Ulysses for Mac and iOS

Written by Mark McElroy

If you’re a writer looking for a writing app, save yourself a lot of time and energy and just get Ulysses.

If you’re a writer looking for a writing app, save yourself a lot of time and energy and just get Ulysses. Ulysses is only available on iOS (iPads and iPhones) and OSX (for Macs). If you’re a Windows user, the fact that Ulysses is available exclusively on iPads, iPhones, and Macs is a compelling reason to leave Windows behind. Ulysses is, hands down, the best app for writers available on any platform.

I’ve Tried Them All

Looking for the “perfect” writing app is a wonderful way to avoid writing. I should know; my App Store purchase history is littered with abandoned writing apps: Notebook, Notebooks, WriteRoom, Chapters, Byword, Editorial, Writing Kit, StorySkeleton, Microsoft Word, Google Docs, 1Writer, iAWriter, Pages, Werdsmith, Scrivener … the list goes on and on.

Let Your Needs Be Your Guide

My mistake? Looking for the best writing app for writers. Now, I’m convinced the best approach is to start with a list of what you, as a writer, need from your writing software … and then find the app that best serves those needs. For example: I wanted an app that would:

  • let me write in plain text (or Markdown) and worry about formatting later
  • sync what I’ve written on one device (say, my MacBook) and make that writing available, almost instantly, on any other device I own (say, my iPhone or iPad)
  • provide tools suitable for working on both short and long documents
  • allow me to break long documents down into shorter bits that can be easily dragged and dropped into whatever order I like
  • track document length and words-per-day target goals
  • make it easy to keep my research and my writing together, in one place
  • organize everything I’ve written in one library (so I could quit having to root around for work I’ve done in the past)
  • output my writing in any of several formats
  • publish my work directly to a WordPress-based blog

For me, that app turned out to be Ulysses.

How I Write with Ulysses

Everything I write begins in Ulysses, from this post to the novel I’m working on. Ulysses understands that a long document (like a novel) is really a series of short documents (like scenes or chapters). Ulysses refers to these short units of text as “sheets.”

When writing, I can easily organize, reorganize, tag, group, or file away these sheets— all by just dragging and dropping. (I fell in love with this approach when I was a Scrivener user, but switched to Ulysses because it was available on all the platforms I use. By the time Scrivener for iOS finally appeared, I was too enamored of Ulysses to consider switching back.)

Smart folders o!er another organizational option, making it possible for me to pull together an instant collection of every sheet tagged “Complete” or every sheet tagged with “POV-Main Character” without actually copying or moving those sheets around. I can attach images and notes to any sheet, so applicable research can be associated with the text that references it. And when I’m ready to export the manuscript, in just a few clicks I can churn out a Word .docx, .mobi, or .pdf — or even a post directly to my WordPress site.

One App to Rule Them All

Ulysses is a fast, reliable app that houses in one library every single thing I write. It’s under active development, so it receives frequent updates and new features. And, of course, by going “all in” on one app, I save myself the time I used to spend investigating every new option out there. Now, I can focus on learning deeply about the features of Ulysses instead of dilly-dallying with every new app that comes along.

A Word about Subscriptions

The makers of Ulysses have adopted a subscription-based pricing model ($40.00 per year or $5.00 per month). I know many people hate the subscription model, as they would prefer to buy an app once, for a big fat lump sum, and use it until it is so antiquated it no longer runs on modern hardware.

But the harsh truth is this: these days, the subscription model is the only model that allows app developers to support and sustain an app. This approach is here to stay. And — to be more frank than I probably should be — if you’re not willing to pay $5.00 a month (or less) for a powerful, professional, always up-to-date writing tool, you probably aren’t very serious about using that app to get writing done.

If you’re a serious writer, Ulysses is worth every penny. Go for it, watch a few YouTube videos about the best way to use it, and get back to writing.

I don’t work for or receive money or services from anyone associated with Ulysses. I’ve not received any compensation for this article — not even a free copy of the software. I spend my own money on the tools I review and endorse so I can provide you with the most objective assessments possible.

Illustration by Mark McElroy, based on a photo by Chris Spiegl on Unsplash

About the author

Mark McElroy

I'm a writer and professional facilitator. I'm the author of a dozen or so non-fiction books and hundreds of corporate video scripts. As a professional facilitator, I coach individuals, committees, and teams to change how they meet, make decisions, and plan, so they can get out of their own way and do work that really matters. I use this site to write about writing, adaptive strategy, travel, and spirituality ... and to "learn out loud" by sharing works (and what doesn't).