Using Ulysses For Better Blogging

If writing about a writing app is too meta, then call me guilty. I’m still in my honeymoon phase using my newest tool – Ulysses. Switching to it has been like going from a hammer to a nail gun! It’s a great app for blogging if you’re on WordPress, Medium, and now Ghost! So I want to share a little how I’m currently using it.


Library Setup

In the Library, where Groups and Filters go1, I’ve got a top Group for my blog. Under that, there are four sub objects:

  1. Meta is a Group containing all my personal notes about my blog. For example, I’ve got notes about what categories I want to use.
  2. Drafts is a Filter and is just what it says. Like on WordPress, this is where I start writing stuff. More on this later.
  3. Scheduled is also a Filter. It’s like what you find on WordPress. After I’ve written a draft post, it gets edited and polished in the Scheduled filter.
  4. Published is the last Filter where I keep all my live posts. It’s my local “raw” copy. After publishing to WordPress through Ulysses, I also publish to PDF and store it in the Files app on my iPad. This means these copies are in iCloud.

The thing about the last three Filters is that I never need to “send” or “move” or “drag and drop” any of my posts to them. This is because each one is set to one Keyword2.

My “Drafts” keyword is red. “Scheduled” is yellow. And – you guessed it – “Published” is green!

I simply add the right keyword to my posts corresponding to the stage they’re in, and they auto-magically get sorted into the proper filters. Works every time!

Template Setup

This is where things get more interesting. I like my blog posts to be done a certain way. And I want them to be consistent. With Ulysses, I can make this happen easily.

I created a “Sheet” and called it “Blog Post Template.” It’s already got the red keyword, “Draft,” applied to it. It also has one extra keyword in the color grey, “Template.” Creative, I know.

When I’m ready to start a new draft post, I swipe the template, tap the ellipses, and then tap, “Duplicate.” Viola! Right there in the Drafts filter is my new post. But wait, there’s more.

This template – now a new draft – is preset with text fields in it. At least that’s how it looks. The fields are indicated by the ‘%%’ Comment Blocks that span entire paragraphs. Each one is labeled for the different parts of the post: intro, body, conclusion, call to action. And the dividing lines between each section are ready to go.

On top of that, my “Call to action” section already has the basic text I use, including a link to my Contact info, and it’s already defined to be strong and emphasized.3

Finally, this template is also marked as a Favorite sheet, so it’s always ready to get at in the special Favorites group.4


This is how I’ve set up Ulysses to help streamline my blogging. In addition to that, I simply use the built-in publishing features to automatically get my posts up on WordPress. I’ve mentioned a bit how that process works on my recent write up about Ulysses.

It’s a great app, and I hope to learn how to use it better with practice. Out of the gate, it already makes blogging – and journaling – better.


What’s your writing or blogging set up? Keep it simple, or do you have an elaborate process? Let me know in the comments below or you can write to me. Thanks for reading!

  1. Think: Folders and Smart-Folders.
  2. Keywords in Ulysses are applied to any “Sheet.” A sheet can be a note, a blog post, or a scene in a book you’re writing. They’re like documents but better. And Keywords are color coded however you like!
  3. Read: Bold and Italic.
  4. When you duplicate a favorite sheet, the new sheet does not get the ‘favorite’ status duplicated. For my setup, that works out great.

Ulysses Is The Right Tool For The Write Job

When you’ve got to get work done, it’s great when you have the right tool and super frustrating when you don’t. What’s more awesome is when you can have high quality tools that help you the best. I think I’ve found such a tool for writing: Ulysses.

I don’t know why they chose the name Ulysses, but it’s memorable. Maybe that’s why. It kinda stands out, which I guess is by design, because it’s considered a “Pro” writing app. So what’s it like? I had two weeks to find out. Let me hit the highlights.


Markdown

First up, Markdown. I had heard about writing in markdown before, but using Ulysses is the first time I’ve ever experienced this simple kind of markup language. It’s not code, and it’s simpler than HTML.

To me, it’s a natural way to mark up your text in order to…define it. Instead of formatting or styling, you “define” text with special characters. If you’ve ever used a hashtag – # – symbol to tag your Tweet or Instagram photo, then you’ve got the basic idea of Markdown.

