Ulysses Awesome Writing Program Review

The thing I hate about the software world is that so many products fall back on their “Legacy”. So, a writing program like MS Word was developed on a certain philosophy, which at the time was constrained by the fact that the operating system and user interface was very limited. Now we have limitless User Interface (UI) capabilities, but programs like Office and Word are as archaic as ever.?

The traditional word processor is basically a listing application. You list your thoughts down, and organize everything in your head while doing it. The program does nothing to aid you. If anything, a writing program like MS Word exudes Computer Inhibited Creativity (CIC), or can be characterized as a Creativity Killer. My first choice for a Computer Aided Creativity (CAC) writing program is Ulysses.

My brain doesn’t work like a listing program, it works like a movie making program. So I searched for a writing program which would work with me instead of me working around the limitations of the program. I looked for a writing program which was actually developed for writing, that allows one to move ideas around and jump between different project documents.

I started using Ulysses about three years ago, and have never stopped loving it.

Ulysses was developed around the idea of making content and writing the main focus of the writing process, and specifically not focusing on formatting. The program is straight forward, you write in the main window, on the right-hand side is a Notes window, on the left are all the individual documents in your project, along with their Notes window. Naturally, the user interface can be customized.

With Ulysses you can easily develop an idea in one document, and then transfer to another. What’s really cool is that you can select a document and display it on the left-hand side of the program. You can select text from there and copy it to the main window. This is where it really excels compared with Word, since it aides you in forming and reforming ideas so quickly, it really accelerates the writing and creativity process.?

How exactly does Ulysses enable CAC?

Well, if you have an idea in your head, then you intuitively understand it. The problem is communicating it to others. The most common form is writing. But once you write something down, you will naturally try to modify it, as opposed to writing down a completely new thought. This is where Ulysses kicks ass.

Since text can be moved between documents so easily, and documents can be displayed so quickly, the program actually helps you organize ideas, as opposed to simply being a processor for words.

I use Ulysses for many different projects including webpages, blog posts, technical papers, a PhD dissertation, letters, the list is endless. Projects and documents can be exported as simple text, MS Word, even in LaTex.

If Ulysses could be better, it would be the ability display the documents in a mindmap layout similar to MyMind. This would allow the user to visually organize ideas, but keep all of the actually writing within that visual representation. I highly recommend Ulysses if you’re looking for a writing program, it can change the way you work and think for the better.

MyMind Mindmapping Software Review

When I started doing research I wanted a computer program to develop ideas and projects.  I also wanted something that would reduce the energy and time needed to translate the ideas in my head into a form which other people could understand.  After searching the net I found MyMind, by Sebastian Krauß.  It’s for the Mac, only for the Mac, and it’s Donation Supported.  It’s simple, fast, and one of the essential tools I use in developing projects.

The concept of mind mapping is simple: create an interconnected visual representation of your ideas.  It’s like combining a text outline and a sketch.  The essential element is that you can visually see how different ideas connect together.  There’s limitless applications for the mind-mapping technique in every work place and profession.

I start my mindmaps by drawing a map on paper, putting all my ideas down and connecting them.  The problem is that words on paper can’t be moved around.  That’s where Computer Aided Creativity (CAC) becomes essential.  So next I transfer my collection of ideas to MyMind, and start moving things around.  In MyMind you list topics in an outline form in one window, and then create a map in a separate window.  You can modify the list or the map, collapsing or expanding different parts of the map and add notes.

The mindmap can be color-coded, font size and thickness of the line connectors can decrease per level and images can be imported. Basically, there’s a lot of customization that one can perform to improve the organization of the mindmap.  I like to use two monitors with MyMind, this gives me the room to develop the organization of ideas and watch project plans evolve.  This allows me to develop a clear representation of a project, research article, dissertation, webpage design, book content, photo project, anything that I need.

There are other professional mind-mapping products such as ConceptDraw, which is for the PC or Mac.  I might switch to ConceptDraw in the future, as this software family also includes variations for project management and web design in addition to basic mind-mapping.  A lot of software is hyped and over-priced, but packages like MyMind and ConceptDraw are no doubt worth every penny and could revolutionize the way you work – both professionally and in your personal projects.

There are amazing possibilities using a touch screen and mind mapping for real hands-on CAC.  Some day I’d like to see a program on a tablet laptop which allows the user to create and modify a mindmap in real time.  This would be a very useful combination of computer aided creativity, technology which really works for the user.  Even better would be the fusion between a mind mapper and word processor.  The writing program Ulysses is going in the right direction.

