“It Took Me at Least Seven Years to Call Myself a Writer”

Murmel Clausen is a German writer of screenplays, scripts for TV shows and series as well as novels, most of them in the comedy genre. Among other things, he collaborated on the western parody “Manitou’s shoe” which was one of the most successful German movies since 1945. His first novel was made into a film by the German actor and director Matthias Schweighöfer.

Murmel, could you please tell us how you got around to doing what you do?

Murmel Clausen
Murmel Clausen

I have to blame and thank my old friend Max Witzigmann for that. He worked for a radio station in Munich after graduating from school and asked me in 1994 to do a comedy show with him. So I had to write my first skits and had a great time doing so. Some of the stuff is still pretty funny. Then Max introduced me to a TV producer who hired me for a comedy show as a writer. But I have to admit that it took me another, well, at least seven years to call myself that.

Have you always wanted to do this, or did it rather happen by chance? Or let me ask the other way round: Have your ever considered an “ordinary” profession such as clerk, baker or teacher?

After school I worked for Microsoft in 1995. I started on the telephone helpdesk but thought that HTML was pretty neat. The whole internet thing seemed quite exciting, so I started coding pages. Okay, coding gives you a wrong impression – HTML was basically text formatting back then. A few months later some friends and I wanted to set up an online shopping platform. But we could not convince a big company – whose name I won’t tell – to invest 10,000 € in that fairly new technology. So we gave up. In retrospect that was foolish. But it kept me writing.

“It took me at least
seven years to call myself
a writer”

Would you consider yourself a funny person? And if yes, do you think this is a prerequisite for your job?

Of course I’m funny. Maybe not one of those people that keep cracking everybody up at the table. But I’m quick-witted and make people laugh. If that’s hard for you, it’ll probably be a drag to write funny stuff. It definitively helps if it’s in your mind or blood or blatter (not quite sure where it is located).

What would your advice be to someone who wants to become a screenwriter?

Read screenplays. Watch movies. Write for shows that are already successful. Meet people. Never give up. Accept criticism – nobody wants to make your screenplay worse. Learn to understand what people are saying, to translate their input. A screenplay is not finished until the movie is shot. If you can live with that, you might be able to make it.

You collaborated on some famous German comedy movies, such as the western parody “Manitou’s Shoe”, as well as some popular TV shows and sitcoms. As a screenwriter you’re less in the spotlight than an actor or director. Does this bother you?

Clausen, reading from his novel

Sometimes it does. But I’m usually happy with my life. Just two days ago I got a postal letter from a woman who read one of my novels and loved it. Made my day. I can go out and nobody recognizes me. I’ve met a lot of actors who can’t do that. And directors, well, they take your script and have to work with it. Some tend to get the illusion that they wrote it in the end – but most of them are grate- and respectful folks. Yet I regret that I never went to film school to study directing.

Recently you have been writing movie screenplays for Germany’s most popular crime series “Tatort”, together with Andreas Pflüger. Is it different to writing a comedy?

“I have to leave home and sit in my office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to get my work done.”

Our movies are funny. Andreas also has a funny bone, so we make a great match. Yet they are told through the eyes of the investigators who have to solve a homicide case. And, of course, there are some rules that come with the series, but our editor and the producers have a lot of faith in us and are not keeping us on a tight leash. Still it’s a little delicate at times to spice it up with humor. We’ve done well so far, our next movie “Siegrid & Roy” is being shot in the city of Weimar these days – and it’s funny, thrilling and surprising.

And I have to mention Andreas Pflügers novel “Endgültig” that’ll be released next spring. It’s incredibly well written, a page-turner that you won’t put aside. He’s a master of suspense and a god gifted storyteller.

Murmel Clausen’s novel “Frettsack”
Murmel Clausen’s novel “Frettsack” is a comedy about a young man from Munich, who doesn’t succeed with women. After having made a sperm donation, he gets bitten by a ferret – and therefore sterilized. As it is his only chance to enjoy fatherhood, he starts searching for the woman who received his donation….

Where does your inspiration come from, how do you find your jokes and stories?

I usually order inspiration online. Jokes and stories are complementary.

Do you have something like a daily routine, and what does it involve?

Writing for a living is a job as any other. I don’t believe in the romantic image of the writer sitting anywhere he wants, typing away. I have to leave home and sit in my office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to get my work done. Currently I am developing the routine of printing every scene after writing it, proof-reading it on paper – and correcting whatever seems wrong. It’s not eco-friendly, ruins my carbon footprint, but helps me get the job done properly.

