Please help me resolve the choice between Scrivener and Ulysses

I’m struggling trying to decide between using Scrivener or Ulysses for all of my writing—short and long form. Any advice from those who are familiar with both apps will be appreciated. I need to settle once and for all on one of them. I use a MBP and iPad extensively in my writing. My writing consist of:

  • Presentation/lecture/keynote documents and notes
  • Organization communications
  • Blog articles
  • Position papers with citations
  • A large book project

I like Scrivener for several reasons. Here are a few, in no particular order.

  • No subscription
  • Superior organizational features
  • I don’t have to use markdown
  • Robust compile features
  • The ability to add synopsis
  • Research articles within the project
  • Superior outlining

What I don’t like about Scrivener

  • Dependence on Dropbox and the scary prospect of losing work if I forget to sync and close the app on a device before switching to another device.
  • Concern about running out of free Dropbox space (though I can offload projects when completed)
  • Linking documents on the iPad is doable but clunky
  • Compiling is complex, I need to spend more time figuring this out if I default to Scrivener
  • The MBP and iOS versions have less feature parity than does Ulysses
  • Requires more use of the mouse on the iPad (on the MBP, I have keyboard shortcuts)

What I like about Ulysses

  • Frictionless syncing via iCloud
  • Near perfect feature parity between MBP and iOS devices
  • I can search all of my writing projects simultaneously because everything is in a single database
  • More limited but much simplier compiling

What I don’t like about Ulysses

  • Subscription
  • Markdown. I’m proficient with markdown but overall prefer not to use it.
  • Material (research) sheets are far more limited than the research folder in Scrivener

I have other pros and cons for both apps, that the above is a good start.

This is a genuine quandary for me. Any advice will be deeply appreciated. Thank you in advance!

You mean like… throwing away that device and getting a new one? If not, your data is still there. It’s just the inconvenience of having to sync it later and maybe resolve conflicts / merge changes. It’s actually really hard to lose data using Scrivener.

Based on your pros and cons and if nothing of that is a dealbreaker… go with what feels better. Toss a coin. I don’t think it’s even possible to settle this “once and for all”. If nothing else, your requirements may be vastly different some years down the road.

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I have been dwelling between Scrivener and Ulysses. It is almost impossible to have one overall winner. They have overall different philosophies:

  • Scrivener is a toolbox where it is enough to look around to find ways to add or modify your working environment and multilayer your piece of writing.
  • Ulysses is based on a deep sense of clutter-free design. Its well-calibrated presence of text and commands on the screen work beautifully to give a sense that nothing apart from your writing matters. Everything else serves that very purpose.

Compiling in both platforms is very different. Scrivener proposes a multilayered and articulated approach to customize exactly what you need to make your compiled work look as you intend. As a con, it requires time and dedication. However, once you learn what to tinker with, you will be much quicker in creating different templates or modifying existing ones.

Ulysses offers a website that elegantly presents a sea of alternative themes and compiling solutions. It is almost impossible not to find what you need.

Compiling is not an issue or limited by any means by both products.

I personally use Scrivener because it really bothers me having to commit to a subscription model. I cannot hide the fact that if Ulysses was as expensive as Scrivener (which is not the cheapest piece of software around, yet fully justified by its support and quality) I would have a much bigger dilemma in my mind.

Also, Scrivener BLOGS, as unrelated as they are, give me a reason to come back to the L&L website and almost feel engrossed in their commitment.

The Ulysses team have fully abandoned their BLOG, now calling it STORIES which is not updated in a year. Paying monthly, having what I considered a service did not sit well with me.

If you do not mind having an active direct debit for a product you might or might not use with constance, Ulysses can work for you and leave you very happy. It is a premium product, and it feels like one.
Scrivener feels like Final Draft; a very powerful tool that will offer all the tool a piece of software can offer you. Its FOCUS mode feels soothing, but objectively does not flow as seemlessly as in Ulysses.

I personally never understood how a product can be financially confused as a service. I am happy to pay a full price for each platform’s application and a smaller price for updates. This would be my very ideal.

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True, the move to subscription made this decision very easy for me. There’s no way I’m going to rent a fancy text editor (and I do like Markdown). Ever.

Thinking about it, what I can definitely advertise as a killer “feature” pro Scrivener: The community over here. I don’t think Ulysses has something comparable, or if it has, I’ve never found it.

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Given what you say here, and your expression of similar app switching/picking quandaries about this app and others over the years at MPUG forum, I recommend you use both and then get writing. Whatever fancies you at that moment for the writing project.

