liking, to best spark creativity. We’re going to glance at all the screws you can turn, starting with step 1 to 4 in this post.

Should you actually prefer to leave everything like it is and start writing – please, go ahead. Defaults were set with care, intended to provide a clean, focused writing experience.

Ok, here we go.

Step 1: Editor-Only View

Ulysses comes with a handy three pane layout: the library with your folders and filters on the left, the sheet list in the middle, and the editor on the right. With 3 simple shortcuts you can easily hide the library and the sheet bar – and display them only when needed.

`⌘1` View Library, Sheet List and Editor'
⌘1 View Library, Sheet List and Editor
`⌘2` View Sheet List and Editor
⌘2 View Sheet List and Editor
`⌘3` View Editor Only'
⌘3 View Editor Only’

Step 2: Enter Full Screen

Do you want to block diversions and keep focused? Enter Full Screen. You can do so in the View Menu, by clicking the diverging-arrows symbol in the upper right corner, or by tapping ^⌘F.

Full Screen Mode

Step 3: Find Your Preferred Mode

Do you prefer the proverbial plain white piece of paper? Or do you want your words to glow instead of the background? In Ulysses you can select between a light background theme with dark fonts, or a dark theme with bright fonts. Some writers find the dark mode more eye-friendly, especially in the evening hours. By default, Ulysses comes with a light theme and paged mode. As you might suspect, paged mode puts a more page-like frame around your text. For a less virtual appeal, so to speak. Find these options in the View menu.

Dark Mode
Dark Mode

Paged Mode
Paged Mode

Step 4: Select A Font

Ulysses’ default font is Menlo Regular. Menlo is a balanced, sans-serif Apple system typeface. As a monospace font, it produces an appealing, retro-ish typewriter look. But there are of course other beautiful fonts out there, and Ulysses allows you to pick the one you like best. In Preferences, you’ll find a handful of fonts carefully preselected by our designer. If you’re looking for something else, tap on Custom to browse your installed fonts.

Font

Ok, these were easy, but there’s more to come: In the next post of this series we’ll have a look at the editor settings, the benefits of typewriter scrolling, and editor themes.

Continue to Part 2…

Improve Navigation in Sheets using Bookmarks

Today’s tip is about a tiny feature that still can be of great help for a writer’s workflow: bookmarks. The idea of bookmarks is as simple as obvious: remember a certain text passage. In our case, a bookmark always refers to a paragraph. Bookmarking is really easy. Just double-click the number of the paragraph you want to remember:

Bookmark

You don’t see paragraph numbers in your sheets? Then you need to enable them first in the menu View › Show Paragraph Numbers.

A bookmark remains attached to its paragraph even if you add or remove text in front of it. You can move it to another paragraph or erase it by dragging it out of the window.

What’s more, bookmarks will also show up in the Navigator:

Navigator

Use the Navigator to get quickly to paragraphs you want to continue writing, revise or mark for any other reason. Just press CMD-8 to open it – you’ll find your bookmarks right there.

P.S. Bookmarks will only work in the sections iCloud and On My Mac, but not in Daedalus or External Sources.

Introducing TextBundle

Plus give-away: Get a free license for the Markdown previewing app Marked 2!

When working with different Markdown applications, sometimes things can get a little awkward. For a better future we collaborated with Brett Terpstra, maker of Marked, to develop TextBundle. This new file format facilitates the exchange of Markdown text files between sandboxed apps.

TextBundle.org

Sandboxing is required for all apps available on the Mac and the iOS App Store, i.e. they’re only permitted to access files users explicitly provide. This procedure aims to grant a high level of data security, but can cause inconveniences. An example: Markdown files may contain references to external images. When sending such a file from a Markdown editor to a previewer, users will have to explicitly permit access to every single image file.

TextBundle is a new data exchange format for sandboxed Markdown applications. It bundles the Markdown text and all referenced image into a single file. Currently, TextBundle is supported by the latest versions of Ulysses (1.2.2) and Marked (2.3.4). But we think, users of any Markdown application would benefit from a comprehensive portability – that’s why we hope other developers will follow and make their apps support TextBundle! The specifications and all the details can be found on the dedicated page textbundle.org.

Win a License for Marked

Marked Logo

Give TextBundle a whirl – with Ulysses and Marked! Marked is a previewer for Markdown files, offering great features for previewing, reviewing and exporting beautiful documents, developed by Brett Terpstra. We’re giving away 10 free licenses of Marked 2 – just fill out our form. The winners will be selected on Monday, September 1st at 12pm CEST.

And the winners of our raffle are:

  • Adithya Sudarsan
  • Mac Simonson
  • Ben Whiting
  • Antonio Storino
  • Yoshihiko Ikegami
  • Tom Mueller
  • Jim Schwartz
  • Keith Bage
  • Pyoungwon Park
  • Andrea Di Marco

Do You Write? – The Video and Your Stories

Writing is ubiquitous. It is an essential part of our lives, no matter if we actually call ourselves writers. We write at a desk, on the train, in bed. Some write a million words, some write only a couple every day. A pamphlet might be written to change the world, while a journal is keeping a secret with care. Writing can be a profession or a vocation, a necessity or a pleasure, a way to communicate or a self-reflection. And whatever we write – be it for money, for change, for love –, we do so deliberately. What we write means something to us, and quite often it means something to others.

Do you write?

That’s what our new website and video Do You Write? are about. Because the people who write are the people Ulysses is made for, that is, you.

Do you write? We asked this question several passionate writers and Ulysses users. You can find their stories gathered on our new website, and we already published some of them at full length here in our blog.

And we’re asking you: What does writing mean to you? What are you writing about? How are you using Ulysses for it? Tweet us using #doyouwrite, post your comment to our Facebook page, or send us a message.

We’re really looking forward to read what you write!

Customize Your Sheet List

The sheet list – the middle pane in Ulysses’ interface – offers a handy preview of all sheets in a group or filter. This allows you to find sheets for editing, previewing or exporting. A typical item of your sheet list looks like this:

Sheet List: Overview

If you don’t need one of these features (e.g. if you don’t want to see your writing goals in your sheet list), you can customize the look of your sheet list using settings in the “View” menu:

The View Menu

Let’s have a look at each of the settings. The first important menu item is Sheet Preview. Here you can change three things about each item of the sheet list:

  • the number of text preview lines,
  • whether keywords shown be shown,
  • whether writing goals should be shown.

If you’re a minimalist, you might want to disable keywords as well as goals and set the number of preview lines to 1. In this way, you can see a lot more sheets at once in the list. On the other hand, if you want to see as much of a sheet’s text as possible, set the number of preview lines to 6.

Next up are sorting options. By default, sheets are not sorted automatically, but are arranged by hand. If you prefer to see sheets in their alphabetical order though, use the By Title option. You can also sort them by date, showing the most recent sheet at the top. The last option, Reverse Order, should be quite obvious ;)

If you’re sorting sheets by date, you probably also want to see the modification date, right? The last entry, Show Date, does just this.