For the audience, comedy movies and sitcoms are fun and entertainment, but for you it is your profession. Does one have to work very hard to be a good comedy writer?

It doesn't matter whether you write comedy or drama – it’s hard work. For me it is easier to come up with funny ideas, dialogues or characters. For others it’s the tragedies. But it’s still hard to stay focused on one story, until every word seems right. My experience in a nutshell: If it comes out easy, it’s probably shit.

Do you ever laugh at your own jokes while you’re writing?

Usually I do. At least I smile when I come up with them. For me it’s not all about the high laughs, but the joy while reading or watching things I’ve written. And there are some jokes that crack me up every time I read them.

“With a novel, you’re putting yourself out there. If it’s bad, you take the fall for it. But if it’s great, you’re getting the roses.”

You’re currently working on your third novel. What is the difference between writing a screenplay and a novel?

I was going to say ,“less text formatting”. But that’s just one percent of it. It begins with your name on the cover of the book. That’s you presenting your work. You’re putting yourself out there. There’s no director, no actors, no producers. If it’s bad, you take the fall for it. But if it’s great, you’re getting the roses. And since it’s not the effort of a group of people like a movie, you have less people commenting it in the editing process. It’s your editor and whoever you choose to give you feedback. For me, it’s a few friends and my wife Caren. Their opinions are indispensable.

We’re pleased that you use Ulysses for writing. What made you choose Ulysses?

It’s simple, fast and secure. I don't want to spend a second thinking about text formatting while typing. Just hit the fullscreen shortcut and start. Then minimize, check Facebook, Twitter, news. Make some coffee, stare at the wall – and woohoo, back to fullscreen. And I want to be able to quickly move my chapters (even though I usually don’t have to). The output works like a charm, the new DOCX option is great. I wrote my first novel using Scrivener, but it got too complex and has a terrible export function that I never really grasped.

What could we still improve?

Title pages. Or at least markup definitions (like title, subtitle, writers name) to create one. And a better spellchecker than the system-wide one. It’s just too limited in its vocabulary and adding words is a pain. But those aren’t complaints – I’m very happy with the app as it is.

Murmel Clausen’s Ulysses
Murmel Clausen’s Ulysses

Not sure if it is appropriate to ask this question, but I’m curious: Is Murmel your real name? I love it, but it seems quite unusual to me.

“Ulysses is simple, fast and secure. Hit the fullscreen shortcut and start.”

No, it’s not. It’s the consequence of my first protest. My parents named me Claus Clausen. Maybe they thought I was stupid. And since Clausen was set, I had to learn writing that someday anyways. They were confident that I’d be able to omit the last two letters. But then I started screaming like a marmot. That’s a Murmeltier in German. They always have one marmot guarding the colony. As soon as that guardian marmot sees an eagle or some other danger, it whistles. I sounded just like one when my godfather came over and asked my parents, if they had caught a marmot. And that just stuck.

Did you know that you are listed in an online database for first names in the field “Famous Person called Murmel”?

Nope, I should probably put more effort into googling myself. I once facebooked myself though, and found a girl called Murmel Clausen. I sent her a note claiming copyrights for my name which she must have taken seriously. At least I can’t find her anymore. So, in case you read this, Murmel Clausen, I am sorry. It was meant to be a joke! I should have used an emoticon or two …

Get More Out of Your Text Statistics

If you’ve ever written a longer text, you certainly wanted to know how much you’ve actually written so far. This is where statistics come in pretty handy. In Ulysses, access to word count or the number of pages is very easy.

If you’re working with Ulysses for Mac, simply click the gauge icon on the top right or hit ⌘7 (command-7) to open the Statistics popover. It’s filled with all sorts of useful information about the current sheet:

Statistics

However, what if you want to know the average words per sentence? How are the number of pages actually calculated? For this, you need to switch to the settings view of the Statistics popover. Simply drag it at its edges to detach it from the main window. Then, click the small gear button at the top right to reveal the settings view:

Statistics Settings

Here, you can enable (or disable) any metric you want. Don’t want to see a sentence count? Simply untick the corresponding checkmark. You can also adjust how many characters fit into one line (or how many lines fit into one page). Just click the corresponding numbers at the bottom to change these settings. Click the gear button again to save your settings — and you’re done! If you want, you can leave the statistics popover open for live update while you’re writing.

On iPad, you can access your text statistics via the button row: The number on the left hand side will by default indicate the number of characters of your current sheet. Just tap this number to see advanced statistics.

