Reaching Your Writing Goals With Ulysses

Reaching Your Writing Goals With Ulysses
Reaching Your Writing Goals With Ulysses

I’ve had over a week to get to know Ulysses now, and I’m still finding new things to be impressed about. Given the goal-oriented nature of NaNoWriMo, I thought the first feature I’d highlight would be the way Ulysses helps you set writing goals — and reach them.

Ulysses is not alone in providing statistics about your writing. Even Microsoft Word has a word count. But Ulysses takes things further.

You set goals for individual sheets from the attachments pane, either by swiping right or hitting the ⌘4 shortcut.

You set goals for a sheet from the attachment pane.

The bullseye at the top of the pane is where you set your target (can an icon be a pun?), and it offers several options. You can say you want to do at least / about / at most a certain number of characters / words / sentences / paragraphs / lines / pages. You get the idea.

Once you’ve set a goal for your sheet you’ll see a circle appear in the top right corner of your editor pane. The shaded portion of the circle represents how close you are to reaching your goal.

Ulysses gives you a dot to act as a progress indicator.

If you click on the circle it opens the attachment pane, giving you a friendly blue reminder of your goal and the number of words (or characters, or lines, or paragraphs…) you’ve written.

Blue Panel

Once you hit your goal something magical happens. The circle in the corner of your editor turns green.

Green Dot

Exactly when this happens depends on whether you choose at least or about as your goal. If you select at least, then you need to hit the target on the dot. If you are select about, then Ulysses decides near enough is good enough at some point and declares your goal met.

Green Panel

(You might have noticed the rectangle at about the one o’clock position. It gives you a nifty shortcut to boast — I mean, share your progress — on a variety of social media platforms.)

So far, so good. It has a few neat features, and is certainly more flexible than most word counts I’ve seen. But Ulysses has another trick up its sleeve.

If you’ve written for a short-form publication, or even done an essay for a really tough teacher,  you know all about word limits. Short stories, magazine columns, even scholarly journal articles impose word limits. Ulysses takes this into account if you select the at most option when setting your goal.

When you approach your word count, you go green, similar to the about option. But as soon as you go over, Ulysses lets you know.

Red Dot

Open up the attachments pane to see how far you’ve overshot.

Red Panel

Ouch. Time to start trimming.

All of this is wonderful for single sheets. But you can also set goals from the context menu when you click on a group of sheets in your library. So if you write long-form, you can set a goal for the entire manuscript.

My WIP is a novel, so I set a target of at least 80,000 words. At the end of my final NaNoWriMo write-in I pulled up the goal for the manuscript group of sheets.

Manuscript Goal

Hmmm. On one hand, exciting that I’ve cracked the 80k mark. But on the other hand, I’m not finished. In fact, I’ve still got several thousand words to hammer out before I reach THE END.

This is where Ulysses really shines. You can assign a goal to any group of sheets, and you can nest groups within other groups. That means you can set goals for different parts of your manuscript.

Manuscript Goal Breakdown

As you can see, my manuscript follows a basic three act structure, with Act II divided into two parts. Ideally, each of these sections would be about a quarter of the whole, or around 20,000 words.

By dropping the scenes from each section into separate groups, I can use the flexible goals in Ulysses to see where I’m on track and where I need to cut.

Act 1 Goal

Oops. Act I and I’ve already gone over the 20,000 word limit.

Act 2-1 Goal

The first part of Act II is looking better. A little over 20,000 words, but I’ve selected about to give myself leeway, so the goal is still showing green.

Act 2-2 Goal

Yikes. It looks as though I found those extra words, hiding away in the second half of Act II. A fair sign I will need to do a brutal edit for pace.

Act 3 Goal

And Act III is almost 12,000 words so far.

If I’d been relying on a simple word count, at 82,000 words I might’ve been tempted to rush the action in my dramatic climax. But by breaking my manuscript into sections with individual goals, I can see I’ve actually got another eight thousand words to play with. Then I can focus my energy on editing the word-heavy sections to keep the pace consistent across the three acts of my story.

As good as the goals feature of Ulysses is, there is one thing missing. As of version 2.2.1 (Ulysses for Mac) you can’t set a goal for a particular timeframe. I’d like to be able to say “today I will write five thousand words”. This is something you can do in Scrivener, which has the concept of writing sessions with their own word count targets. But in Ulysses all goals are tied to sheets, whether individually or in groups.

Luckily, I got a prompt response from the Soulmen on Twitter (@ulyssesapp) when I raised the question about time-based goals. Apparently I’m not alone in wanting to set myself a daily word target, or assign a goal to a writing session. I’m told that time-based goals are on the roadmap, so we should see them in a future release.

Which means an excellent feature may get even better.