Blissful Writing

Novlr screenshot

The options for writing your novel in the cloud are improving all the time, but the combination that I'm happiest with at the moment is Novlr with Workflowy open in a separate window.

There are web apps out there that have more features, but there's a beauty and simplicity to Novlr that I love. As you start to type, the toolbars fade away, leaving you with just your words. When you snap out of the zone and move your mouse, the toolbars reappear. What's more, the fonts and colours chosen for the interface are muted and stylish. It makes writing a pleasure.

There's power there too, with version controls, formatting, writing stats and export options available, but they're hidden away unless you need them. You're presented with a list of chapters and your notes on a pull-in tab down the left hand side, your current chapter title and word count at the bottom, and a button to open up the other options at the top right. All of which disappears once you actually start to write.

It's a cloud app, so your work is saved constantly. It copes well with dropping offline too, saving your work in your browser and synchronising it as soon as you get your connection back.

It's a wonderful tool for actually getting your words down. I wrote the 80,000 word first draft of a novel in it without any issues. Most importantly, I never felt that I was struggling with Novlr rather than the novel itself.  

Novlr's getting new features all the time, but at the moment it lacks a detailed way to outline your book. There's no storyboard, and although you can move the chapters to re-order them, there are no subdivisions for acts or individual scenes. There's a useful Notes page, but just one for the novel, rather than separate notes for each chapter. The developers are well aware of this, and these features will come, but for now I was forced into a compromise that actually proved to be very effective.

I use Workflowy to jot down and develop my story ideas anyway. It's a superb web app for outlining, and I'll cover it further in another post. So I worked on my first draft with Novlr full screen in one window on my Chromebook and my Workflowy chapter notes full screen in another. I could switch between them, of course, with Alt-Tab. This was quick and clean, and there were no distractions to break me out of the zone. I wrote the first draft for an earlier novel in the awesome program Scrivener, but for the actual process of checking my notes and getting the draft down this was better.

And it didn't matter whether I was sitting in front of my desktop Chromebox or on my Chromebook, or even on my wife's Chromebook, everything was synchronised and backed up.

I've yet to tackle serious editing in Novlr, which is where Scrivener shines, but I can recommend it for your first drafts: novels, stories and flash fiction.