Writing a Novel With Ulysses, Reloaded

Writing a Novel With Ulysses

Yes, we’re a little proud that bestselling author David Hewson is a loyal user of Ulysses – and we’re still very pleased that he wrote a book about it. “Writing a Novel With Ulysses” was now completely overhauled and revised for Ulysses 2.0, and we’re taking this occasion to recommend it by heart.

David illuminates Ulysses’ approach to writing and offers assistance in making use of its features, based on his own routine as a highly productive author. Writers who are just discovering Ulysses for their work will find it especially helpful, advanced users are likely to find inspiration in it as well. The explicitly non-technical perspective and the conversational tone make it a joy to read. What else could you expect?

David Hewson The updated edition of “Writing a Novel With Ulysses” is now available for Kindle, iBooks and Nook. For existing readers the update is free. For more information please pay a visit to David Hewson’s blog.

The British author David Hewson has published more than 20 mystery novels and several guidebooks for aspiring authors. His work has been translated into more than 25 languages and his latest series, set in Amsterdam and launched with The House of Dolls, is in development for Dutch TV. Also, read our interview with David here.

“I Had to Learn to Really Love Writing”

Niko Formanek quit his job as a PR executive to become a stand-up comedian. Joking about his family life is now what he does for a living. In our interview he talks about how he got there, the up- and downsides of the funniest job in the world, and why for him Ulysses offers a close-to-perfect writing environment.

Niko Formanek
The Austrian comedian Niko Formanek, performing at a show. At the time of publishing this interview he is on board of the cruiseliner AIDA, making its passengers laugh.

Comedian is a rather exceptional profession. How did you become one?

Pretty late. I began my career on stage at the tender age of 44. Before that I had been working in many other fields. After studying communications in the US, I worked in politics, managing parliamentary and presidential election campaigns in Austria. Then I got into public relations and was Vice President of Communications for Bertelsmann, a German media giant. When my wife and I had children, I started my first own company trying to be part of the online gold rush. Well, I did not make millions. But the project turned into a rather large photo agency which I sold to the Austrian Press Agency. Then I felt the urge to do something completely different: become a stand-up comedian.

“I began my career on stage at the tender age of 44.”

Since my college days I have been an avid fan of stand-up comedy. So I started couple of satirical side projects. One of them was an Austrian satirical website, similar to the US magazine The Onion. It ended up with more than 12 indictments, two police searches in my home as well as fines and court costs adding up to more than 180,000 Euros. Yes, Austria has a limited concept of free speech.

Anyway, at some point I just had this crazy idea of doing comedy on stage. So I took a seminar in Germany and invited myself to a comedy club in Hamburg. After returning to Vienna I set up a new company called gagster comedy AG and started a regular comedy show. Today I am still hosting our comedy club style show all over Austria and also in Germany. We represent major artists in Austria, and I have managed to get a “comedy career” going for myself. Last year I reduced my involvement in the company to focus more on my career as performing comedian.

On stage I perform regularly and mainly in Germany, either as guest or host in big comedy shows and on cruises, or I do my solo show.

Are there specific topics you especially like to joke about?

Yes. I will turn 50 this year, I have been together with my wife for 30 years, and we have a daughter (17) and a son (13). This is my topic, or rather theme: all these minor or major catastrophes and the craziness of family life. This is where my jokes and stories come from. My feeble attempts to be cool in the eyes of the new boyfriend of my daughter, the inspiring efforts my wife and I went through to have some kind of sex life after having kids. Or when my son’s teacher explained that my son was smart but lazy, and I jokingly replied: “No, he is just dumb and stupid. Just like me. I am happy if he remembers his name in the morning.” This was prompted by a text message of the teacher to my wife saying our family should go to therapy. My wife was not happy. I am actually a very lucky guy, because my wife and my family have not abandoned me yet, although I repeatedly broadcast private and embarrassing matters on stage.

“I am actually lucky that my wife has not left me yet.”

People who come to my shows often are or have been in similar situations, confounded by the challenges of family life. They’re pleased that there is someone on the stage complaining and joking about those things, so they don’t have to do it themselves. I am acting the lovable fool for all of them.

Could you give us some insight into the daily routine of a comedian?

Of course we don’t work all alike, although there may be some similarities. First off, it is not a hard life. Yes, we nurture the image of a struggling, hard-working creative genius, but this doesn’t reflect my daily routine. And I suspect there are more like me out there in the comedy world.

Niko Formanek

Basically we split our lives in two. There is the time on tour, which is exactly as one would expect according to the cliché. Travelling by train, plane and ship. Hotels which merit this name, and hotels which must have had some other purpose in life or already committed suicide. We do our shows, go to bed late at night and get up when the housekeeping staff runs the vacuum against the door to dislodge the Please Do Not Disturb sign. If we are not on stage, we try to catch up on sleep in trains, cars or planes, try to eat one healthy meal per week and, if possible, think and write up some new material.

