March 10

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The Best App for Writing a Novel on Your iPad

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For the past two months, I’ve been using the beta of the new version of the writing app Ulysses. This was the company’s trial version of the expansion of their existing iPad app to work on an iPhone and an iPad Pro.

Ulysses is my chosen writing tool, especially for my novel-writing, and it makes the iPad Pro a really spectacular tool for composing longform.

Today, the revised and improved app has been released, and MacStories provides a full introduction:

Review: Ulysses 2.5 for iPad and, now, iPhone

Made by an 11-person team in Germany called The Soulmen, Ulysses is pitched to authors, bloggers, students, and every writer in between. Much more than a typical ‘distraction-free’ Markdown editor that hooks up to Dropbox, I think of Ulysses as a writing environment. It has a full suite of tools including a post-Finder document system, the most thorough Markdown shortcut keyboard I’ve ever seen, the ability to split and merge documents, a unique approach to attachments, and so much more.

I’m writing this review because The Soulmen just released Ulysses 2.5 for iPad, Mac, and, for the first time, iPhone, though I’ll focus on the iOS version for this review. The company told me this is the largest iOS update it’s ever released, and having helped test the beta for the last couple of months and perusing the release notes, I believe it. Surprisingly, not only is this major upgrade that makes the iPad edition universal, it’s free to existing owners.

Ulysses is perhaps an expensive app, compared to other iPad/iPhone apps, but it’s worth it. Even if, one day, Scrivener finally releases an iPad app, I can’t imagine going back.

My short addition to David Chartier’s review: the key feature that a novel-writing app needs is the ability to manage multiple sections of text. That’s 80% of the reason why using a “novel-writing app” is better than simply writing the whole thing in Word: you can compose individual chapters or scenes as distinct things, freeing your mind from having to keep your place in a huge manuscript. It also helps if the app can merge those scenes easily when it’s time to create a word file of the entire book. Ulysses does this very smoothly. It’s like Scrivner but without all the unnecessary stuff.

The second useful quality of such apps is the ability to add research notes, pictures, and other documents to a “research” side bar or floating section of the screen: I don’t use this part of Ulysses much myself, and honestly, this is one area where Scrivner (for Mac) is clearly better, but regardless, the function is there.

The only reason I would warn someone against Ulysses is if they don’t know what “Markdown” is, and they use a lot of formatting (bold, italics etc) in their writing, and they would hate — hate — if the formatting looked a little unfamiliar as they typed it. If this would drive you nuts, be warned. Maybe look at some screenshots before you buy.

(Similarly, when I have a very HTML-heavy piece of writing to do, such as writing a blog post, I still prefer the app Drafts, just because the Drafts keyboard (its ability to make your own keyboard shortcuts) is so powerful and its export actions so easy and quick to use.)

Lastly — Chartier mentions this in his review, and I’d like to second it: Ulysses just feels like a really well-made app. I’ve tried a few iOS programs in beta now, and while I won’t name names, some feel very, very beta. I get nervous even opening files on them. Ulysses, as soon as its iPad Pro beta was first available, essentially worked like a real piece of finished software. It’s clearly a great team over there in Germany.


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  • dograclub says:

    I am a novice at an old age and found TBLO app which is free and I have been writing drafts like mad
    I joined some groups of writers and heard about Screvien being used by them but not Uleysses
    I write on my iPad 2 and find Ulysses for iPad Pro
    Need expert advice

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