Button Row

If you want, you can choose another counter for permanent display:

Button Row Statistics

The statistics to choose from are the same as on the Mac, but due to space restrictions you’ll have to limit yourself to 6 different metrics. Tap the gear icon on the right hand side and select “Manage Counters…” to make your choice.

Manage Counters

Finally, a little extra for desktop writers: On the Mac there are also group statistics available. Just right-click a group and choose “Statistics…” from the context menu. You can even select several groups or sheets at a time and do the same, letting Ulysses display their combined statistics.

This blogpost was updated with new information. It was first published on July 15, 2014.

Teammates Wanted!

A couple of weeks ago we’ve moved to a brand new office here in Leipzig. And you know what? There are some desks still to be taken!

Leipzig Office

The last months were amazing for us as a company, with a couple of great releases and bringing Ulysses – finally! – to iPad. (We’ve also received a great amount of wonderful, very motivating feedback – thanks again.)

But we’ve still got so many plans for Ulysses! That’s why, as an exception, this blogpost is not mainly directed to writers, but to developers and designers, who are keen to help us make Ulysses an even better writing app. So, do you happen to be either one and live in Leipzig or Hamburg (or can imagine to do so)? Are you up to becoming part of The Soulmen’s friendly, funny, mixed-age, mixed-gender, multi-national team? If your answers are both times yes, you should check out our job offers:

If you’re not a coder or a designer by profession, or climbing high mountains is your dearest hobby and you must live close to them, or you’re not interested for any other good reason – then you still might know someone who is. So, thanks for sharing!

P.S. Do you need more arguments? Well, Leipzig is a very livable city! You can read about it here and here, for example.

For a More Pleasant Workplace: Great New Ulysses Themes

Scenery iPad Air - 161 - 13-08-15 12-38

A pleasant workplace (and what else is a writing software for a writer?) is indispensable for enjoying what you do. And it's a matter of taste, too. Ulysses’ themes are for defining the colors of your editor so that you like it best. So, if you're up to a new look for your favorite writing app: I've browsed and curated a couple of themes created by other Ulysses writers well worth looking at.

A Sense of Spring – Green-Note

green-note

If you have a favorite color you would like to “see” in your editor, you’re likely to find something on the Style Exchange. As an example, green-note brings a crisp look to your screen, with lilac for main markup, red for images, links and footnotes, and green for notes and comments . If you’re more of the water-and-sky-type, there’s the variant blue-note available as well.

Keeping It Simple – Readability

Readability

For the many Ulysses writers who like the minimalist look, there are a lot of themes to choose from. Readability is one of them, equipped with an off-white background and fuliginous standard font. In addition pastel shades are sparingly applied to the less common markups.

Keeping It Even Simpler – Writer

Writer

According to the description, this theme was inspired by the look of the minimalist iA Writer app. Writer forgoes any colors, featuring only various lighter and darker shades of grey. You could even combine it with the blue iOS cursor (“Ulysses › Preferences › General › Insertion Point”) and purchase the font Nitti to get even closer to the iA Writer look. It’s neat in both its light and dark variant.

Harmonious Color Palette – Solarized XL

SolarizedXL

What do authors and programmers have in common? Well, both write. And, at least for the younger generation, their main tool is the same: a computer. Solarized is probably the most popular color scheme for coding, it is said to soothe the eyes. So, if you think there is something that busy writers can learn from programmers, you should give Solarized XL a try.

Update: After publishing this blogpost, Solarized XL creator Eric Carlson wrote me a few sentences about how it was made:

“For what it’s worth, I first stumbled upon Ethan Schoonover’s Solarized work while researching the colour scheme for my iPad app Voxen, a voice synthesiser for musicians. As musicians love to work in both the light and the dark, providing a switchable and well thought out scheme seemed perfect. When I began using with Ulysses, I found the built-in Solarized theme didn’t feel right because the colours, although similar, were not the same as those I had become accustomed to. One winter day I decided to do something about it, and a few hours later I found myself submitting the theme to the Ulysses website. It has continued to serve me well since its creation, and I can only hope that because of your article a few more people discover the joy of using it.”

Installing a Theme

To make a theme available in Ulysses for Mac, use the provided link and download it from the Ulysses Style Exchange. Then go to Ulysses’ Preferences, switch to the Markup tab and choose “Add Themes”.

preferences

On iPad, it is even easier: When you’re downloading a theme, you will be prompted to open it with Ulysses for instant installing. In case you like to switch back to a theme you already have: Tap the gear icon to access Ulysses’ settings, then select Theme and choose one from the list.

prefipad

Note: If iCloud is enabled, the list of available themes will sync, so you need to download them only once. But you can of course choose a different theme on each connected device.

