Writing and blogging tools have come a long way since I first started using iA Writer, one of the simplest writing tools I could find to publish on WordPress or Medium. Today, there seem to be three writing apps of varying degrees of complexity from left to right that has risen to the top — iA Writer, Ulysses, and Scrivener.
After some debate, and a few years of using iA Writer, I switched to Ulysses recently since it feels like a grown-up version of iA Writer. It takes the craft of writing seriously, provides an accountability better than any other writing platform and seems to make the inscrutable keyboard-friendly plain text formatting syntax — Markdown just as simple as needed. So, without further ado, here are the five reasons I decided to “upgrade” to Ulysses from iA Writer.
Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.
Franz Kafka, born on July 3rd and my greatest inspiration to overcoming writer’s block
Five Reasons to Switch to Ulysses!
- Better Organization: There’s a story to be told about story-writing platforms like iA Writer and Scrivener but Ulysses organizes itself best from the eyes of a writer
- The Writer’s Journey: The way the app is organized — from personal notes to blogging to writing a book; all the while allowing for random thoughts to permeate an “Inbox” is a terrific way to organize the writing process, regardless of your stage of writing interest.
- Markdown Onboarding: The challenge at times (for me) with iA Writer was that the organization was rather nebulous around Markdown; 1 that seemingly is a feature, not a bug. Ulysses on the other hand does a pretty good job of educating you on Markdown and distills it down to core features that every writer needs – whether it is adding images, videos, or footnotes (all three of which I had desperately sought to add on iA Writer but constantly lost and finding myself scouring the web for Markdown syntax). Not only does Ulysses guide you while you type in markdown commands but it eases the confusion should you forget the syntax; like when you try to add a URL with the basic syntax, it automatically pops up the URL title bar and you take it from there vs. not knowing if what you did was right.
I get a distinct feeling, there’s a lot more onboarding magic waiting to happen within Ulysses as I continue to use it, and with the determination to get back into the daily writing game, it was crucial that I had a product that allowed me to see progress being made and that held me accountable.
- Progress Bar: I love the goal-setting feature which pops up when you hit attachments in the main-screen that allows you to not only tag (which makes for the easiest organization; something that iA Writer was strangely lacking) but also lets you add images (yet another feature that I found missing in iA Writer because previews were almost impossible to do); but most importantly, it allows for goal setting (both in number of characters, but more importantly with a due date for your writing). Believe it or not, the past week has seen me draft over three posts, and being intentional about setting a date/time to start blogging and completing the process truly helps beat back writer’s block.
- Backup & Version Control: Oddly enough, losing a well-written draft on iA Writer was the trigger that led to my switching apps and one that early users of Microsoft Word might recall. I still can’t find that iA doc which was lost while transferring it across folders on iCloud. And just the fact that Ulysses backs up all its documents with version control was enough for me to switch. Just syncing across devices within iOS isn’t enough (maybe if you’re a real amateur) but it’s the ability to hold the documents in place, for perpetuity that gives a writing app the distinction it deserves.
It’s like one of my favorite moments from Seinfeld, where Jerry and Elaine mock the reservationist for taking their reservations but not holding it.
See, you know how to take the reservation; you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation – the holding!
Anybody can just take em.
- Multimedia: Speaking of embedding YouTube videos, the only reason I briefly switched to Medium (more on this later) was their exceptional web editor that allows you to preview any multimedia link (from images to YouTube videos to tweets) right there on the page as will be seen on your published page. That’s a terrific feature and one that iA Writer could care less about (remember, they are the markdown writer — plain text writer) but frankly, most of my posts are social in that they connect to a bunch of images, videos, and tweets as jumping off points for conversations. Ulysses is helpful in embedding / previewing pics, embedding videos (not previewing) and are yet to allow for either on tweets. Regardless, this is a considerable upgrade from the iA Writer interface whose primary goal was not moving from your keyboard but made previewing quite the pain.
- Quality Pays: Finally, the pricing. The fact is there’s a reason one pays for a Mac vs. a lesser priced PC and that argument has been made before. While iA Writer charges $29.99 for the Mac version, and $4.99 for the iOS Version and I haven’t paid a penny more since I purchased it years ago.
Ulysses goes a different model — subscriptions! And while I’m not a fan (I frankly don’t have a clue how many apps I have subscribed for that I don’t use!) this is an app I plan to use on a regular basis. And on a feature-by-feature comparison, it wins. Frankly, it wins on their document organization, keywords, and backups, because — words matter. When you pay for quality, it shows. And $39.99 a year, ain’t too bad a price to pay for that.
What’d make it even better
Medium’s web-based editor is most definitely the best WYSIWYG editor on a blogging platform out there. It’s miles ahead of WordPress and that’s their secret sauce. I just wish something as simple as Ulysses or iA Writer will allow Twitter, YouTube and Image embeds (Ulysses allows image and video embeds — but (vid) embeds doesn’t translate to WordPress and it’s not as good as it can get, auto-play can be)
Regardless, I have to stress that writing on iA Writer is a terrific way to get into the habit of writing or getting back in the game. And you can always upgrade to Ulysses later. Love both these writing apps!
Tweet-Roll: Further Reading // Writers to Follow
Thanks to the following writers for their work that I reference and include above. But more importantly, this is a mini-version of blog-roll that used to be a great way to find a community of similar writers. When I started my blogging experience, I found a community of early bloggers who were included in my first blog-roll including @jowyang, @annhandley, @chrisbrogan, and of course, the incomparable @guykawasaki. Further reading and cast for this post, below:
- The Sweet Setup // @thesweetsetup & @shawnblanc , recommending Ulysses as the Best Writing App
- The Writing Cooperative // @writingcoop, with their detailed review of Scrivener, the writing apps for novelists, authors, etc.
- YouTube video from 9To5Mac // @9to5mac, on the top 5 iOS non-subscription tools (so minus Ulysses, pick iA Writer)
- Marius Masalar // @MostlyMarius, with the most comprehensive review of iA Writer vs. Ulysses also picks Ulysses
- iA Writer // @iA and @iAwriter
- Founder: Oliver Reichenstein // @reichenstein
- Ulysses // @UlyssesApp
- Founders: Marcus Fehn and Max Seelemann // @thesoulmen
- Scrivener //@ScrivenerApp
- Founders: Keith Blount
- Bear // @BearNotesApp, Byword // @bywordapp, and Grammarly // @grammarly, are a few other apps and that one grammar tools that you, as a writer, might find useful! Feel free to comment @mariosundar.
About Me: Thanks for reading. I’m Mario Sundar, Twitter’s 1st Evangelism lead in 2016, also LinkedIn’s 2nd PR guy between 2007 and 2012. I’ve been blogging for over 10 years and these are my thoughts on technology and communications.
If you like my writing, please subscribe, comment or respond here below. Or you can find me @mariosundar on Twitter.
- iA Writer aggressively markets itself as a Writer for Markdown and purposefully stays on point, making simple additions like images and videos painful. ↩
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