Own both Scrivener and Ulysses

The Case for Owning Both Scrivener and Ulysses

If you’re a writer, you want the best software to do your writing. You’ve had enough of Microsoft Word, so the first two applications that come to mind should be Scrivener and Ulysses. There are writers and authors who will swear by either one of those applications. Both of the applications will do the job of helping you to write anything from a blog post to a massive novel. Ulysses and Scrivener each have their strong points and if you’re only going to buy one of them you have to work out which one is just going to suit you the best. I think there is a case to be made for owning both Scrivener and Ulysses and have the best of all worlds.

Writing in Ulysses
Writing in Ulysses

I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a good idea to send the data in between the two apps constantly. There would be work involved in getting the data transferred in between the two to make sure you didn’t lose any background meta data. The actual words of your document will move between the two without any real difficulties. The extra bits and pieces you might add within either of the applications to help you organise the words could make things a little bit messy. The solution to this would be to have a workflow which had you starting within one application and moving to another to finish off. You might be a fan of using the cork board metaphor within Scrivener and use this application for the outlining process. Then move to Ulysses for the writing. Scrivener also has a view which looks a bit like a spreadsheet which can also help you organise where parts of your document should be. On the other hand using Ulysses you have drag-and-drop outlining features which are pretty easy. It’s just a different way of looking at it. Or just use one or the other depending on the task.

Writing in Scrivener
Writing in Scrivener iOS

Differences between Scrivener and Ulysses

The money end of things

For some people the cost of using the software is important and with Ulysses you have to deal with a subscription model. It’s not a huge amount of money especially if you got the discount for having bought the previous version before subscription came in. It is a professional application for writers and authors and well worth the cost. Scrivener is going with the one-off payment for the software for the moment. It doesn’t get the requirement for a paid upgrade too often at all. I think there’s been five years or more between buying Scrivener version 2 and the imminent paid upgrades to Scrivener version 3. If you keep up with the upgrades it’s like a subscription model to a certain extent, so check the different prices and see which works out the best for you.

Synchronisation of documents in both Scrivener and Ulysses

Scrivener does have a lot of extra tools and if you make use of them it’s well worth to go with the application that gives you the most. You have the corkboard, the name generator, highly configurable compile options and a useful split view. On the downside it only will synchronise through Dropbox and I don’t find that works half as well as Ulysses synchronises through iCloud. I never get any synchronisation problems with iCloud when I’m working in a document both in iOS and on the Mac. When using Scrivener, especially on the iPad I find I need to be careful to wait for synchronisation to take place before doing anything. If you’re not careful you can easily end up with numerous duplicate files.

Sync with Scrivener

Sync with Scrivener

Sync via Dropbox

Sync failed in Scrivener

Concentrate on the words

The other thing with Ulysses as it has a very clean interface and the argument that writing is all about the words is spot on. Scrivener does also have views in which the software gets out of the way which lets you concentrate on the words. So you could say there’s not much in between the two on this point.

The user experience of the authors writing tools

Both Scrivener and Ulysses have a really good user experience and which one suits you best depends upon how you work. I absolutely love the clean interface of Ulysses and the use of simple keyboard shortcuts. The simple interface makes it look like a simple application to the point where you are surprised with the power hidden within. Scrivener has a load of menus which is not a problem because it does more things. You don’t even have to look in all of the menus when you are writing. It might take longer to remember where to find what you want in the menu to get done the task in hand. Loads of options in Scrivener for all sorts of writers.

Control export of documents

Using Ulysses on iOS is particularly handy for getting the preview of what your e-book is going to look like. You get quick views either to a page or to the whole document. It’s particularly useful when you’re working with images and you want to see what it looks like on the page. Instead of having a multitude of compile possibilities you work with stylesheet templates. Grab the stylesheet template which is guaranteed to make your book look great on Kindle and you don’t really have to think about it at all. It is possible to make changes to the CSS which powers the formatting for your book or whatever in the stylesheet. Most times you’re going to find a template which does pretty much what you want without you having to do any changes. There is a library of stylesheets available to download and you can also download themes which determine the look of the application while you’re using it.

Stylesheets in Ulysses

The use of colour in Scrivener

Some of us work in a more visual way and it’s nice to have the use of colours within Scrivener to help you with the organisation of a document. Set up colours for labels to visually show you where you have your notes, research, chapters subsections and so on. You can also set up colours in a novel based upon the point of view of the chapter. This would be particularly handy for seeing how the flow of the story is going across points of view. You would easily notice a lack of chapters from the point of view of an important character just because there will be fewer parts showing that colour. These colours show up in the binder, the cork board mode and also the outline mode.

Colour in Scrivener

In terms of organising the progress with the work you can use colours to signify the state of play have any part of the document. You could have yellow as your colour for the first draft, Orange could be the colour for the first edit and the final draft would be green. It’s only going to take a quick look at the documents in Scrivener to see which sections need more work and which sections are finished.

Word counts and targets in Both scrivener and Ulysses

In both of both scrivener and Ulysses you can easily set up targets for the whole document and for separate sections. In Scrivener you get the added benefit of being able to set daily targets. This is especially useful if you’re doing something like Nanowrimo. If you’re working to a deadline put in the date the writing has to be finished and specify which days you want to work. Scrivener tells you words per day needed to hit the target on time. Lots of lovely settings you can choose from to make this a writers tool you don’t want to be without.

Setting Target for the Manuscript

Setting Target for the Manuscript

Loads of settings in Scrivener

Loads of settings in Scrivener

The word count facilities and targets are more rudimentary in Ulysses but perfectly functional.

Information and word counts Ulysses

Information and word counts Ulysses

Taking snapshots

A particularly useful function within Scrivener is the Snapshots. If you like to make a lot of changes to your work and keep previous versions intact then you just take a snapshot. You can go back to a previous snapshot or you can compare one snapshot with another. You could use something like this if you were sending your document to somebody else for editing. When you get the edited file back you could easily compare what you have with what was edited. The only thing close in Ulysses is the automatic backup and restore available. You need to use something else to compare texts.

Scrivener Snapshots

Comments and footnotes

Using markdown XL it’s easy to make comments within a sheet in Ulysses. Within Scrivener you can select something and create a comment or a footnote. The comments and footnotes appear in the inspector which resides on the right-hand side of the screen. This is the same area where you’ll also find the snapshots, the synopsis, keywords, links to document references as well as being able to set custom meta data. With Ulysses you have a way to make notes in the text and they don’t get counted in the word count or make it to the exported document. In the information area add more notes, keywords and pictures.

Export options

In Ulysses it’s great to export directly to EPUB, especially so when using the iOS version. This is an added extra on top of being able to get quick previews so and see what the pages in the book. The iOS export options in Scrivener are much more limited. I love how easy this is in Ulysses.

Export options in Ulysses iOS

Export options in Ulysses iOS

Export out of Scrivener iOS

Export out of Scrivener iOS

Both applications Scrivener and Ulysses have their advantages

The application I enjoy using the most is Ulysses because of the writing experience. It is the application I find gets out of the way more so allowing writers to just get on with the job of writing. There’s plenty of enjoyment in Scrivener too. This is because of the huge amount of functionality giving you a way to customise and control how you work. For me it’s made a lot of sense to have both of those applications dividable for me to use. Ulysses is particularly good for blogging. There are enough tools within Ulysses for you to write a whole novel. With a particularly complicated story you could be better to work with Scrivener. I’m sure you can see why I am conflicted about which of these applications is the best. I really like using both of them and I plan to keep both on the Mac and iOS. There is a case for both scrivener and Ulysses