Ulysses at the heart of my writing workflow

Ulysses at the heart of my writing workflow

Oh No, Not Again?

Can you believe I'm again looking for the perfect combination of writing tools for my needs? I was just getting started with nValt, iA Writer synced through Dropbox and now I'm playing around with Ulysses 3, Simplenote and Marked on top of everything else. Gloops! The objective is to have THE perfect workflow and avoid unnecessary step in the process. What complicates things is the fact that OSX and iOS on the iPad and iPhone are three different things (i.e. components in your workflow). iA Writer is great for that because it's covering all bases. But the file management aspect is another story. nValt on OSX is simply awesome but unavailable for iOS. Simplenote being the goto choice with nValt (and it covers OSX & iOS), things quickly get confusing when there is too many cooks in the kitchen. And for now, adding another ingredient in the recipe (Daedalus) is not necessarily something I want. Though this might change if it simplifies my workflow (without having to drop too many cooks!)

Apps are like humans, they reproduce

Just today, I purchased two pieces of software: The Soulmen Ulysses 3 and Brett Terpstra Marked 2.1. I heard the later supports MarsEdit and since I bought this app last week I thought it would make sense to have them work together. I don't know yet, it's still up in the air until I start using them in real world scenarios. This actual post might be a good start.. But if there is something I can say for now, it's that apps are adding up on my machine at warp speed and I want to make good use of all this. Every purchase is weighted and I always do my homeworks when it's time to pick the best tool for the job. But simplifying a workflow sometimes requires sacrifices. I really like every app I buy, I only hope they are all useful.

Simon Says, I Say, They Say

The more your read on a subject matter on the internet, the more you get confused. Well.. not always. Most of the time you can get a sense of what things really do, and their value. But sometimes it can get confusing and the main two reasons for that are:

  • User's level of expertise.
  • User's specific needs.

How many times did you see bad reviews about something you like? Or great reviews about things you just can't stand or see the purpose? Writing is already a very objective and personal thing. Bring in the equation all of the tools people can/would/wish to use and you end up with a deadly molotov cocktail. The whole point here is that everyone has his preferences, tastes and ways of doing things. No one can argue. No one can judge. No one can criticize. But there are best practices, things to avoid, etc. So in some regards, there are rules to follow. Makes sense.

That brings us back to my point of picking the right tools and making sure the workflow is consistent. Right now I'm questioning the fact that I'm using Dropbox to synchronize the TXT files for all my apps. Not questioning Dropbox itself (it's great!) but the fact that some tools are using iCloud, others benefits from Markdown instead of plain text, etc.. If I switch from Dropbox to iCloud, some tools will not function. If I switch to Markdown, some tools will not function. Just when I thought nValt-iAWriter-Simplenote were the perfect team, I discover the benefits of Ulysses markdown structure and seamless sync of iCloud. Of course Ulysses offers the possibility to use External Sources, but you loose a lot of its power and advantages. After a couple weeks using nValt with plain text, I though I had the best and simplest setup ever. Why do things keep moving all the time?

I sent an email to The Soulmen's team to get their opinion on that. What they suggest is to keep the workflow I'm using now and make use of the External Sources. That's an option. But what about TXT vs MD files? I'm still thinking about it. Nothing's black or white, except maybe some of the photographs I take with my Leica. So there's still room for thinking and planning. I like the portability of TXT files. Any app can import TXT files. But what if I'm loosing elsewhere? What if all the pieces of app I'm using are not used to their full potential? What if I end up using the wrong pieces in the whole process? Who cares, you'll say. Me, I say. The goal for all of this is to write. Just write. And then make it extremely easy to publish online. I could just write in TextEdit, save to Dropbox and copy/paste in WordPress. Seems obvious isn't it? But what if you want to be able to access your files from anywhere, or and make it look nice without having to load Word or Pages, etc. ?

File Format & Accessibility

That's where this whole topic lays: should I TXT or MD? iCloud or Dropbox? When you think about it, these two questions are the most important. Once you pick your format and sync platform, choosing the tools you prefer is just a personal decision. Maybe I'm wrong? Well, I've been thinking about this for a little while now and every app choice is based on format and platform. Any tool that allows you to pick iCloud and Dropbox for syncing, and any choice of file format, is a winner. iCloud is a strange thing for now because you can't SEE it (see as in "folder"). This whole post would not exist if Ulysses 3 natively supported Dropbox or if there was a Ulysses for iOS, and even an nValt for iOS! Woah.. that would be a tsunami in the Markdown app business.

OK, But What Do We Do Now, Captain?

And that leaves us with some food for thoughts. Apps come and go. Processes keep changing as do our needs and preferences. But some apps are game changing, and you just love using them. Ulysses 3 is one of them. nValt is one of them. Simplenote is one of them. And if you have a blog, then Mars Edit is one of them. And so is iA Writer or any TXT/MD editor you might have purchased. And that's where things get complicated: which one are you leaving behind? Unless you want to use whatever you feel like on a specific day. But then again comes the reality of "Accessibility". Apps are NOT created equal, and I'm pretty sure it's meant to be like that. So you're better to grab the bull by the horns and find out what your needs really are, for now.

The End. The Beginning.

It's a never ending story, so why not pick the tools you prefer and move on from there. For me it's going to be Ulysses 3 & nValt (it's so fast & simple) on OSX, Simplenote & iA Writer on iOS. Regarding the file format, I haven't decided yet. But I know I have to make a final choice if I want to move on.

What about you? Did you go through this thinking process already? Sharing is certainly a good idea and I'm very interested to know what your thoughts are on that topic. Feel free to comment or drop me a note in an email.

Good Light!


© Normand Primeau