Switching to Something New.

By Anthony Kentuck – 31st October, 2015

There’s one final thing that I’m committing to change on the eve of NaNoWriMo: I’m writing my novel in Ulysses. Scrivener, the program that I’ve been writing with since I knew it existed, is being shelved for this project. And if Ulysses works out well for the novel, it might end up taking Scrivener’s place permanently. If none of those words above mean anything to you, the rest of this article isn’t going to get any better. You might want to skip it.

First of all let me say, I love Scrivener.

I really do. It’s amazing. I would say that anyone who writes anything longer than a blog post should definitely check it out (though it can be great for blogging, too). In fact, they have a special NaNoWriMo trial for people that want to use it in November – it’s free to use up until November 7th. If you write, I strongly recommend you to check it out. There is no way I could have produced the work that I did without it. I shudder to think what it must be like for people who are still stuck writing in something like Google Docs or Pages. Even more for people still stuck on Microsoft Word. These programs have their place, but writing long form fiction is not it.

With that said, I’m leaving Scrivener for a month. It’s not Scrivener, it’s me. It’s all me. The things that are pulling me away are going to seem petty and superficial. But that’s okay. Maybe I need some time away to appreciate what I have.

Scrivener is huge. I think of it as the Photoshop of writing apps. I know people that use Photoshop on a daily basis that tend to say “there’s so many features, but I only use what I need to use and ignore the rest.” That’s like me using Scrivener.

I find I’m spending huge chunks of my writing time exploring tips and tricks on using Scrivener, and then more time actually making changes within the program. I can colour-code my index cards? I can choose the opacity of the status stamp? I can set individual scene targets (that strangely do not influence or interact with the overall manuscript target)? Well I better get that all set up before I do any more writing!

It’s always frustrated me that a lot of Scrivener’s features don’t reveal themselves intuitively. It’s definitely something that you have to invest time in learning how to use fully. There’s a For Dummies book on it. There are people that have built businesses teaching people how to use it. And that’s great. But you know what? I just want to get my words out on the page and be able to look at my scene structures. I want to be able to jump from scene to scene. And I want to like what I’m looking at, because I’m going to be spending a long time looking at it.

Anyone who does use Scrivener is probably expecting another reason. Let me tell you know that I’m one of the few Scrivener users who doesn’t give a crap about the iOS app. I did, for a long time. Then I bought a MacBook Pro, and I haven’t touched my iPad since. So this isn’t going to be another I’ve waited too long for the iOS app posts. I don’t want it or need it.

Plain Text and Design.

There’s a big buzz about writing in plain text, and that always seemed odd to me. Why do people get so excited over the idea of plain text, when you can just use something else to make your writing look better?

I learned that with plain text you just focus on getting the words down. There’s no choices to make about font or layout. Also, your words aren’t locked into any proprietary format – anything can read plain text.

The problem with a simple plain text editor like notepad is that once your text gets to a certain length, it becomes unwieldy. Trying to jump from chapter to chapter or scene to scene in a simple text editor is a complete nightmare.

The way something looks also matters. I’ve jumped on the minimalism bandwagon. In fact, it’s been affecting a lot of what I do. I’ve been trying to declutter my life, simplify my writing process, and only focus on what matters. Yes, like so many others I’ve been inspired by the Minimalists and Zen Habits blogs. Check them out. They might change your life.

How you feel does matter.

Scrivener is an incredibly functional piece of software that makes it super easy to plan out and do your writing. I love the new look it has with El Capitan. But I find myself wanting something different. And I don’t know if it’s just me getting bored, or if I need to spend some time apart so I can appreciate everything it can do.

Ulysses makes all the claims of being a minimal editor that gets out of the way and lets you focus on the writing. It claims to be simple to use and yet functional. And there’s plenty of people using it to write novels. Also, they too are offering a free NaNo trial that works up until the 7th December. So I thought, why not?

The Perfect Training Ground.

November is going to be a high stress time for me. I’ve committed to getting at least 50,000 readable (non first-draft) words out for everyone to read. I don’t want distractions and I want to love the screen I’ll be staring at for hours. If Ulysses is as simple and and powerful as it claims, then it should be no trouble at all figuring it out and getting the work done. I’ll know straight away if it works for me or not.

And I know – I could easily just ignore all the options in Scrivener and just use it as is. Like I said, it’s all me. Petty and superficial reasons. But you know what else? I’ve had the Ulysses trial now for a week, and I think I’ve written more blog articles in that week than I have for the whole year and half I’ve had this blog up and running. I’m really enjoying using it. Is it just the novelty of a new program? I don’t know, but I sure will soon!

Besides, Ulysses doesn’t export to the kindle .mobi format, so I’m going to have to return to Scrivener for that, at least.