Writing A Novel With Ulysses III

Ulysses III looks so simple but it’s enormously powerful. The program’s documentation does it no favours. It does not explain half what the this radical and innovative piece of software is capable of. It leaves you to flounder with its most powerful features. Fortunately David Hewson has come along to give us a helping hand.

Writing A Novel With Ulysses III is a short ebook about writing long works of fiction using the program. It is clear, clever and concise. It doesn’t claim to be a comprehensive guide to Ulysses III. It still taught me a few things that I did not know and I have been using the program since it was released.

Mr Hewson is the author of a number of excellent thrillers. For many years he worked as a tech journalist. His expertise shows in this book. It is written from the perspective of a working novelist who also happens to be very good at explaining technology.

What he has to say about writing novels is worth listening to. It’s always interesting, often useful and occasionally has to be taken with a pinch of salt. I mean no disrespect. What works varies from writer to writer. Mr Hewson finds the goal of writing 1000 words a day silly. I find it the most useful route to consistent stress free productivity. As ever it’s best to try any advice for yourself and if it works for you, stick with it. Otherwise ditch it.

What the book says about Ulysses III is particularly worthwhile. The author has taken the time and trouble to get to know the program in considerable detail.

The book sets things out in an easy to follow readable style with plenty of screenshots. It starts with an excellent general introduction to the program. It then takes you through every step of of writing a novel, from planning to writing to editing to producing a manuscript or ebook. It does this in surprisingly short space.

If you follow the steps outlined here, you’ll have a very solid structure for getting your book finished. You’ll also save yourself a lot of time grappling with the intricacies of the program.

Mr Hewson has the courage to say something that most tech books won’t – that there are plenty of features of the program that you don’t need to deal with, indeed you shouldn’t. He is not trying to write a comprehensive guidebook. This is not Ulysses III for Dummies. It does exactly what it says on the cover.

It shows you how to best use filters, keywords and goals, how to set things up to handle the long complex flow of a novel narrative and how to create a background bible for a novel or series.

Reading the book I learned how to do pretty much anything I can do in Scrivener in Ulysses which seems like a much simpler program. I learned how to set up a manuscript so I could inspect multiple plotlines by point of view or timeline or anything else I care to tag them with. I learned how to set word count goals by scene, chapter, section or any other artificial division I care to create.

The book showed me how to split and merge documents and edit them out of order. It revealed how to use notes and comments to quickly setup a scene. This is particularly useful if you follow the methods outlined in Rachel Aaron’s excellent 2K to 10K.

I got a comprehensive overview of how Ulysses works with iCloud. I learned that it can import and convert Word and Pages documents as well as pure plain text. (Somehow I have managed to use the program for several months without ever noticing it could do that.)

Writing A Novel With Ulysses III stresses the use of iCloud. This is understandable since the program is optimised for Apple’s online storage system and Mr Hewson uses a primarily Mac/iPhone based work setup. I use Dropbox and assorted markdown word-processors on different machines and I still found the book very useful.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. By the time I had finished it, I was convinced to try writing my next novel in Ulysses III If you want to learn how to use the program to write a novel, this book is invaluable. You’ll get an intriguing glimpse into the working methods of a professional novelist as a bonus.

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Comments

  1. Sounds interesting. I might check out the free trial, but I hesitate at blowing a wad on another book writing program when I already have one that works. On the other hand, I do wonder if Scrivener is starting to feel just a tiny bit unwieldy. If I hadn’t bought either yet, I could find myself facing a touch choice between the two of them.

    By the way, seen something called the Roost stand for the Macbook? I ordered one.

    • Hey Gary! The main appeal of Ulysses for me is how well it integrates markdown– which for reasons best known only to my subconscious has become important to me. I can write on pretty much anything anywhere and easily include it in Ulysses. It’s an excellent program in its own right too.

      By an odd coincidence the Roost stand looks exactly like what I’ve been looking for. I have been suffering increasingly from spine compression and shoulder pain from hunching over my laptop. Where are you getting yours from?

  2. As a matter of fact, I bought it direct from them at their website, http://www.therooststand.com/collections/the-roost-january-2014. They take Paypal.

  3. Nice! I bought it plus an external keyboard because writing the last several books on my Macbook pretty much massacred the Macbook’s own keyboard. It’s all squishy and bwoken.

    • Bloody hell– you broke the keyboard! That’s impressive. The most I ever manage is the trackpad. I reckon I’ll be picking up a wireless keyboard at some point after the Roost arrives. It has departed DHL’s Cincinnati hub now according to my tracking number so I am looking forward to its arrival.

  4. I’m almost disappointed. I was imagining some kind of software that would instantly ‘Joyce’ your work for you.

    • Hey Matt, I should probably make some kind of joke about manuscript randomisers and Finnegans Wake but I’ll resist– mainly because I can’t think of one.

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