I’ve been known to bounce around trying out different writing software. I’ve tried a range of programs including Microsoft Word, Scrivener, StoryBox, yWriter, Omniwriter, Write or Die, Wattpad, Evernote, and many others. Years ago, using Palm OS-based PDAs, I particularly liked WordSmith. I haven’t found the perfect program yet. I currently use Scrivener and Word for many projects. Right now I’m also using Novlr for writing my first drafts.
Novlr offers an online or offline writing environment. Your work is saved automatically as you work. It saves different versions, too, so you can roll back changes if needed. It’ll integrate with Dropbox and Google Drive for more backups. It has a distraction-free mode and many other features. The chief advantage for me? I open my Chromebook and start working. No startup, no waiting. If I’m offline, fine, it’ll save when I connect.
I’m going to record this short tour and walk you through the features of the program. I’m sharing this just because I want to share it. I was a fairly early adopter of Novlr, taking advantage of a limited lifetime offer back in 2015. It’s been great watching Novlr grow since then. With the addition of streak-tracking and goals, I’m using it for my new works-in-progress. After all, if I wrote on something else Novlr wouldn’t know that I didn’t break my streak. Plus it just works.
It’s a difficult balance to strike between simplicity and power. I think Novlr makes it easy to get started without needing much instruction. Sit down and write. There are still features I’d like to see in the future for Novlr. Most likely these wouldn’t all fit with the vision for the program. Novlr does provide methods in the roadmap for feedback on planned improvements, and does continue to develop new features each month.
Data export. I’d like to see a data export option. Probably my number one feature right now. I know that Novlr keeps data on words written, when I wrote, on what projects, my goals, and progress. I want to have the option to download that data as I desire. That could be everything, or for a particular project or time-period. If features like metadata and layers were added, I would want to be able to export that as well.
Data visualizations. As much as I want the option to export the data, I wouldn’t mind seeing some other visualizations of the data within Novlr. I like the progress made so far. It’s clean and clear. For me, I’d also like to see a calendar view (weekly, monthly, daily), that shows the data. Streaks would fill the days, total words written displayed, with the option to drill down and see details about projects worked on, when writing sessions happened, for how long, and the number of words written.
Metadata. I’d like to see improvements in metadata options at all levels. For entire projects, chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences, and words. I’d like the ability to define what metadata I use, and at what levels. For example, say I want to make a note of the Point of View (POV). I’d like the option to create that field at any of those levels, so I could flag everything from a chapter to a paragraph or sentence for POV. I’d like to tag names and places. And I’d like to be able to filter and view based on the various fields I’ve created, so I could say filter to just those parts of the text in a particular POV, at a setting, or those where a character is present.
Layers. This builds on the previous item, the metadata. I want layers the way digital art programs have layers, e.g., like Photoshop. Layers could build not only from different versions, but also with metadata, notes, research and other items. I’d have the option to view layers or turn them off. A layer could, for instance, contain comments. Layers could also have different display modes. A layer could be displayed alongside the text, inline with the text, hidden, or shown as a tab or a tooltip. Let’s say that I have a paragraph describing a setting. I might have layers with background information about the setting, photographs, metadata, how often the setting appears in the work, and the ability to filter by that layer. Applications like Scrivener use folders and documents to contain many of these items. I’d like other options so that I could easily expand layers at different levels when I want—or turn it all off and just enjoy a distraction-free interface.
Dictation and text-to-speech. Although I have other options, having dictation and text-to-speech built into the application would be great. I’d love to be able to add a mic icon to the side interface and a play icon that would either start at the beginning, or with selected text, and read it aloud. With technology like Amazon Polly and other options, this might be possible to add at some point.
Alternate views. I’d like to see alternate views of the books, such as a notecard, page stack, or timeline views. You can drag chapters in the navigation pane, but I’d like to see scenes, for instance, tagged with metadata, a summary, and be able to drag them around to rearrange the novel.
Given all of the possible ideas—it might be better if Novlr just stuck to providing a clean and simple writing interface without all of the ideas listed above. Except data export. I do want that one. What would you want to see in your ideal writing tool?
Ryan M. Williams lives a double life as a full-time career librarian and a multi-genre writer with over twenty books. He writes across a range of genres including science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, horror, and romance. He earned a Master of Arts degree in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University and a Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose University. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine.