Ulysses reborn

I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree, bodsham. Correct me if I’m wrong, but while I’m sure the Ulysses people say you can control the look and feel of your marked up text, and that they now provide shortcuts for applying markup styles to selected text, surely the markup still needs to be there – it’s the underpinning ethic of the entire application, isn’t it? Ulysses is semantic. It requires those annoying symbols to be there, otherwise it’d be a rich text application like Scrivener. I totally get why people are turned off by markup – I really sympathise. But on the other hand, other people find rich text to be incredibly annoying and inconsistent. I think you’re expecting Ulysses to be something it’ll never be.

Meanwhile, I use Fletcher’s MultiMarkdown bundle for TextMate. This means that if you select text and hit command-i in TextMate, it makes the text appear italic, and also wraps asterisks around it, like this. I don’t find this annoying in the least, because it’s what I expect. The text appears as italics in TextMate not because it is italic in and of itself, but because TextMate recognises that there is text in between two asterisks, which means “emphasis”, rather than italics. In turn, TextMate has preferences (which you can change, just like Ulysses) to display stuff with “emphasis markup” as italic text. The asterisks are what matter. They can be displayed in whatever way you please. Even though text actually appears in italics, this system fundamentally separates appearance from meaning. Some people want their whole textual world to be like this, and others don’t.


I agree with you about the semantic editing in Ulysses. I can see how it can make a difference once the writing is done, but it doesn’t seem to me to have any advantage during the writing process.

I am, however, intrigued by a plain text editor. I often find myself writing in Notetab for Windows. Plain text can be liberating. So I’ve been trying to evaluate Ulysses simply as a souped up plain text editor. If I were to use it as such, I’d probably export the text to a wordprocessor to add styles and prepare it for presentation, just because that’s what I’m comfortable using.


Recently, I’ve started writing in WriteMonkey for Windows, since there is no 10" laptop Mac around, and this was the writing environment I found more fascinating in Windows (mostly because it hides the bad looking, obstrusive and distracting user interface).

While I find WM a nice place to write, and the pleasant and productive mix between writing in the free air and the comfort of the spartan typing machine, I still would love to work in Scrivener when I’m out. I loved to do it with my MacBook Pro, but it is really too big to carry around.

At first, using semantic syntax may appeal to our geeky soul, but makes us hate computers when time comes to manually reapply all formatting. You see, I make heavy use of italics. Ops, sorry, I meant italics.


I suspect you could find a better workflow if you’re having to manually reapply formatting to a “semantic” document. It’s certainly not for everyone, but that’s why I wrote MultiMarkdown, and why I use it. I do everything in plain text. When I want to see what the finished product is going to look like with all it’s formatting, pictures, what have you, I run it through MMD and open the output (HTML, PDF, DOC, RTF, OpenOffice, etc).

I can use any text editor to write in (plain text, or RTF - I just ignore the formatting ability and treat it like plain text). I can also use the power of regexp to change and “reformat” the plain text in something like TextMate - try changing “foo” from italics to bold, but only when it precedes “bar” in anything but a plain text based document format!

It’s certainly not for everyone, but I suspect a lot of people would be happier using an approach like this if they only knew about it.

My $.02…


As you state, different tools for different writers. For my style, italics is not an embellishment, but an integral part of my writing. “You are really great” is not the same as "You are really great. So, it is not the same seeing it while I write, or when layout time arrives.

However, since I use your syntax and appreciate it for how logical and easy it is, I would also love writing tools incorporates automatic translators for MMD, like they do for RTF or plain text. The more it will spread around, the more I guess we will see such conversion tools included in the apps.


The big, big problem for me is footnotes (or endnotes). When I wrote my book, most of the chapters had 50-60 footnotes, some of them a whole paragraph in length. I don’t know quite how this could be handled in text markup. For me it is almost essential to get the footnotes out of my eyeline while I’m writing the main text. (This is one of the things that makes Scrivener unsatisfactory for me, though there are work-rounds like putting the footnote text in one of the panes to the side of the main writing window – but it’s not ideal because you then have to move 60 snippets of text to the right place later.) But I am beginning to find the idea of text markup more attractive. If someone could tell me how to solve the footnote problem, I would certainly try it.

All the best,


hehe, I was wondering the same, I quite like Ulysses´ interface and some of the features, they also have an iPhone version in the making, but the non-WYSIWYG approach is difficult/time comsuming for me to deal with.

Concerning footnotes I found this:
the-soulmen.com/board/commen … e=1#Item_0

But I still do not know if it is easy/straightforward to use or not :open_mouth:

MMD has a syntax for [1] that lets you keep them out of the way.

