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Writing Wednesdays with Michael Haase: Review of Ulysses, an App for Writers

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I am writing my first published novel. Knowing that others will buy and read my work, I often find myself in a state of high anxiety about writing. The anxiety does not arise from a lack of confidence in my story; it's the actual writing process that inspires the most frustration. I am usually either distracted when I should be writing or creating ideas while I'm nowhere near my computer. These are the moments that bring me the most panic. It never occurred to me that the program I was using for writing could ever be of any use or help.


Enter Ulysses. 


Ulysses is a writing application for Apple devices that has garnered much praise. I decided to try it out and see if the program followed through on its hype. It does. Tenfold.


Ulysses' beauty is in its simplicity and usability. The program's focus is on providing the user with less distraction. Yes, Ulysses uses a different style of formatting called markdown syntax, but it walks you through using markdown as soon as you first open the program. Plus, Ulysses can insert this code for you, which is easy after learning all the keyboard shortcuts, which are quite similar to those of any other word processor.


But Ulysses isn't just another word processor. It is a writing environment filled with tools that are tucked away out of sight. This creates a less distracting environment in which to write. My initial impression upon opening the program evolved from "That's it?!?" to "That's it!!!" within minutes. The program does appear to be nothing much at first because that's how a writing program should look. The focus should be on the words themselves. 


Ulysses gets rid of all the fancy fonts, formatting tools, extra screens, and everything else that gets in the way of the heart and soul of writing. This does not mean that as a text editor Ulysses isn't powerful. Ulysses just doesn't continually draw the writer's attention away from the words themselves. Once the writing is finished, Ulysses can take the text and convert it into virtually any style and format for export the author chooses. Saving the fancy stuff for last is brilliant, simple, and natural.

Working in Ulysses reminds me of using a typewriter in that it encourages you to write now, dress it up later. 


But Ulysses' true brilliance is in its behind-the-scenes power.
 There is no "save" option in Ulysses' drop-down menus. All work is automatically saved within the iCloud. And Ulysses' use of the iCloud is perhaps the greatest feature of the program. With Ulysses installed on both Mac and iPhone, everything I write is available on both devices. Ulysses does this for me automatically.


I am a busy man. I am a husband and a father, and I have a full-time job that does not involve writing. Making time to sit behind my computer and work on perfecting my craft of writing can be quite difficult. Much to my relief, Ulysses allows me to bring my work along with me wherever I go. I have written parts of my novel during breaks at my full-time job, while in line at the grocery store, and while lying in bed. Every sudden idea I have while not sitting at my computer is now captured, never lost. The ability to write ideas on the go is the most valuable feature of the program to me, personally. 


Ulysses has portability, flawless iCloud-syncing ability, and a distraction-free text editor that is both versatile and powerful. 


Because of these facts, I use Ulysses for all my writing now.

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To learn more, visit ulyssesapp.com. If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you can even download a free demo to try out for yourself. I recommend doing so and spending an afternoon with the app. It's worth the ticket price.

Related links:

A good page from GitHub about mastering markdown syntax: https://guides.github.com/features/mastering-markdown/

Other information and reviews on the Ulysses blog: http://ulyssesapp.com/blog/

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