For many novelists, screenplay writers, journalists, bloggers, copywriters and academics, Ulysses is the writing app of choice. We asked some of them to share their stories. In this post, Micah Moss, a Los Angeles-based screenplay writer and novelist, talks about writing and working with Ulysses.
Please tell us something about you: Who are you and what are you working on? Which role does writing play in your professional life?
If I had to distill my writing voice into a logline, it would be “Young Adult fantasy writer who loves heartfelt, cinematic storytelling with a quirky, subversive bent.” I’m a bit of a rare bird in that I write screenplays first and then adapt them into novels (or as we say in the biz – “reverse-script adaptations”). I also illustrate my novels (currently watercolor paint is my jam). I’ve been writing in the screenplay format since 2007, of which I’ve penned several short films (some of which I’ve directed, one of which won an award), feature and TV specs, and had the privilege to be repped by some venerable agencies.
What are you writing and how much?
I’m currently in the re-writing phase of my white whale: a YA fantasy screenplay and book trilogy called Lark Shaw and the Doomsday Sketch, Lark Shaw and the Blood Pigment, and Lark Shaw and the Burning Canvas. As for how much? Well, my agent and I will be willing to negotiate this figure (ahem). Even though I know we’re probably not “supposed” to write in this manner – I actually wrote the trilogy back-to-back-to-back (similar to how they’re doing the Avatar sequels, I think), and now I’m editing them in the same fashion. I may not do it precisely this way again, but I intended this to be a trilogy from the beginning, so doing each draft and then moving to the next script feels (to me) like there’s a nice organic cohesion and consistency there. As for that white whale – to coin the great Keenan Ivory Wayans, “I’m gonna git you, sucka!”
Could you describe what you use Ulysses for?
I prefer to do (at least) the first drafts of my work on an iPad and an Apple Keyboard for various reasons (simplicity, focus, nerd-cred) and I use the illustrious Daedalus Touch for all of that noise. Daedalus Touch is amazing, but someday I hope to swap it out for Ulysses Touch. (Did I mention I’m eagerly crossing-off the days on my calendar until it’s released? Did I also mention that the calendar is my arm, and the pen is a tattoo needle?)
Anyway, I use Ulysses daily for everything else: revision drafts, find & replace, rearranging content, and exporting Fountain / screenplay text to the wondrous Highland app, which then painlessly converts my chicken scratches into a fancy, beautifully-formatted screenplay.
Why did you choose Ulysses? What are the benefits of Ulysses for your kind of writing? Why would you suggest it for this purpose or to someone in your profession?
I first heard about Ulysses (III) on a Glassboard forum for Fountain users (Fountain being the mind-blowing, plain-text markup language for screenplays). When I finally came around to the power and flexibility of the Fountain process, I had had it “up to here” (holds hand way above head) with other bulky, frumpy writing applications that made me more frustrated than prolific. So I checked out Ulysses – devoured all the knowledge I could about this elegant program, chugged the Markdown Kool-aid, bought Ulysses the first week it came out – and I haven’t looked back since.
Shortly after kicking Ulysses’ tires, I stumbled upon a couple key bonuses I hadn’t anticipated. At the time (for some reason, don’t judge me) I was stuck on the metaphor of “index cards”, and I had come to believe any writing program worth its salt would most certainly have this feature. (Boy am I happy I outgrew that phase.) After smacking myself around, I realized that the “sheets” metaphor of Ulysses is just as flexible as thinking of scenes as “index cards”, and because I can glue / unglue scenes at will, it’s actually a superior way to test new sequences out. Now, I drag digital sheets around to my heart’s content without being a slave to an old solution created for an analog world.
Another sanity-saving benefit I discovered may be of particular interest to anyone writing screenplays or prose: how easy it is to export scenes, sequences, and acts. Okay, listen up peeps – regardless if you scoff at the notion of a three-act structure – even cavemen agreed that every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. But how do you know how your pacing is doing? What if your beginning page count has inflated out of control, how can you easily tell this? By selecting multiple sheets in Ulysses, you can export them as a group and do all sorts of cool calculations to help you stay on track. Sure, other apps have similar “binder” functions, but with Ulysses – it’s just … so … easy.
What do you like best about Ulysses? Do you have a favorite feature?
Ah snap … This is a tough question because there are thousands of tiny, smart decisions that went into making this software, and it’s hard to pick out just one … (But for the love of science, I’ll do it!) Here’s what it all boils down to for me:
In the world of software development, it’s incredibly rare that a bundle of 0’s and 1’s can be so well-shaped, furnace-tested, and glaze-polished into a user experience … that it moves you. Ulysses moves me because it’s software – as art.
Instead of using a garish program with every feature under-the-sun, trying to please everyone, jam-packed with more onscreen-litter than the 405 at rush hour – call me crazy, but I’d rather use an elegant, refined piece of art … to create art. I find the clean organization of Ulysses gets out of my way, and when I’m writing – it’s as smooth as silk. In a subtle way, I feel inspired by Ulysses and consequentially, I end up spending more time with my butt in the chair, actually writing because I’m enjoying myself. Imagine that.
Do you have a webpage we can link to?
It’s about yours truly, and all the artistic misadventures I bumble in and out of.