When I am not traveling I am at home being a good husband. I try not to get up too late, giving at least the impression of being productive while my wife is working hard and successfully on her career. So I do the dishes, the laundry and the other household chores I am authorized to do according to my wife.

“The comedy lifestyle has its downsides, but I have never had a better job.”

Obviously, the most important thing for a comedian is to think up a couple of funny things and write them down. This works just like any other job in the world. You have to do it every day, relentlessly – and if you are lucky, one in ten ideas will have some kind of comedic potential. I try to get a “regular-job” feeling by doing my writing in the national library, away from home. I go there like to an office, turn off all connections to the outside world, and try to force myself to write. At least two hours a day, sometimes up to four. Honestly, most things I write are not exactly stage material. But if you don’t do those, you’ll never get to the good stuff.

I have worked in “real jobs” for many years, and I don’t want them back. The comedy-lifestyle has its downsides just as anything, but I have never had a better and more fun job in my life.

Are you funny in private life, too? Do friends and family expect you to joke around?

It depends. My wife and kids do not expect me to be funny – they fear it. Friends and other people do, but that is what people expect comedians to be. I am often baffled to meet colleagues who are hilarious on stage, full of life and energy, but seemingly turn into a completely different person as soon as they get off stage.

“My family does not
expect me to be funny – they fear it.”

For me there is no difference. I am the same Niko on and off stage. Yes, I take the risk to embarass or even annoy my family and friends with a stupid joke. But every good joke is worth it, and they know me. Though I am afraid not everyone finds me funny when I try to be. I can only hope they do – and count on goodwill if they don’t.

Which role does writing play in a comedian’s life? Do you write a lot and do you like to write?

It is impossible to overstate the importance of writing if one wants to do this job. Ideally, you would write like a maniac. The first thing after waking up should be writing. Before coffee, before breakfast, before going to the loo. Before your daily life starts, you should already have written for at least 15 minutes. And it is not important what you write. Just do it.

I wish I had always written as much as I should have. But it took me more than three years to really get rolling. I do write every day, minimum 30 minutes, but usually more than two hours. I had to train myself to be able to do this. And I needed to find the right tools.

“I wish I had written more. It took me more than three years to really get rolling.”

I have never written by hand, since I cannot read my own handwriting. I possess an impressive collection of notebooks, keyboards and tablets. Honestly, I expected each new toy to propel me into a new writing paradise. Well, it took a while, but now I have found my perfect setup: an iPad Air with a Logitech Ultraslim Keyboard. I use it everywhere, and this portability has greatly increased my output und ultimately made me more productive.

Yes, I like to write. But I had to learn to really love it.

Niko Formanek

Could you describe what you use Ulysses for?

I use Ulysses for almost every word I type. I do my notes in there, my books, my ideas, my ranting, my freeform writing in the morning. Everything. I have been using many apps over the past years. On Mac and on iPad. And there is great software out there. But after discovering Ulysses via the web I have gotten very close to a perfect writing setup.

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

Before I had different apps for different projects: Day One on iPad for random thoughts and ideas, iA Writer to write up material and jokes, Scrivener on the Mac for complete shows and books. Yes, it worked and the world was okay, but not perfect.

“With Ulysses, all I have
to do is to take a sheet
and create.”

I have always been looking for the one and only solution for all my writing, no matter on what platform or hardware I am on. With Ulysses, I found it. Its biggest benefit? I don’t have to think about my setup. I write if, when and where I want. And lo and behold, I am able to find and retrieve the things I wrote, no matter where I am or what machine I use. I do not have to think about saving a file, where I have saved it to, how to get it from iPad to Mac or to convert it into a PDF or an e-book. No problem, Ulysses does it. All I have to do is to take a sheet and create.

The Launch – Feedback Roundup

The time before and after the release of a new application is most exciting in a developer’s professional life. First, there is the pressure to accomplish everything in time. And then, the excitement when waiting for feedback…

“This is the ultimate writing app on the ultimate writing tool.” – Ben Brooks

Ulysses 2.0 hit the stores less than a week ago. Since then, we got tons of e-mails: support requests (as always after any launch), but also lots of compliments and acknowledgements. That’s so good. There’s nothing wrong with following a vision from your desk’s chair, but it greatly helps to feel that your work actually makes a difference for those who use it.

Things start to calm down gradually. We just like to bask a little more in the wave of appreciation, before finally getting back to business; to designing interfaces or writing code, support e-mails or blogposts, respectively…

Five Star Writing

This is what things currently look like in the App Store and in the Mac App Store. Thanks, folks!

