Writing tools for writing tools

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

There’s a lot of discussion among writers nowadays about the best software to use to write a book. In fact it’s been calculated that if all the time writers spent thinking about writing software were spent actually writing, then the world would be literally knee-deep in books.

Or maybe that’s the stat I read about breeding success in great tits.

But no matter, the principle stands.

It’s a modern problem. Imagine Chaucer worrying about which quill to use, or Dickens spending weeks trying out different kinds of paper.

Maybe they did. I honestly haven't read up about it.

However, it has to be said that the experience of writing on a computer can easily be affected by what software you use, and now we have sophisticated programmes designed with the specific problems of writers in mind rather than being used as all-purpose office tool I thought I'd add my three-Eurocents-worth into the mix, in case anyone’s interested. If you're not, here's a really cute video of some plovers.

The software of choice among discerning procrastinators-sorry-I-mean-writers in the last few years has been Scrivener. It is indeed excellent, and I have written two finished books and several bleeding torsos of books on it. I wrote my first book, Waving, Not Drowning, using it. Oh look, you can find it here. What a happy coincidence.

I need to tell you that Scrivener is excellent. It's as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and has what I gather software people call 'a load of features under the bonnet', although software doesn't have bonnets. Maybe I'm thinking of cars.

Anyway, I'm not writing this book with Scrivener. What a rebel.

I'm writing this book with Ulysses. And I do recommend it thoroughly. This isn't the place to go into the ins and outs of the two pieces of software. If you want to read or learn about either, may I guide you towards the excellent coverage given to both by David Hewson, who knows whereof he speaks.

The main reason I chose Ulysses, aside from the simplicity of its interface, was Cloud integration. Anything I write on my Mac is, as good as immediately, available on my iPad and iPhone. And likewise and vice versa. You'd be amazed at the time you can waste writing half a word on an iPad and then finishing it on the iPhone, then deleting it on the computer, just because you can. The iOS Ulysses apps, by the way, are superbly designed and as intuitive as the desktop app. I have written large chunks of Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? on the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard, and small chunks of it and a lot of notes on the iPhone.

When I started writing this book, Scrivener had been promising an iPad app for what seemed like decades. It didn’t come and it didn’t come. It was the 468 bus (south London reference) of writing apps. Needless to say, once I was three-quarters of the way into the first draft, out came Scrivener’s iPad app, and it is predictably excellent. But I don’t regret using Ulysses. Maybe the next one will be a Scrivener project.

So there you go. A longer-than-necessary post saying what I should have said at the beginning: if you're a writer, try Ulysses. Then write.

Incidentally, I haven't been paid by the makers of Ulysses for writing this post.




Get updates via email

Join 281 other awesome people who subscribe to new posts on this blog.


Harriet Cunningham
Harriet Cunningham says:

Aha. I will try Ulysses. I have a love hate relationship with Scrivener. I've written a novel on it but then I found word *felt* better (technical term), then I got into version chaos, so now I have an irrational suspicion that Scrivener causes me to start again. And again. And maybe just rewrite the opening. Hang on. This may, of course, have nothing to do with Scrivener but I'm not ready to admit that just yet.

March 23, 2017

Join in the conversation

Sign in to comment
Design & editorial
Publication date: June 2018
117% funded
285 backers