Sunday, June 26, 2005

Word and words: on creative writing software

I am writing this using my three-week-old iBook. It's my first Mac and my first laptop. It has been an unqualified joy (once I had got used to Mac's peculiarities). I can write in the peace of my bedroom. I can write watching the TV (as I'm doing now: Saskia is caressing Maxwell's head in a rather mercenary kind of way in Big Brother 6). And I can write: full stop.

The PC and where the PC is have too many distractions. This iBook has no internet connection apart from the wifi from which I can leach in one area of the flat :) Unfortunately this spot is right next to the PC :(

There is a software problem though. I really don't like using Word for Mac. On my PC, I have customised the Windows background to an olive green colour. I have done so for years. But Word for Mac doesn't allow such global commands (unless you know different). Each document has to be customised. Also, I can't really concentrate on the words themselves.

Chekhov's Mistress came to the rescue by introducing me to a product for Macs called Ulysses made by the Blue Technologies Group of Germany. It offers a completely full screen edit mode (with a very effective default background of black with yellow text). I am writing this using this wonderful facility. Word for Mac's full screen, on the other hand, is laughable. You can't get rid of the menu across the top and there's a bloody great button saying 'Close Full Screen' on screen at all times. Is this Microsoft's little joke? Ulysses also has organisational and note-making features that seemed designed for the way I want to write.

Along with Ulysses, I tried another product called Copywrite which had been recommended in the comments to a blog entry at 43 Folders. In fact, I tried Copywrite three times. I installed it three times and uninstalled it three times. The demo is maddening. Opening documents didn't seem to open anything, and when one did open it seemed of its own accord. I was tempted back each time because it also has a decent full screen edit mode, allows limited archiving in the demo and, at under $30 for the full package, is much cheaper than Ulysses. However, each advantage of the demo paled before its lack of usability. I didn't trust it.

So, today, as I walked along the prom, I resolved to buy Ulysses. What convinced me was the producer's special offer running to mark Bloomsday (technical problems preventing coincidence with June 16th apparently). How can one not feel comfortable with such literate fellows? Even though €62 still seemed very steep, I hoped it would release much-needed concentration.

Before buying, I had a look around the demo and the company's site. Early on I happened upon discomforting spelling errors ('devided', 'appart'). Still, English isn't their first language. So I got my credit card details ready and looked for the Shop page. This is where the site's design increases doubts. One has to scroll in search of the Download and Buy buttons. But I didn't buy. Why? Well, in between my decision to buy and getting the card out, the price had risen to €82, up €20!

It was then I realised that all such concerns about writing are merely excuses not to write. This blog is another such excuse.

Now to copy & paste into Word for Mac after setting the background to black with yellow text. Sorted. Time for bed.


  1. Anonymous6:14 pm

    The Bloomsday offer at Blue-Tec does stipulate that they will be offering Ulysses at a different - randomly lower - price every day. It is normally 100 euros, but during the promotion the "lottery" price has varied from 62 to 90 euros. You basically have to check every day to see if there is a price you like - my guess is that you went to purchase right on the cusp of the site's midnight. There are four days left on the offer, so you could keep checking in the hope that it comes back down to the 60s. I've also checked it out and am waiting for the price to be "right" before buying.

    I don't necessarily think it's procrastinating to check out these things. I hate Word too. I like Nisus Writer ( and Mellel much better, but although Mellel does have a good outlining feature, none of these really allow real flexibility in organising and reorganising a large project. Ulysses comes nearest, definitely. (You might also want to check out Jer's Novel Writer, over at - free while in beta).

  2. Thanks Derik and KB.

    Jer's thing looks most promising, but I wish full screen really was full screen as it is in Ulysses. Can't bring myself to cough up for that though.

    And I didn't understand Tinderbox AT ALL!

  3. Anonymous2:57 pm

    Steve - Not sure which version of Jer's Novel Writer you checked, but (released today) worked the kinks out of full-screen mode.

    The documentation is a little behind, I'm afraid, so full-screen isn't mentioned much on the Web site.

    (Sorry if this comes off as spammy - I just happened by while checking what people were saying about my baby.)

  4. Thanks for the update Jer. It looks even more promising now. I'm glad I didn't commit to Ulysses!



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