Writing Work Flow – VVCTFR – CAC

Management and having a process is important in many endeavors in life, and I find such a construct essential when writing.  Computer Aided Creativity (CAC) has made the difference between writing random notes to myself and producing actual written content.  My writing workflow is like this:

Visualize – Vomiting – Reduce Chaos – Form – Refine

This is not a purely linear workflow, sometimes the steps overlap, combine, separate, they’re always in flux.  Chaotic vomiting might form a refined visualization, or you might have to refine chaos in order to start verbally vomiting.  The gist is that an idea in my head is translated and organized into words on a screen or piece of paper.  I like to call this:

VVCTFR (Writing Cluster Fuck for short)

Visualize – I get an idea in my mind, and a bunch of visual attributes are present, the challenge is getting those elements recorded and developed into a final form.

Vomiting – I take a piece of paper and put down ideas in the form of writing, pictures, and arrows connecting one to another.  Things are chaotic, but recorded.

Reduce Chaos – From an outline or mindmap, I arrange ideas in a certain way so they’re flowing well and playing together.  Then I expand on those ideas, making them more than just jumbled craziness.

Transcribe – I transcribe the main ideas and fragments to Ulysses, my favorite writing program.  Small paragraphs go in the main window, words, things to remember go in the notes section.  There will be many spelling mistakes, the idea is that the written form of the idea is taking shape.

Form – Here I’m working exclusively in Ulysses (or another writing program), moving between documents and adding specifics to what I’m writing.  This is the most critical part, it’s here where I create the final form (more or less) and get ready to export for publishing and formatting.

Refine – At this point everything has been exported into Word or uploaded to my WordPress blog, in the final form for formatting.

I follow this process (more or less) for everything from blog articles to technical papers and dissertations.  When I talk with other people I’m floored to hear that they start papers, publications, and dissertations from scratch, without little plan or workflow.

A writer might purpose that too much structure in the writing process reduces creativity.  A novelist, for example, might use the act of writing as a way to get to know their characters.  The writing process might be seen as a way to develop the story, and hence some writers might advise one against outlining.  A writer who doesn’t use outlines is Timothy Hallinan, who seems to take the view that an outline must be a static prelude to writing.  He notes that he wants to see how his characters develop,

"I don’t want to know how the story will end until it does."

I’ve found the opposite.  I’m a visual thinker, I create stories in a movie form in my head, the challenge is putting those ideas on paper.  For myself outlining and mind mapping increases creativity because visual markers in my head (ideas) are easily recorded and rearranged in reality, thus enabling a final form that is done quickly, is original, and as creative as all Hell.  I use mind mapping as a dynamic entity, not a stagnant thing that needs to be fully complete before I start writing.

Whatever your view, using a workflow which efficiently translates ideas to text helps in everything from writing a long email, a letter, a PhD, a job application, a business plan, movie script, book, anything the creative author can imagine. 

Coming up next in this series, Ulysses – the Kick Ass writing program and Mind Mapping software.

Computer Aided Creativity (CAC)

The advent of computers and their integration in society occurs on every level.  Actually using computers for something besides email, gaming, and writing is still a novelty for the normal person.  Engineering was revolutionized with the advent of computer aided design (CAD) and engineering (CAE).  What people generally don’t experience and use to their advantage is Computer Aided Creativity (CAC).

Creativity is a confusing beast.  Some say it’s completely natural, and if you’re a natural at being creative then you’re called artistic or a genius.  If you’re not considered creative you’re just a normal minion.  One aspect of creativity is creating new ideas.  But more important day to day is the ability to use old ideas for new purposes.  The problem arises when you try to bring everything together, and that’s where CAC is needed.

Using creativity means combining inspiration with some useful output.  But here’s the crux: If you have an awesome idea for a new car body design, it’s worthless unless you can communicate it (draw a picture) for others to see and experience.

You can have an awesome book in your head, which becomes completely jumbled when you try to capture it in writing.  The reason is that you have to actively translate the feelings from your imagination to the real world – which is not intuitive.  No one can read the book you were never able to write.  The real problem with being "creative" is getting into a workflow where you are able to organize your ideas and communicate them to other people.

If you can organize the thoughts in your head you can play the role of a genius.  What can computers do to help us less fortunate folks?  Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about some essential computer programs which can help you bridge the gap – taking a creative idea and efficiently releasing it outside of your imagination for others to experience.

As prelude, the main topics are going to include using Computer Aided Creativity (CAC) for:

Developing an Efficient Writing Workflow
Mind Mapping Your Ideas

In the mean time think about this:

What do you consider to be creativity?
Do you think you’re creative?
Can creativity be learned?