App Store
Mac App Store

Press Coverage

To date, I’m counting over 60 news items, articles and reviews in magazines, blogs and podcasts. Most are written in English, the lingua franca of the web, but there was also coverage in German, Italian, Spanish, French, Polish and Chinese.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve been waiting for an app like this since Steve Jobs first sat in that comfy chair to show us the iPad.” – David Sparks

The overall opinion seems overwhelmingly positive. If you would like to examine what others say about Ulysses, check out MacRumors, AppAdvice, iMore, Lifehacker and Gizmodo, to name a few. Or study the articles by Ben Brooks, David Sparks and David Hewson in their respective blogs. The extensive review of technology journalist Mitch Wagner is also a good read; you’ll find it at SixColors, the new project of former MacWorld lead editor Jason Snell.

What’s more, here is a selection of articles that might be of interest for non-English-speaking readers (or rather, writers):

Push the Button

Earlier today, at around 7:00 AM Central European Time, Max logged into iTunes Connect and decided it was time to finally release Ulysses 2.0. He had a sip from his WWDC-themed coffee mug, blinked a few times, took a deep breath and hit that on-screen button, which would push the app onto the various App Stores across the world.

Max then closed the lid of his MacBook Pro, kissed his wife good-bye for the day and went to see his kids to Kindergarten. But not before he shared a small screenshot with the rest of the team, accompanied by his favorite four letter word: “BOOM!”

So as you read this, Ulysses should already be available for download – on both Mac and iPad. iTunes usually needs a while, before its multi-trillion-apps database updates its gazillion-trillion-entries search index, but it’s there, we’ve seen it, people are already getting it, writing rave reviews in it, and generally having a great time with it. At least we hope they do. Heck, yes, they do!

And while reviews are starting to trip in, and our Twitter stream is picking up pace (and our devices have all been silenced in the process), I’ll take the opportunity to thank a couple of people, whithout whom this thing would never have come around.

First off, naturally, our team, the whole team, and nothing but the team. So here’s to Lina, Frank and Lucas, who kept their cool during the last twelve months of support and beta requests. To Friedrich and Götz, who coded the hard parts, from sync to iPad UI and almost everything in-between. To Rebekka, who kept posting and newslettering and pushing us to consider and approve every word and release note, even when we didn’t want to read or write or know no more. And of course to Max, who held it together when I could not.

I’d also like to thank Jono Hunt for his six month calm, during which we created, tweaked, remodelled, tweaked, reshaped and further tweaked the new app icon. We believe it’s a damn fine icon, and I’ll do a post-mortem soon, where I’ll go through the whole process (and how long this has been coming).

Last not least here’s to our friends and families for all your ongoing support!

I’m awfully proud of what we have accomplished here. Some of this stuff is crazy shit, seriously. Stuff you won’t notice, because it took us months to get right, so you wouldn’t notice. And though this was hard work, folks, all you should probably care about is: Does it work?

I hope it does work. Work for you. Work for us.

So now this one’s finished and out in the wild, it’s time to start the next one. The small one. The one that completes the lineup. Yep, that one. After the break.

Happy writing, everybody!

The Handbag Typewriter

We said, we’re going to bring desktop-class writing to iPad. That means, if you go on holidays you may happily leave your laptop at home. To go even further: Actually you don’t need to possess a laptop at all. Or at least not because of Ulysses. To enjoy writing with Ulysses on the road, an iPad will be enough, beginning tomorrow. Consider equipping it with a petite bluetooth keyboard, if you will.

With a Keyboard Attached

That way, writing is not only comfortable, but very comfortable. The virtual keyboard disappears, making room for your text and your thoughts. Only the button row remains visible, for fast access to text statistics, search, attachments, and more.

Ulysses for iPad When a Bluetooth Keyboard Is Attached

And then, simply write. You can write markup on the keyboard, just as on the Mac – or use the button row. There are also a number of functional shortcuts you should be familiar with when you are a user of Ulysses for Mac. For example:

  • ⌘1, ⌘2 and ⌘3 to switch between three pane, two pane an editor-only view.
  • ⌘6 to open (and close) Quick Export.
  • ⌘⌥↑ and ⌘⌥↓ to navigate between sheets.
  • To name just a few.

    I find that it works like a charm. Even better, my writing tool for the road now fits into my favorite handbag. I think that’s just awesome, and I hope you will, too.

    Ulysses 2.0 is Coming March 12

    We have been looking forward to this day just as much as many of you. Our inboxes have been flooded in recent weeks by people asking us to stop teasing and finally announce a release date. Thank you all for your excitement, here is your answer:

    Ulysses 2.0 for Mac and iPad will both be released next Thursday, March 12.

