Writing on a Mac: Jer’s Novel Writer

28 01 2010

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about my love for Scrivener, writing software made to make writing and organizing an easier task.  For anyone who is curious, I am still in love with Scrivener and use it for everything from creative writing (working on my novel) to academic writing (organizing research for papers).  It also has screenwriting features, but I haven’t yet attempted to write a screenplay, so I can’t tout those features quite yet.  In my previous post, I had said one initial reason I wanted to use Scrivener is that they seem like a good company with business practices that are fair and oriented toward the customer.  I have a new reason to respect them: After combing their website, I went to the “Links” page and found that they provide links and descriptions for other writing software (including separate lists of writing software available for Macs and PCs).  In today’s world, it’s refreshing to see that some people still care that the customer is getting what (s)he wants and needs–even if that means sending the customer to another place to get it.

One of the other writing software possibilities on that list of links is Jer’s Novel Writer.  I was intrigued by the description, and so I headed on over to the website to check the software out.  The developer, Jerry, created this software specifically for creative writers working on longer projects, though I’m sure writers could also benefit from using it for short stories or novellas or other such shorter forms of creative writing.  I downloaded Jer’s Novel Writer and began playing with it.  It is so fabulous that I started writing something new just so I could have a reason to keep playing with it.  The appearance is clean-cut, making it feel like I’m playing with a shiny new toy instead of writing software, and the features offered are designed just for creative writers–something I will keep mentioning because their being tailored to a specific audience makes the software that much cooler.

The first screenshot is the basis of my general overview of the cool features of the software:

A basic screenshot of Jer's Novel Writer

Jer’s Novel Writer has a feature that lets you put in margin notes, which is something I love (in the above picture, you can see a margin note in the left column).  I like knowing that if I want to revise, I can put the virtual version of a post-it on the page for easy reference to remind myself what it was I didn’t like (or what it was I liked) about a particular scene.  The margin notes are more than just post-its, though, because they can be linked to a specific word while still being placed in the margin.  That specificity makes it so you can mark a single word that you want to play with and have an entire note dedicated to it.  You can also move the margin notes so that if you have a lot on one page, they will appear in the order you want them to be in (or so they will be equally spaced from each other–whatever it is you aesthetically like).

On the right, you can see the outline for the current work (Jer’s Read Me file) in a drawer that you can choose to have open or closed.  Using the outline makes it easy to navigate through your text (so if you want to find a particular scene to reference, you can easily do so) because all you have to do is click on the section title or text that you want, and it will take you directly to it.  The outline can break your work into chapters, parts, sections, and text blocks.  The text blocks are what you see in the center–where you do the actual typing of your creative work–in alternating yellow and white background blocks.  When you want to put in a new text block, all you have to do is hit the “Insert” button, and it lets you have the option of putting in a new chapter, section, part, or text block.  Every time you create a new dividing line, it automatically shows up in your outline.  The more you provide, the more specific your navigation abilities will be.  While you can title the chapters, sections, and parts, the text blocks will show up in your outline as the beginning text of the first line, which is handy for reminding you exactly what was written in that portion.

While I would love Jer’s Novel Writer solely for the margin-note capabilities, I am fascinated by the possibilities the drawer presents.  When you open the drawer (which in the above picture has the outline), you get three options: outline (pictured above), database, and notes.  The notes are what you would expect them to be–a place where you can write notes to yourself that will be visible from any place in the text.  I want to focus on the database feature, as I think it is particularly helpful for creative writers.

The database portion of the drawer in Jer's Novel Writer

The database is a way you can keep track of your characters, settings, and more.  You can create full sketches on your characters and group them into folders; you can write descriptions of your settings and have them laid out for easy reference; you can really put in anything you want for background information to have at your fingertips during any stage of the writing process.  It’s a fancy way of taking organized notes.

And, of course, you can choose to have the drawer closed, in which case, all you have staring at you is the space where you’re writing and creating margin notes.  In the text portion, when you add in titles, you can format the titles to look however you want them to look:

Jer's Novel Writer with the drawer closed and titled segments

The document I’ve been showing is the “Read Me” document that comes with Jer’s Novel Writer, and it is one of the most helpful and user-friendly guides I’ve seen for getting started with new writing software.

For my particular writing style, I still prefer Scrivener, primarily because its corkboard feature works with my outlining system but also because it works with both my creative and academic writing needs.  However, I think Jer’s Novel Writer is an amazing product, and I hope there are readers out there who will give it a shot and support Jerry as he works toward further developing the software.  I don’t think a writer can ever have too many options when it comes to writing software choices because new projects bring new needs.

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