It was very quick for me to pick it up because there’s nothing to learn about it. Like picking up a hammer and whacking a nail, the concept is simple. It just takes practice to get good with the tool.

And I love it! Markdown is superb in its simplicity. It makes the process of writing better because it let’s you focus on getting the words out onto the screen rather than spending time on how those words look. It’s almost just like writing plain text in email.

The real advantage to using Markdown is how flexible and easy it is to export your text to practically anywhere and not have to worry about formatting. Have you ever written something in Microsoft Word and copy/pasted the text to some other app or site and had to fight the glitchy formatting of your words after you perfected them? I have.1 It’s a real headache.

Get your texts in order

I like the organizational scheme of Ulysses. It has a very nice library where you create either folders or smart folders called Groups and Filters. You can also make any number of sub-folders. This lets you go deep with putting stuff where you want it, but you can also just keep it simple.

You can also add any number of color coded keywords to your sheets. Sheets are like individual documents in Ulysses, but you never have to hit a “save” button. And if you want, you can forget using Groups and instead just use Filters for Keywords to auto-populate with all the right sheets.

Also, in the library list, you can choose to focus on just one Group or writing project at a time. This is great for minimizing distraction. It’s also great for hiding sensitive writing from nearby eyes.2

Writing goals

Ulysses is all about helping you write all the words, getting them from your head to the screen in front of you. So it has a bunch of statistics or metrics like total word count, character count, and more. And it uses those with goal setting. So you can be motivated to type a certain number of words in a certain amount of time if you wish.

In the two weeks that I’ve been trying Ulysses, I set a goal to write at least 100 words per day in my private journal. During that time, I’ve hit my goal every day! The goal feature in Ulysses has really helped me achieve this small but consistent step in writing regularly!

The way it helps is with a nice little visual circle that changes color depending on where you are in your goal. You can tap it to enlarge it and see more detail. It reminds me daily to journal every time I see it. So I’m a fan!

Export Magic

The export feature is the magical part of Ulysses. It’s where you can see Markdown go to work for you. And it’s super handy! I’ve published 8 posts in the last two weeks straight from Ulysses to WordPress without a hitch! I’m still kind of shocked that it works so well.

So I wrote several posts in Markdown. Then I exported to WordPress, and the formatting, line breaks, dividers, headings…everything styled perfectly every time. It even got the images in-line correctly, grabbed the excerpt text and the featured image exactly how I expected. Not only that, it let me pick my blog Categories and Tags in the Ulysses app, which got added when I uploaded.

I’ve got to also mention Footnotes!3 They, too, are super simple to quickly and easily “type” in with your text and then upload upon export to WordPress – zero glitches. No fiddling to adjust later!

There’s only one part missing from WordPress export for me. I must use the WordPress app to add any hashtags or custom text to the “Share to Twitter” part. But that’s easy enough to do.

Ulysses also lets me export to PDF with ease, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but found it too difficult due to the whole copy/paste text formatting problem. Markdown plus Ulysses’ magical export feature makes the work elementary.

Writing wherever

I’ve been able to use all of Ulysses’ power exclusively on my iPad Air 2 and iPhone 7! It Syncs across them without any errors! The app relies on iCloud, which has gotten so much better over time4. So whenever I happen to thumb-type texts on my iPhone or tap-out words on my iPad Bluetooth keyboard, all my writing is in unison.

The writing’s in the details

Ulysses can do a lot more than what I’ve highlighted here5. For all its features and functions, the developer has somehow managed to make it seem so simple and clean in the interface, both in how it looks and also how it works. And that’s great design!

Because of the attention to detail and the care the developer has for the process of writing, I love Ulysses!


Finally, let’s talk about the behemoth in the writing nook: subscribing. Some apps, you can just pay a one-time fee for them and be done. I like that. Other apps, like Ulysses, require a subscription where you pay a small nominal fee each month or each year6. There are pros and cons for this from both a user perspective and from the developer’s view.

I like Ulysses and am using it enough that I’m willing to subscribe to it. In fact, I did so today!

