“Ulysses Most Beautiful Feature Is Its Willingness to Get Out of the Way”

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, Patrick Pittman explains why for him Ulysses is the perfect place to “just write”.

Patrick Pittman
Patrick Pittman, Photo: James Horan

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

I’m an editor, journalist, playwright, sometime fiction writer, sometime writer for hire. I freelance for various international magazines, writing everything from political briefings to longform features. I also do radio work of the sort that requires scripting. In the evenings, I’m writing the more fun kinds of things that don’t pay anything of note, but that I enjoy the most. Fiction. Love letters. Idle musings. Plans for projects that may or may not ever come to fruition.

Let’s just say, making words on the screen is most of my life, interspersed with flying all over the place to record other people’s words, and propping up bars scribbling notes.

Could you describe what you use Ulysses for?

Though most of my work will end up in other formats (a reality of the magazine game), Ulysses is where I’ve always done my focussed creation. It’s where I just write. For that, it’s goddamned perfection. Sure, there are features I wish it had that it doesn’t, and features I still miss from the old version, but, look – when you’re writing, and I mean really writing, when the whole world falls away and it’s just you and your words, and they’re flying out of your fingers in a way that you’re not thinking about, there’s joy there. Ulysses is an unobtrusive enabler of said focus and joy.

“Ulysses is where
I just write. For that, it’s
goddamned perfection.”

On a practical level, for a typical magazine feature, I’ll gather together notes and research, alongside editorial briefs and outlines. I’ll then set a word target according to whatever the commission is, and paste in my interview transcripts as notes. Then, full screen, focus music in the ears, and write. If I’m writing theatre, I’ll do it using Fountain markup (hint) and not worry about any of the formatting that slows that process down.

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

I’ve been using Ulysses since the start and have always admired the developers’ stubborn devotion to a purist vision that suits me pretty well. Without being prescriptive about how I work, it balances simplicity and immense power. I hate bloated software more than most anything. I believe in picking very specific tools that do one job really well. I don’t want my writing program to be a planning application that slows me down — I want it to be about getting words on the page. In my experience, those all-in-one tools are very rarely ideally suited to the actual reality of how I work, just some programmer’s idea of how a writer might work, or should work. I do my planning with other tools, and when it comes time to work with words, off to Ulysses I go.

“It balances simplicity
and immense power.”

The latest incarnation does a miraculous job of providing exactly the tools I need for whatever form of writing I’m tackling, from longform fiction manuscript to 150-word news briefing. It’s still a sad reality that, upon submission, words have to leave Ulysses and end up (mostly) in Word, for editorial review and so on, but at least the process of getting it there is now totally painless.

With the “all on iCloud” document model, everything is close to hand. I use tags and filters to track the submission and publication status of various kinds of work, and keep Ulysses full screen, just a trackpad swipe away, so whatever work I need to get into is right at hand.

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

There are too many great features to pick out a favourite. I love that I can now work in Markdown and copy/paste into whatever output I need. This fits with how my brain works.

Let’s say it’s this: the interface of the new Ulysses is just a thing of absolute beauty, but its most beautiful feature is its willingness to get out of the way.

Visit Patrick’s website and blog to find out more about him and his diverse work.

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Rebekka Honeit

Blog-curating writing maniac and public relations person. Loves coffee, chocolate cookies and literature. Finds peace in tweaking press copy.