In a recent post I discussed my desire to start work on a new story, possibly another novel. In a yet more recent post I expounded upon the increasing scarcity of my free time, making work on a novel in the near future seem a bit unrealistic. Trying to find the best of both worlds, I turned to the internet in search of some organizational help.

One of the greatest lessons I learned in writing my first novel was that, for my particular writing process, organization is tantamount. I had a good 5 false starts on my novel, writing for a hundred pages or so before getting lost, overwhelmed, or frustrated with the lack of cohesion. It wasn’t until I sat down and outlined the whole thing that I got past the hundred page mark, and then it came together remarkably quickly. 4 years of struggling without an outline and 6 months of writing with it to finish the rough manuscript.

Unfortunately, organization doesn’t come naturally to me and I am in constant search for new ways to record, organize and remember all the ideas that bounce around in my head all day. Hence my online search for an organization aid/word processor geared toward the novel writer.

I was not disappointed in my search. After checking out a few options, I decided to give Jer’s Novel Writer a crack. I have only had a few days with the program, but I already see its great potential as a replacement to Word. In my first few hours with the program, I used it to outline the rules text for Heroes of Ismia and was impressed with the facility with which I could organize the document into parts, chapters, scenes and text blocks. The program automatically keeps an outline of the document as you write, putting the framework in a drawer to the side of the main work area. Several times I wrote a section of rules that I later decided to move. No problem, just drag the section in the outline to wherever you want it. sections and chapters are reformatted and re-numbered to fit the new order.

This feature, while valuable for writing a rules text, will be a lifesaver with a novel. Reorganizing chapters and scenes in Word used to take me hours and it will now take seconds. Using the outline to reorganize is great, but for me, it has an even higher purpose. I can use it to outline the skeleton of the full story, then come back and add the meat once I know where it’s going.

Another great improvement over the classing word processor is color-coded margin notes, which allow the writer to make quick, easy to find notes without losing narrative momentum. The software is packed with other features including a database to store characters and places, but I haven’t had enough time with the program to absorb it all.

I’ll certainly have more to say about it as it helps me organize my next novel. And if you’re looking for an alternative to Word, check it out for yourself.