Reinforcing what @November_Sierra commented re:

This is a low risk (yes, high impact, but extremely low probability … a Black Swan event). So many other things like hardware crash, lost machine, etc. are a higher risk for losing data, as @November_Sierra says. In Scrivener, simply synch while writing when you pause to think–both macOS and iOS version have a command to do so, or close the project and Scrivener will sync automatically. Or close the application, and Scrivener will sync automatically. And yes, wait for Dropbox to complete the sync up to their server.

And if you setup and use Scrivener’s automatic save feature which saves the current version on (default) every 2 seconds of inactivity. Also setup Scrivener’s automatic backup on open and/or close. Further, hopefully you have routine backups of both your iOS and macOS devices to get further backups of stuff on those devices.

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This is not accurate. The auto-save when idle feature saves the current project, but does not create a backup copy.

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Corrected? My error. Now ok? Need morecoffee.

I’d rather not conflate “saving” and “backup.” They are two different operations.

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Yea, I completely know and completely messed up my explanation. I fixed the post above, and is correct now AFAIK.

Yes, thanks.

(With bonus extra characters.)

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Ulysses uses markdown. I don’t want that. And Ulysses is subscription-based, which I want even less.

Yes, but does anyone know how well it really works when this database gets bigger and bigger? And what should you do if it no longer works “normally”? Delete or export documents?

I use Scrivener rather untypically and can assure you that Scrivener also handles large projects better than you might think. :slightly_smiling_face:

I recently did an experiment with an absurdly large project that I crashed at least ten times. Scrivener rebuilt everything correctly after each restart. Absolutely nothing was lost. That’s pretty impressive.

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Apart from the fact Scrivener works best for me AT PRESENT (Mustn’t talk about what mustn’t be talked about), I refuse to pay subscriptions.

I should add, regardless of what may or may not happen in the future, Scrivener will alway be a substantial part of my workflow.

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Subscriptions are costing me a lot each year so I’ve cancelled Ulysses to start moving away from subs.

Ulysses subscription - £40 a year to use a fancy text editor.
For complex projects, Scrivener integration with Aeon Timeline is first class

When it’s released, I’ll be buying the new L&L app. :wink:

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As ever, horses for courses. I would never use Ulysses for a complex non-fiction project where Scrivener has ruled the roost for a decade or more, but for more or less extempore essays I much prefer Ulysses as it is simply a nicer writing environment, on the Mac and especially on the iPad where Scrivener’s fixed-width editor creates in me a profound creativity-sapping irritation.

And sometimes they combine: it’s not uncommon for an extempore piece I’ve written in Ulysses later to find a home in a larger Scrivener project.

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It’s a quandary for me too, as I really like Ulysses. So, as messing around with software is the nearest thing I have to a hobby (and is cheaper than my old hobby of playing golf…) I often keep both.

Or rather, now and then I see that Ulysses has added new features, and I resubscribe and ‘commit’[*] to using it for a while. The current subscription was based on the idea that I’d use Ulysses to keep my daily journal. And it was really good at it: a pleasure to write in, and easy to compile.

So why, a couple of months later, am I back writing the journal in Scrivener? Because there are a few features, minor in themselves, which are lacking in Ulysses. None of them would be enough to switch on their own, but collectively they add just enough sand into the sandwich…

For example, you can’t search and replace across projects or folders (or at least, I can’t find a way of doing it); you can’t include keywords in PDFs or MultiMarkdown; the list and bullet handling is quirky; you have to escape square brackets or they’re interpreted as links; you have to mess around with heading levels in the compilation formats if you want anything out of the ordinary (e.g. front matter and scene separators) and so on.

These are all minor inconveniences – and they won’t bother many other people at all – but after a while I start thinking “This would be a lot easier in Scrivener”, and I change over. Again.

OTOH, it’s nice to have the more seamless Mac - iPad interworking, Ulysses is a very nice, and many successful authors (David Hewson, Matt Gemell) swear by it, so no doubt I’ll be recommitting again at some point ….


[*] My version of ‘commit’ may not be as persistent as some people’s…

I’m going to chip in here as @VinceNardelli said:

I cannot hide the fact that if Ulysses was as expensive as Scrivener (which is not the cheapest piece of software around, yet fully justified by its support and quality)

as to me, that is completely back to front. I’ve been using Scrivener since sometime around 7th January 2007, i.e. 17 years; In that time, after the original purchase, I have paid for two upgrades and the total has come to somewhere near £100… hardly expensive! How many years subscription do you get for Ulysses for £100; or conversely, how much would 17 years of Ulysses subscription cost you?

I tried Ulysses at the same time as I first tried Scrivener. I didn’t get on with it. I know it changed but for me a subscription is a no-no, so I’ve no incentive to try again.

Mark

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I know this is a rhetorical question, but… USD 864.

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I’m going to move this, as it’s more a “software by other people” thread than a support thread.

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Thanks everyone for your kind responses, much appreciated!

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