Scrivener v. Ulysses for Novel Writing #amwriting @scrivenerapp

I’ve had a few inquiries about Ulysses v. Scrivener. One reader wanted to know if I’m switching over to Ulysses for novel writing (I’m not!)

Scrivener and Ulysses: Tools with Different Strengths

Here’s the thing: De gustibus non est disputandem. Or, there’s no accounting for taste. And I have strong preferences for my writing tools.

Ulysses is… stark, with very little overlap among its different features. I like Ulysses for blog writing. I can see my recent blog posts’ titles and opening sentences, and get a good idea of what I’ve been covering lately. I can search for my prior posts on a single subject. And of course I have all my blog posts in a single place that isn’t on, thus secure from any WordPress corporate decisions or WordPress server disaster. Also, should I decide to go with a non-Wordpress website framework, I’m ready.

With the exception of starkness, all of the above are virtues that Scrivener also possesses. But Ulysses is based on a dialect of Markdown, and displays its text based on Markdown. I can publish from Ulysses directly to my blog. These are virtues that Scrivener lacks, and which its developer has no present intention of providing.

On the other hand, Scrivener is baroque. It has many different ways to accomplish the same result. I like Scrivener for long form writing. I can write formal outlines and synopses of chapters, separately from the text itself. I can have keywords, other metadata such as dates, colour-coding labels… in fact, Scrivener provides a plethora of different ways to organise and examine my writing. I can keep research documents in Scrivener with my text if I so choose. And if I think of another way that I’d like to structure that massive pile of words that I hope will be a novel, I can probably do that with Scrivener too.

Scrivener, as a rich-text application, has a great deal more flexibility of formatting than Ulysses, which is limited to Markdown. I can change how I use Scrivener based on the needs of my differing projects. Scrivener’s Compile feature is adequate in itself for formatting “simple” long works, such as novels without illustrations, while Ulysses will require post-processing to get a decent format for, say, a CreateSpace PDF interior.

Of course, your experience may differ, and I don’t mean to disagree with anyone who uses Ulysses to write novels, and Scrivener to write their blog! I truly believe that it’s a matter of taste—but if I’m writing about Scrivener, I’m using it for novelling and if I’m writing about Ulysses, I’m using it for blogging.

Happy writing!


2 thoughts on “Scrivener v. Ulysses for Novel Writing #amwriting @scrivenerapp”

  1. Scrivener has become my main writing tool. I’ve abandoned Ulysses altogether. I still use a Windows laptop for some work and Ulysses don’t intend to do a Windows version. But the deal-breaker with Ulysses was switching to a subscription-only model. No thanks, bye! Scrivener 3 on the other hand not only looks gorgeous (finally) but the imminent PC version will be in sync with the Mac version (previously always a major version ahead). And Scrivener for iPad means you can even work on the go. I’ve switched to Byword for writing on my iPad. It too can post to a blog.
    As for formatting, I have found that Scrivener can handle illustrations okay but for creating eBooks Mac users have the killer app for that – Vellum. I’ve heard some authors say that Vellum alone is worth buying a Mac for!


  2. Since I get Ulysses as part of my Setapp subscription now, I’m getting a lot more value for my subscription dollar. 😉 But your point about Windows versions is excellent–and yes, Scrivener 3 is a vast improvement in UI slickness!


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