“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett
I’ve used Novlr since October 2015. Not always consistently, but I’ve come back to it this year following the Novlr 3.0 release back in December 2019. It brought a bunch of big changes that I wanted to touch on along with how Novlr 3.0 fits into my process.
Look and Feel
A big part of the 3.0 upgrade was to the look and feel of Novlr. It is a lovely distraction-free writing program. The environment is carefully designed to provide an excellent writing experience. Your novel text is the main thing on the screen. I really appreciate the fact that it remembers your location in the book so you’re instantly right back to where you were working.
With focus mode turned on everything else fades away as you’re writing, leaving you with nothing but the text. If you’ve got your browser in full screen then that’s all that you see. It’s a nice effect that hides the panels and status bar until you move the mouse.
The Novlr screen also leaves a healthy margin at the bottom of the screen so you’re not typing right on the very bottom of the window all the time. It’s typewriter scrolling and another feature that makes writing in the program enjoyable. There’s a lot of thought put into the design of Novlr.
The panel on the left shows your chapters or scenes and notes files. Scenes or chapters can be dragged to reorder them or to add scenes to a chapter, for example, indented. There’s an option to include chapter numbers automatically and any scenes in a chapter are numbered with a decimal, i.e., 3.1, 3.2, etc.
The notes section provides an option to create files for research, character sheets, or whatever else you want to take notes on.
Use the panel on the write to change options for the writing screen. That includes themes, paragraph indents, font, and what controls show in the formatting toolbar. At a top it has a link to the Novlr dashboard.
The Novlr dashboard is where you’ll create and manage your novels, view analytics, set goals, set up integrations with other cloud services, or export your novel in a variety of formats including epub. Novlr also has a learning tool built in which currently offers a course “Tim Clare’s Couch to 80K.”
I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over every screen in the dashboard as it’s pretty self-explanatory. As with the chapter panel, Novels can be dragged to reorder the display. It’s the little things that sometimes matter and that’s one I appreciate. In a previous version the novels were in the order created, which meant scrolling down to get to your latest book. Much better now.
I do want to touch on goals and word counts in Novlr.
Novlr currently lets you set a daily goal and a monthly goal. It’ll also track your streak if you achieve your goal over multiple days. The Analytics tab provides additional information about your writing habits.
Because of how I use Novlr, the goals and analytics don't work well for me. Nothing wrong with the features—I just don't use the app how it's designed.
How I Use Novlr
My writing process evolves and changes over time. Since getting the Freewrite, I prefer to write on it. It’s quick, responsive, and distraction-free. Novlr does a good job with that except that it is in a web browser, either on a desktop or mobile phone. That makes it very handy if you want to write on those devices. I don’t.
Instead I use Novlr for subsequent drafts. After finishing the first draft of a scene on the Freewrite, I open the Word document and copy the text into Novlr. Key formats like italics are retained in the process. If I remember, I try to do that each day after writing so that the Novlr copy of the the book is current.
This is how I can cycle through the book while working on the Freewrite. I can open my Novlr copy and read over previous work and make any corrections needed. It also gives me yet another backup of the book so I always have multiple backups.
Speaking of backups, Novlr also has automatic backups and versioning. View other versions by clicking the arrows icon in the status bar.
I’m writing my current book in individual scene files. Later, I’ll go through the book in Novlr and create chapters, adding scenes to the chapters to create the final structure for the book.
Working with someone else? In “Manage Novels” on the dashboard (or the Novels tab), click the share button to send them a link to view your book.
You’ve also got options here to export the book as a .docx, .pdf, or .odt files. This is different than the Publishing section which creates an e-book (.epub) file that can include cover art of your novel. Oddly, the .epub export doesn’t have the same options as export, which allows you to choose whether or not to include notes or show sub-chapter headings. I’m not sure why the .epub format is in the publishing tab instead of simply as another format option in export. It does have a couple metadata fields (author, subtitle) and the cover art option, but those could be document properties in the other formats so it doesn’t make much sense. And the lack of being able to exclude the notes and sub-chapter headings makes the .epub less useful.
I think at this point it’s a basic start that will probably be enhanced in the future. I’d recommend simply having export and offer more control over what gets exported. And for .epub I’d recommend including other key metadata fields like identifier, publisher, and description. Controls to format the CSS for the .epub would also be nice and could make Novlr more effective it it produced clean .epub files. Integrated validation would also be nice. Novlr’s focus is on writing, not being an e-book editor, but it could be improved to create a useable .epub file.
All that aside, I’m using the Word export format to produce a document. Then I print the book out and go back over it with pen in hand. I find looking at the printed page and reading over it that way very helpful. Once I have my changes, I make those corrections back in Novlr before producing the final copy for the next steps in publishing the book.
Novlr has come a long ways since it started back in 2013. It’s created by writers with user-driven features. It’s $8.33/month if paid yearly, or $10/month if paid monthly. With mobile support and ongoing improvements, it’s a good choice for writers who want a program dedicated to writing novels (or short fiction).