Using Ulysses to Write a Novel — Part I

So, I previously wrote how I used Microsoft OneNote for novel writing. It worked out fine for a while, but I found the experience more tiresome than I imagined. I wanted something more customized for novel writing — and after some research, landed on Ulysses for Mac.

There are good reviews of Ulysses on the web so I won’t rehash them. I plan on five short posts, including this one, and I hope you will find them useful.

PART I — Rationale — Why I went to Ulysses (this post)

PART II — Organization — How I’ve organized my work for Ulysses to be as productive as possible. I’ll have screenshots for this.

PART III — Customized Export — How I’ve organized and customized my stylesheets so I can publish eBooks and Paperbacks, each further customized for the specific book.

PART IV — Workflow and Automation — Little useful tricks that reduce the pain in managing our work. I will also share a few time-saving actions that aren’t built into Ulysses but can be done in a Mac.

PART V — Wishlist — Features I’d like to see on Ulysses to supercharge this great software


While OneNote worked great for a while, I realized it was still not giving me a productive, distraction-free experience I needed to write, export, and publish — the three key elements for writing. I’m big on efficiency and productivity, and if I’m wasting time doing a bunch of manual things, I tend to look elsewhere.

So, I researched a bunch of software, including Scrivener (which I had already tried and couldn’t really get used to), and a few others that I don’t remember too well (iWrite I think), and finally landed on Ulysses.

In the last couple of months, all my writing has been on Ulysses and I’m really liking it.

Here are the biggest reasons.

  1. Distraction-Free writing — The whole editor experience is clean, uses markdown, and helps focus on writing. The dark/light themes sync’d with Mojave is a nice plus
  2. Simple, folder-based multi-level organization — Ability to create nested hierarchies with custom icons. My next blog post will describe how I’ve organized Ulysses, and it has truly made it much simpler than before. In OneNote, your organization can sensibly be only a couple of levels (Notebook, Section, Page)
  3. Export — This is huge and not available on OneNote. I can quickly export all or parts of my work to ePub (critical for publishing on platforms like Amazon), docx (to send to beta readers, advance readers for review), pdf (for just early readers and to print), e-mail (for quick reviews). This saves a ton of time. Not only that, using stylesheets, I can customize the export for each type, which has really helped me create the look and feel I want for my exported documents. I have separate stylesheets for ebooks and paperbacks.
  4. Blog Integration — I can manage my blog posts on Ulysses and publish drafts to Medium
  5. Mobile Experience — I often use my iPhone XS Max to jot quick paragraphs, edits, and even new “quick-and-dirty” chapters before I get back on my Mac for sit-down editing. Ulysses works great on the iPad and the iPhone, and this is another big time saver for me. It’s fast, clean, and syncs quickly with my Mac and iPad.

At this point, The Atlantis Papyrus is completely on Ulysses, 95% ready, and going through final edits before publishing. The Wrath of God is organized in Ulysses too. I have some non-fiction work (including this blog post), and all that resides in Ulysses now. It’s one neat, easy-to-manage library.

There are a few areas where it could do better, and I’ll cover them in Part IV

Next — Part II — Productive organization on Ulysses