Increased productivity, and perhaps quality, too
I have recently started taking another look at the Ulysses writing app and I’m very impressed: it seems to make me more productive and the increased focus seems to increase the quality of my thinking and my writing.
It feels like these improvements are fairly significant, but I’ll withhold definitive judgment until I have a little more experience. I haven’t tried created many or very large documents yet, but the ones I created in Ulysses weren’t completely trivial either.
As an independent consultant, I often create the initial versions of (Word) documents for my clients. We usually collaborate on finalising these documents, e.g. for submission to end clients. At some point, my clients take ownership of these documents for future use and evolution.
Ulysses has been great for drafting such documents and it’s fairly easy to make exported documents visually match a client’s document templates. Ulysses has a style sheet approach to exporting documents, has a large library of export styles (and editor themes) and provides excellent documentation on customising styles.
But given the usage scenario I described, exporting a document that visually matches a client’s template isn’t sufficient. Future work on the document must be efficient and natural to client staff, i.e. things need to work just like in any other of their documents. To properly support my clients’ tooling, the document I hand over needs to use the client’s template just as if I had created the document in Word.
I have modified one of the built-in styles (Swiss Knife) and removed almost all visual styling — in particular, most font styling and paragraph spacing. I have kept some document-level basics and adjusted the indentation of lists. Where needed, I have specified the Word style names for specific Ulysses styles (e.g. “List Paragraph”).
In this way, Ulysses exports a Word document that applies the appropriate Word style to paragraphs and inline text without additional styling information: I get “Heading 1” and not something like “Heading 1 + Before: 10pt”, which is significant with regard to further editing in Word. (Note that Ulysses’ layout capabilities and flexibility are a great asset for its core usage scenario.)
The resulting document is well-formatted from a structural point of view. Visually, it looks like a document produced on a typewriter — without the flair of created by the mechanical device.
I then apply the client’s Word template to the document which results in a document with the appropriate structural and visual layout.
If the client doesn’t have a proper Word template it’s easy to create one from a sample document (via Save as Template).
This isn’t the core use case that Ulysses was built to serve: Ulysses is great at exporting well laid out documents that you don’t have to touch after export. This approach works great for documents that you don’t modify outside Ulysses, and I’m using it for this scenario.
But Indie life can be more complicated than that and so is the usage scenario I described above. It took me a little while to figure out this approach, but now it seems to work well for me. It seems both effective and efficient.
Ulysses’ documentation and its style library have been very helpful here. And so has been Ulysses’ customer support team who have been very responsive and have even provided me with a simplified export style — a big ‘Thank you’ and a shout-out to Franz!
I look forward to using Ulysses more and seeing what it does to my practice as I get more familiar with its finer details. And just so you know, I’m not getting paid to write this post and I don’t get any other commercial benefits from doing so.