The actual footnote can be anywhere you want.

Even several paragraphs away, or at the end of the document… Obviously, this post is an example of that syntax.

  1. I absolutely agree that I want to have footnotes out of the way when writing, but like the option of being able to keep them somewhere close (e.g. the bottom of the “page” or section) so I don’t have to dig to far to find them. But I don’t want them to interrupt the flow of the main body of text… ↩︎

MMD footnotes are pretty simple to use, actually. Really simple if you use Scrivener’s footnotes (they get automatically turned into the correct text version upon compile), but since you’ve stated you don’t like the in-line approach, you might like MMD’s better. To make a footnote you just put the reference in like so[1], and then anywhere else in the book you can put the content:

It can be next to the paragraph, at the bottom of the section, or off in another document altogether. The only stipulation is that each has its own identifier. The ‘fn1’ is completely arbitrary. I could have used [^booker-2003] instead.

I just use Scrivener’s footnotes myself, but I would imagine that an easy route would be to dump footnote content into the Notes pane since you can get from there and back to the editor with a keystroke, and then move them all out in bulk to a central place once the writing is done. Another alternative would be to leave the central footnote document repository open in a split and just switch back and forth. Since the reference marker stays with the source text, you don’t have to worry about piecing everything back together later as with your current method, and to my eye the reference marker is about as low-profile as you’d want it (less space consuming than Ulysses, for that matter). You can still see a note is there, but it only takes up about as much space as a printed footnote/endnote marker.

I think you might be thrown by the terminology. When a semantic author says “emphasis” they mean to abstract the concept of display from the content, they don’t mean it is just an unimportant embellishment. Rather than saying, “this is italic” they simply mean “this is emphasised” and how that emphasis appears in the final copy is entirely malleable. In most cases it will be italic, but it needn’t be, that’s the point. If an editor wants underlined instead for visibility in the proofing copies, that is no problem to arrange (granted Scrivener can handle that too, but with MMD you could also make it bright red and 13pt).

Italics certainly are not an embellishment in the semantic workflow, in fact it could be argued they are even more integral as they’ll never suffer loss when copying and pasting between applications. A WYSIWYG text selection pasted into an email client might lose all the emphasis, but a document with asterisks is just about as portable as it gets, and pretty much everyone understands the notation.

And in that vein, footnotes are about as portable as they get to. How many times have people “lost” their footnotes when trying to use Pages or TextEdit? With MMD, it’s all embedded right into the text itself and could even be pasted into a web form like this and still “be a footnote” that humans can read and MMD can read later on.

  1. This is the content of the footnote. ↩︎

Fletcher and Amber – very many thanks – this opens up some exciting possibilities. Could I ask if there is a quick way to get started in MMD without having to read too much? I haven’t read your posts thoroughly yet, but will do so now.

Thanks, Martin.

I recommend taking a look at some sample MMD documents that have already been processed into final output formats to show you what can be done:


Download as a zip, and inside checkout some of the samples - look at the source text files (usually either .txt or .md) and then some of the pdf’s and HTML versions to see the output.

The “Sample-Document” was designed to demonstrate (briefly) most of the core features.

Also, the latest thing I’m working on is converting MMD into beamer slideshows for LaTeX. That’s probably a bunch of jargon to most people, but check out the pdf on the following page to see what I’m referring to (download it - the inline viewer sucks). This pdf was created straight from a MMD text file with no special markup, and with only free/open source software (e.g. not Keynote or Powerpoint…)


I think these documents do a good job of demonstrating the flexibility and power of systems like MMD.

But I’m biased… :slight_smile:

Many thanks for that. I’ve downloaded the files and have been looking at them. I seem to have run into a problem with the RTF versions, in that the footnotes point to URIs that don’t exist on my computer. An example is: {HYPERLINK “file:///var/folders/Ul/UlSW8+bHEv4TjpVIuLKQGk+++TM/-Tmp-/multimarkdownwD2B1%0A#Gruber”}. (I opened the file in M$ Word 2004, incidentally.) Glitch somewhere?



If you dig around the web site and the internet long enough, you will find one of my many rants about how horrible the RTF format is, and why it sucks, and why I don’t spend any development time on it. RTF is created by using other tools (apple’s textutil command which sucks, and Google Docs which sucks much less). Links aren’t going to work very well in RTF, unless someone develops a proper HTML to RTF conversion process.