5 Easy Tweaks for Your DOCX or PDF Output

You are probably aware that Ulysses lets you export your writings to a host of standard formats with just a few clicks. Thereby, the so-called styles are used to define the look of the final document. Ulysses ships with a couple of pre-selected styles, and you can download many more on the Ulysses Style Exchange. If you own Ulysses for Mac, you can even adjust these styles according to your own taste and needs. Here is a selection of small tweaks with huge effects for instant use. They neither require a technical introduction nor previous knowledge on your part.

DOCX PDF Style Tweaks Read …

Ulysses 2.1.1 Is Now Available

icons

Before I started working here, I didn’t know much about software development. To be honest, I was more the average type of user. Although I still can’t code, I certainly learned a couple of things about the process. For example this one: Every major release is followed by a minor release with improvements and bug fixes for flaws discovered in the late beta phase, or even after the release. We are (of course) always doing our best to ship well-rounded updates with as little flaws as possible. But since developing software, or at least developing a writing software named Ulysses, is such a complex thing (learned lesson No. 2), there is always something to improve or to perfect. That’s why there are x.x.1 updates. Now you know, too.

Ulysses 2.1.1 is now available for Mac and iPad, and here is what’s inside:

  • DOCX export now supports changing character spacing and setting highlight colors,
  • PDF export got an option to enable justification of lines ending with line breaks,
  • Sheets can also be split at the very beginning or end,
  • Plus a number minor improvements and fixes.

For details, feel free to check out the release notes. And, at the risk of repeating myself: Please consider rating or reviewing Ulysses on the App Store. Because it helps a lot. Thanks!

“I fell in love almost immediately”

Neil Dixon
Neil Dixon

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

For the day-job, I have been a web developer since the late 1990s, sometimes freelance, other times employed. I am based in the North Cornwall coast in the UK, while my current main work focus is based in Los Angeles. This makes for some interesting—and many long—evenings.

The rest of my time is split between two main projects. Firstly, what I aim to become my main activity next year: art. I began working life as an illustrator in publishing and retail, but found a more technical side as computers took over from imagesetters and airbrushes (yes, I am that old). I am long overdue getting back to my core creative pursuits as something more than a pastime. Earlier this year I was accepted as an associate member of the Society for Graphic Fine arts, which is a valuable validation of my drawing skills.

Secondly, writing. From short stories in horror and speculative fiction, to novels and in particular a thriller series set in 1902 London. Far too many in-progress or planned, all too few ready for publishing. In addition I write intermittently to several blogs, both personal and business-focused.

When time and weather allows, I am either walking my large scent-hound, Jasper, cycling the far-too-hilly country roads around home, and when the Atlantic is in a temperate mood, bodyboarding in the surf.

"The Line" graphite, pencil on Canson
“The Line” graphite, pencil on Canson

Read …

Out Now: Ulysses 2.1 for Mac and iPad

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Whoops, there it is – the Backup Update. And the DOCX Update. And the Collapsible Folders on iPad Update. So it’s three updates rolled into one, on two platforms. That’s quite a confusing set of numbers, and I could go on and on and babble about math and stuff, when all I really want to say is: “IT’S OUT! GO GET IT ALREADY!

But you knew that when you scanned the headline, so what else is new?

Read …

Ulysses for iPad Gets Polyglot

Ulysses 2.1 for Mac and iPad will hit the stores tomorrow. In this series we show you what you can expect.

ScenChinese

Ulysses the Younger has taken language courses – with tremendous results: In little more than four months it has learned French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and simplified Chinese. Ulysses must be of exceptional talent – or is it due to its patient teachers at Wordcrafts? Thanks anyway, and here are some previews to prove Ulysses’ new skills:

Read …

Writers, Relax – Automatic Backup Is Coming

Ulysses 2.1 for Mac and iPad will shortly hit the stores. In this series we show you what you can expect.

Noone wants to lose data, this goes without saying. But if you’re writing, texts may be especially precious. Losing a poem, a freshly begun novel, or a diary that was kept over years must be horrendous, a thing we’d like to spare you from. That’s why we’ve built a safety net right in: Version 2.1 brings automatic backup to Mac and iPad.

Both apps will keep hourly, daily and monthly backups of their respective text libraries. On the Mac, you can enable them via Ulysses’ Preferences.

Access backups via Ulysses' preferences

Read …