Moreover, I’m considering posting some of my writing to Medium in addition to WordPress. This prospect is all the more easy because I can write in Markdown, like I’m doing now, and export to both Medium and WordPress without any fuss!

I think Ulysses is a wonderful tool for writing. I love its focus, utility, and design. It’s robust and reliable. So I want to support the app and the developer, and I hope Ulysses continues to be the great tool it is long into the future.

I have many more words to write; Ulysses is the right tool.


What tool do you use for blogging or writing? Will you consider Ulysses? Comment below or message me. Thanks for reading!

  1. I’ve even found getting text from the Apple Notes app into WordPress problematic. And I never really understood why until I learned a little about what Markdown is.
  2. You can also lock Ulysses with its own passcode and use TouchID to keep your private journal private.
  3. For example, here’s one!
  4. For me, I use iCloud for everything. And it works great. Although I’ve had a recent problem with Apple Music not updating properly on my iPad despite working on my iPhone. But I don’t know if that’s an iCloud error or something else.
  5. The Search feature itself is very robust! Whether searching for text within a Sheet or across all your Sheets.
  6. The annual pricing saves you a good chunk of money!

Finding Feedly All Over Again

You know what it’s like to discover something new. But sometimes, it’s more interesting to rediscover something old so that it’s new again – like nostalgia being fulfilled, or an old friend who returns to take a new adventure with you.


Well, call me a nerd or a geek, whatever. This week I rediscovered an RSS reader. Feedly!

After Google Reader was shut down years ago, I looked for a replacement. That’s where Feedly came in, for a while. But at some point along the way of dabbling in different software, I kinda switched over to Pocket and other read-it-later services. Feedly fell by the wayside.

But this week, through my online reading, I was reminded of Feedly by way of a contrast. You see, there’s this little thing called Twitter.

Sometimes, Twitter has been like an RSS reader to me. You follow news sites, which cross-post links to their Twitter feed. And then, generally, you see that link to the new article.

But the big difference between Twitter and something like Feedly is that the former feed is algorithm based. So you don’t necessarily see every article from your fave news site. And you don’t see them in chronological order. It’s hit-or-miss.

The latter, though, shows you every article from every site that you want and in an order that follows the calendar!1 And it’s tailor made for easy viewing. You can scroll through all the sites you follow in a mixed feed, or you can “knock-out” everything per site in smaller and more manageable chunks. Best of all, you don’t miss anything!

There might be one drawback to using an RSS reader though. It is an aggregator. So you go to the reader to catch up on all the latest articles from your favorite online info-depots2 instead of going to the websites themselves. I don’t think that’s good for the site.


So I’m enjoying Feedly again. After installing it on my iPad, I decided I liked the web interface better. But the app is more useful on my iPhone.

When I logged in and saw some of my old sites still there, I wondered why I hadn’t been using Feedly all this time! Rediscovering it has been a nice bit of old being new again.


How do you keep up with your favorite websites? Social-media, feed reader, or visit each site? Comment below or message me. Thanks for reading!

  1. One of the biggest and simplest requests I hear people have about social feeds is to put them in chrono order. Why do you think social sites refuse to do that?
  2. The internet itself is a big Info-Depot.

Are App Subscriptions Suboptimal?

Like death by a thousand cuts, nobody likes to feel nickeled and dimed1 by numerous subscription payments seeping from their bank account every single month. I wrote against subs recently. Today, I’m writing for subs.


The Customer View

Back In The Day

What I have in mind are subscriptions to apps. As an end-user who started with computers in the last millennium, all I used to know was purchasing programs in a box from a physical store. How quaint.

You paid one fee, one time, up front. Done.2

Also note, the typical price of a program often felt like you needed a gold nugget to afford it. Photoshop was like $600! And it didn’t even come with a computer – that was “sold separately.”

Nowadays

Then the iPhone happened. And the App Store3. It’s basically your computer now, and you buy software from the store that’s on it. Think, “Different.”

Besides not getting a box with a disk in it, now apps don’t cost hundreds of dollars. Most are measured in cents!4 Did the iPhone make software creation so simple that it can be done dirt cheap? One might think that. I wouldn’t know; I aint no developer.


The Developer View

Thinking About Subs

Recently, my thinking and feelings started to change about subscription pricing.