    Ulysses for iPad will be priced at US $19.99 (or £14.99 / 19,99 €, respectively).
    Ulysses for Mac will be a free update for existing users, pricing unchanged otherwise.

    Which leaves us with six more days. How about shortening that time with the App Preview we made for the iPad version? ;-)

    Export to Impress

    If you’re writing anything but a secret diary or notes to self, you will inevitably get to a point where you want to publish your texts, or show them to someone else. Of course, you could just hand around your iPad, but that would be awkward, wouldn’t it. So don’t you worry – Ulysses for iPad has you covered with a comprehensive export function. PDF for printing? Check! RTF to open and edit elsewhere? Double-check! HTML code for your blog? Check, check, check! With Ulysses for iPad, you’ll be able to generate all of these, and more, with just a few taps.

    To export a sheet, tap the export icon in the navigation bar.

    Export Icon

    This will open the exporter. You can choose between several file formats, and just as an example, let’s have a look at the HTML export.

    HTML Exporter

    Ulysses can transform your text with all its markup into a web page with properly formatted HTML code. You’ll see a preview of how the page would look in a typical browser. If you tap the gear icon, you can switch to a different style (CSS in the case of HTML). Ulysses ships with two built-in HTML styles; if you like, you can download more on the Ulysses Style Exchange. You can also choose whether to export a full page with header and body section, or just a code snippet.

    HTML Settings

    Are you happy with the preview? The Share and Open In buttons will list all available options for further processing.


    To continue the HTML example: As a blogger, you may write an article in Ulysses, select HTML/snippet on export, copy to clipboard, and then paste the code into your favorite content management system. Easy, fast – and fun, hopefully.

    Fancy an Attachment?

    A prominent improvement of the new Ulysses for Mac will be the revamped attachment bar – let’s take a look at it.

    Attachments, to refresh your memory, are for meta-information you want to access effortless while writing. Those can be keywords, writing goals, notes and images. You can easily get a glance of a sheet’s attachments via the paper-clip button in the menu bar or the shortcut ⌘4 (command-4).

    Attachment Bar

    By the way: An image attachment does not necessarily have to be a picture. The feature deals nicely with PDF documents, too, so a text briefing will probably feel quite at home here. You can even leaf through a multi-paged PDF. Notes accept all kinds of markup, so if you want to put a link in a note, go ahead. Of course you can still detach every single attachment and place it on the screen for quick reference – just click the icon in the top-right corner. Then, you can also resize images according to your whim.

    Free-floating Attachment

    The observant user might wonder where the markup bar (aka markup cheat sheet) is hiding. It had to make room for the new attachment bar, but is still within easy reach. Just use the A-button in the toolbar, or the established shortcut ⌘9 (command-9). Those who are close friends with the markup bar and use it a lot can also tear it off for quick access.

    Markup Bar

    Attachments on iPad

    Of course mobile writers will be able to make use of attachments, too. The bar in the picture below looks familiar, doesn’t it? You can access it via the paperclip button in Ulysses’ button row. Writing goals are not (yet) available on iPad. They will be conserved and sync across devices, though – they’re just not accessible on iPad.

    Attachments on iPad

    A Postcard in Our Mailbox, Some Stickers in Yours

    In December we asked you to send us picture postcards to get some stickers in exchange. Secret stickers, so to speak, because they show the new icons which are going to represent Ulysses in public beginning with the next release. This is what we got:


    One of my favorite motives is the road cruiser squeezed by an enormous Arizona saguaro. This gallery resides in our hall and is fun to examine during a coffee break. Thanks to you all!

    The good news is: Our offer still stands. So hurry up and bring some color to your favorite delevoper’s office. Just send a picture postcard to:

    The Soulmen GbR
    Münzgasse 1
    04107 Leipzig

    Don’t forget to include your own address. We will instantly dispatch a carrier pigeon, delivering a handful of stickers straight to your home!

    Helping to Make Clean Up Fun

    Can cleaning up actually be fun? That’s what little children may ask themselves in the face of a messy playroom. The same applies to writers who may think of a growing text library. Especially on iPad. For the latter the answer clearly is: Yes, it can! Because it is so simple.

    To sort texts in your Ulysses library on iPad, you just have to switch focus on the sheet list. Then tap Edit, and you’ll be able to rearrange your sheets with your fingertip.

    Sort Sheets

    If you want to move a couple of sheets from one group to another, you’ll only need a couple more taps. Select these sheets, then tap Move. This will show the sidebar, where you can choose a new parent group for your sheets.

    Move Sheets

    Sorting groups is just as straightforward: switch focus to the sidebar and tap Edit there.

    So, organizing can be quite simple and even be fun. We’ll bet children of all ages would agree, if they could just put a toy into the rack with a fingertip…