So, you are correct - the RTF format is more of an afterthought for MMD - the results are passable for most things, but I wouldn’t rely on it for within document links, proper footnotes, proper math support, or other more complicated features. PDF’s generated by LaTeX, however, excels at all of these things…


Ah … Ok, thanks. That probably knocks that on the head, then. I am going to need to send Word documents to other people to look at and amend, so it would have been useful to go through RTF. Never mind. As a curiosity, what does one do when one needs to use square brackets? They crop up quite a lot in my writing.

Many thanks for taking the time to give me the pointers – it is much appreciated.

All best wishes,


Square brackets are handled pretty intelligently. I use them a lot as well in a non-syntax way and have never run into any difficulties. MMD specifically looks for the combinations that come around and within the square brackets, rather than the brackets themselves. So as long as you don’t use xx, [xx][xx], [^xx], and so on you’ll be fine with them.

Regarding footnotes, this is the one area of MMD that is a bit weak: collaboration with non-LaTeX folk. It has good simulation of footnotes in HTML, which is great for web publishing, but as you might know, HTML has no concept of a footnote itself. It also handles footnotes really well in a LaTeX environment, but unfortunately that format is largely confined to some academic uses and a few geeks. Some publishing houses will take it, but many don’t have a clue.

I have been working on a method which will give some Mac folks a work-around for this. It is a comprehensive MMD -> Mellel converter engine which is about 75% complete. When it is done it will have nearly full Mellel capability (there is a high degree of feature parity between the two, even things like glossaries will be supported), and from there people could export RTF and Doc files with much more functionality. Unfortunately the past three months of mine have been extremely busy due to work and personal factors and I haven’t had a lot of spare time to throw at these projects.


If I’m not wrong, it is Q10 that uses two points (…) to introduce footnotes. You would not like it, since this is very similar to how Scrivener manages these things. On the other side, I don’t feel unconfortable with inline notes, so I can appreciate both solutions.


Dear Amber,

Thank you, that is very useful.

I suppose my problem is that I would like to use Scrivener for something that it was not intended to do: non-fiction writing. There are certain features of the application that I like very much, particularly splitting the text up into short sections, to be recombined later, and the possibility of using several panes for different things – I do a lot of moving pieces of text from one place to another. Other features of Scrivener are not too much use to me: I find the outliner not to my taste, so I use Omni, and full screen is the opposite of what I want – I once saw a clip of Terry Pratchet working at a desk with a bank of six monitors and almost died with envy. But, as far as I am concerned, the problem with the footnoting is almost a “deal-breaker”. I say “almost” – I think the advantages of working in Scrivener make it worth trying to work around the problem – but it is a major problem for me.

Still, I’m used to obstacles. I wrote a 560 page book on Napoleon using Word 5 on a PowerBook 180, with EndNote to compile the bibliography – something to do with megalomania, perhaps … Even managed to compile the index using embedded Word codes! All good fun.

But as for the present, being able to produce Word versions of what I write is essential. I move in a world of academics, some of whom use computers the way some people use hammers. Give them a load of nails and they will hammer them in. Give them a load of screws and they will probably do the same – after all, they are pointed at one end, and thicker at the other … I have one dear friend whom I was helping to find a file that had “disappeared” on his computer, and when I double-clicked on something he was quite surprised and said “I didn’t know you could do that”. I think he has since forgotten the trick. In other words, I don’t know anyone else who is going to be using MMD!

What you say about Mellel and MMD is interesting. I have a copy, though I’ve never used it, but I would be very interested to see how your solution works when it arrives in the fullness of time. Many thanks for taking the time to reply.

Oh, and happy Napoleonic birthday! I do believe it is today…



I wish I could use inline footnotes, but when you have a full paragraph of explanatory text in the middle of another paragraph, it is just too much for me, even with ghosting.

Un salutone a Leopardi.


One other thing to mention, not related to MMD, is that in the long run you might find Scrivener becoming much more useful to you. It has already been announced that 2.0 will provide an alternate method of notation from inline. Inline will still be there for those of us that prefer it, but if you wish you can use something more similar to Word (at least the last time I tried it years ago, ha) in which you click on something and a little panel opens up to display the note. Using this method, extensive footnotes can be buried in what looks like a sticky note palette, while the reference itself is represented as a low-impact hyperlink looking affair in the source text.

It’s still a ways off, but I’d recommend sticking around, as I think you’ll find that workflow a big improvement.


Here’s a thought: How about exporting the content of a footnote as inline text with some kind of dummy markup (later to be removed)? Once textutil has produced the RTF file, we can replace the dummy markup with RTF’s {\footnote } construct…