I’m trying an app for writing called Ulysses5. It’s popular in the Apple community, and it used to be one you could just pay for one time, up front, and be done. But it changed to a subscription model, which is suboptimal to some.

The Ulysses team spent a long time carefully contemplating the switch. They explained in an eye-opening article what led to their decision to go full-sub.

The reasons were compelling to me. I now understand why an app might require a subscription fee. Basically, with the way things work in the app store and with the true cost of creating good apps, a sub model makes sense.

My thinking about subs is now more aligned with a developer’s perspective.

It’s kinda like subsidizing the pre-development cost plus the continued development costs into small payments over time. Making an app isn’t cheap. And making an app better also takes considerable resources – people’s time and talent.

I understand how John Voorhees on MacStories put it:

Pay-once pricing is not sufficient to sustain ongoing development of professional productivity apps like Ulysses. While Ulysses has enjoyed success, funding the kind of development that pro users expect through growing the app’s user base is not sustainable in the long-term.

Long-time Apple blogger John Gruber summed it up well:

I think subscription pricing is an excellent option for truly professional apps like Ulysses, particularly ones that are cross platform (Mac and iOS).

For more developer perspective, I also found on MacStories an interview with an Adobe Designer, Khoi Vinh. He had a good explanation of the subscription model:

The apps are cross-platform, they’re internationalized, they go through a heavy QA. We spend a lot of time thinking about how apps work for enterprise and for individuals. So, it’s a huge investment.

Now, in the pre-subscription world, when we were selling perpetual licenses, we had to basically charge for the complete value of all that. With the subscription model, you can pay for a month, or you can pay for 24 months, you can sign on and sign off.

…the value equation is very different from perpetual licensing, but we believe it’s more accessible for more people in general and makes sense for more businesses.

Feeling About Subs

Even though I have a new and, I think, better understanding about subscription payments, that doesn’t necessarily mean I feel good about them. Instead, I still sorta feel I’m giving in to being nickeled and dime, like my expensive coffee keeps getting pilfered from my hand. These sneaky micro-payments add up!

To assuage those feelings, I have some things that help.

When there is an option to pay annually instead of monthly, I recommend and prefer that. The reasons are simple. Getting hit with a payment only once a year feels more like a one-time payment, not a repeated dinging on your checking account. And most of the time, the annual payment has the added incentive of being a lower cost overall. So you pay less, and you pay less oftenwin-win!6

The other thing that helps is simply being mindful of the fact that an app typically deserves more credit than you might think. As mentioned, it takes a lot of people’s time and talent to create a good app. For me, I recall the price of programs in the past: $600 for Photoshop. $300 for Adobe Lightroom. $250 for Office. And then there is AutoCAD for thousands!!7


If you have struggled to understand or appreciate the subscription model for software, I urge you to read the explanation about why Ulysses adopted it.

On a tangent, I still feel less inclined to subscribe to digital entertainment as opposed to software. While it does take time and talent to make good movies, TV shows, and video games, there is simply an over-abundance of “free” entertainment “out-there.”8


Have you thought about subscriptions for software? What do you like/dislike? Has your mind changed? Comment below or write to me. Thanks for reading!

  1. Sorry for being a bit dramatic there. Making a point in a hook.
  2. It was called “perpetual licensing” as opposed to the perpetual payments of the subscription model.
  3. Aren’t you glad they did not call it The Program Store?
  4. Usually just 99 of them.
  5. Half-way through the free trial, I am really liking the app. This post was written and published from it. As of now, I plan to subscribe to it. Check it out!
  6. Dub it “PLO-PLO.” Pay less overall. Pay less often.
  7. By day, I’m a professional AutoCAD user. If I want just the “Lite” version at home, it used to always cost over $1,000! Or I can now subscribe for a more reasonable monthly fee of $50/mo. And since it’s always being updated annually, it kinda feels sensible to pay monthly in perpetuity.
  8. Online entertainment is either ad-based in revenue or has other ways to cover costs. For example, YouTube has ad-supported videos. Amazon Prime video is covered in a unique way. From my simple view, I pay for 2-day shipping and get free Prime video.