Tutorials

Customize Your Mac Writing Environment

| By Rebekka

You are writing a lot, maybe several hours per day? Then you might want to add a personal touch to your virtual writing studio. Ulysses offers several options to do so. Here's a 10-step-guide on how to customize Ulysses to your liking, to best spark creativity. We’re going to glance at all the screws you can turn.

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 groups and filters on the left, the sheet list in the middle, and the editor on the right. With three simple shortcuts you can easily hide the library and the sheet list – and display them only when needed.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Library, Sheet List and Editor

⌘1 View Library, Sheet List and Editor

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Sheet List and Editor

⌘2 View Sheet List and Editor

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Editor

⌘3 View Editor Only

Step 2: Enter Full Screen

Do you want to block diversions and keep focused on writing? Enter full screen. You can do so in the View menu, by clicking the diverging-arrows symbol in the upper left corner, or by tapping ⌃⌘F.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Editor in Fullscreen mode

Step 3: Find Your Preferred Mode

In Ulysses you can select between a light background mode with dark fonts, and a dark mode with bright fonts. Some writers find the dark mode more eye-friendly, especially in the evening hours. Also, you can choose to switch from default to 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.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Dark Mode

Dark Mode

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Paged Mode

Paged Mode

Step 4: Select a Font

Ulysses’ default font is San Francisco, Apple’s system font. San Francisco was specifically designed with screens in mind and is therefore great to read on your devices.  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, click on “Custom...” to browse your installed fonts.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Preferences while selecting a font

Step 5: Adapt Editor Settings

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

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Preferences. The selected settings are Georgia as font, line height set to 1, paragraph spacing set to 1 and first line indent set to two.

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 these tiny adjustments affect the appearance of the editor:

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Editor customized with the settings from above.

Step 6: Zoom to Make Your Font Bigger 

Well, yes, it’s a very basic thing, but we’ll include it here for the sake of completeness. Of course you can make the font bigger, if your eyes get tired or you’re affected by farsightedness, or just because you like it that way. Or smaller, of course. Go to “View” › “Zoom”, or just use your habitual shortcuts ⌘+ and ⌘-. ⌘0 takes you back to default.

Step 7: Use Typewriter Mode

Experienced writers regard this feature as very beneficial for their concentration. There are several options available – you’ll find them in the View menu:

Screenshot of the menu item View › Typewriter Mode › Fixed Scrolling

Highlight can be set to either your current line, sentence or paragraph. If enabled, the rest of the text is still readable but fades into the background.

Fixed Scrolling fixes the current line vertically on one spot while you’re typing. You can choose this spot to be on the top, in the middle or at the bottom of the screen, or opt for variable. When using the latter, you can freely move your cursor with mouse or arrow keys. Only after you start typing the current line will remain fixed.

Mark Current Line puts a light grey tint under the line you’re currently writing.

Step 8: Change Theme

Themes define the colors of your background, font and markup. They’re like virtual wallpapers for your virtual writing studio. Every theme has a light and a dark version, so you can easily switch between them. Ulysses ships with a few harmonious themes for your viewing pleasure, each of them fine tuned with lots of love by our designer.

Screenshot of the Yosemite theme

Yosemite is Ulysses’ default theme. The light version comes with a graphite-colored font as well as teal and magenta for the most common markups. Yosemite is a version of Ulysses’ classic Freestraction theme, which was updated to the color scheme of Apple’s operating system OS X Yosemite.

Screenshot of the Simple theme

Purists will enjoy Simple, a minimalist theme with sparingly-applied colors.

Screenshot of the Solarized theme

The theme Solarized uses the color palette of the same name, which is popular with programmers, but also good for a harmonious novel writing environment.

Step 9: Download Themes From the Ulysses Style Exchange

If you’re not confident with the themes Ulysses ships with, or if you’re just curious, you should pay a visit to the Ulysses Style Exchange platform. There, users can upload, download and rate themes (and export styles, but this is another story). The following selection showcases some of the most popular themes.

Screenshot of the Outback theme

Outback is the most downloaded of all available themes and was the first one contributed by a community member, the Australian journalist Matthew Cawood.

Screenshot of the Blanco theme

Blanco by Federico De Obeso is a theme for purists: white background, black font – or the other way round, in the dark version. Very focused.

Screenshot of the Eighties theme

In comparison, Eighties by chibicode is rather playful: a theme that pleases the eye with candy-colored fonts and markups and a fawnish background. You’re writing light comedy? Try it!

Screenshot of the Early Computers theme

Did you already love computers before they started to hide their arithmetic power under a bright surface? Early Computers lets you get nostalgic.

If you found a theme that suits your taste, download it from the Style Exchange. In Ulysses’ preferences, go to the Markup tab, click on “Add Themes”, and select it in Finder. The theme of your choice will now appear in the list of available themes and instantly start doing its job.

Step 10: Build Your Own Theme

So far we explored most of the adjustments you can make in Ulysses to convert its clean and focused writing environment to a clean, focused writing environment that is custom-tailored to your taste and needs. If you’re happy by now (or always have been), you can skip this step. However, if you think there is that certain indefinable something missing to perfection, you should try to our separate tutorial to learn how to build your own theme. It is much more fun than wallpapering a real office, at least if you’re not a hand crafter by profession!

Screenshot of Ulysses’ theme preferences.

Customize Your Mac Writing Environment

 10 steps to a clean, focused writing environment that is custom-tailored to your taste and needs.