Google docs vs novlr

Since I bought the Chromebook, being able to write on my tiny netbook, both online and offline, has been a concern of mine. When I wrote the latest draft of Chrysalis, I did it all in Google Docs. Sound crazy? You bet! Here’s how I did it:

  • Thanks to Ken McConnell, I got a hold of this great extension for Google Sheets that lets you listed a series of document ID, and then takes care of merging them for you. This let me write in chapter blocks in individual files (keeping the per file size down, which in turn meant google and my helper scripts didn’t choke on >50k text). It is a great extension, and I salute whoever first wrote it.
  • All of my writing is in one folder. I kept things pretty simple – document name was TITLE – Chapter#. In my spreadsheet, I kept track of these numbers so I always knew how deep in I was.
  • I can import existing docx files without any trouble. (or doc, rtf, etc.) Google docs has a pretty decent conversion  process, and it’s quick.

Actually, that’s about all there is to it. There are one two things I never quite to work right, like changing the default font (had to do this manually each time), but all in all it was a good experience.

At the same time, the spreadsheet, awesome as it is, is a little kludgy. So I thought I’d give Novlr a try, as a counter example. In descriptions at least, they are the scrivener of the web. In practice, I’ve had a few problems.

  • Importing existing documents is screwy. I’ve talked to the developers about it, and they’re looking into it, but if I take a document and import it as docx, I lose all formatting AND everything is bold. Weird. But more importantly (because I too am an expert at select all and un-bolding), I lose all formatting. I don’t use a lot, but I do favor my italics for thoughts/special words. Gone. Importing as an odt (open doc), I don’t have the bolding problem, but I also don’t have any formatting. Ouch. Not something I can’t live without, but ouch.
  • There is no tab key. I didn’t realize how important this was to me until I tried taking some notes. I don’t typically work from an outline, but I do do a brain dump before I start a project. It’s therapeutic, helping me organize my original thoughts. Part of that is making a bulleted list with sub-bullets. Can’t do that with Novlr. Kind of a bummer.
  • I knew there was no mobile app (yet), but I hoped to at least have some simple text input on the go. I didn’t use this a lot with Google Docs, but I do use it. I commute for 12+ hours a week, occasional text input is to be expected. But I also expected it to be a draining experience on Novlr with live saves, etc., even with their “offline mode” now working. Not so good on the Samsung S5. The weirdest part, once I could get it to take text, was that it kept moving my cursor to the start of the line and ERASING every thing I had just typed. What keystroke did this horrific thing? The space. Yeah. Not happy.

So why did I even want to try Novlr? Because their aim is at the writer, they understand you want to break your work up by chapter. Each book you work on has separate chapters, and you don’t have to dance around a spreadsheet to get it working. Unfortunately, the inability to work on the go easily is going to be a show stopper for me (again! This is my second trial with Novlr 🙁 I doubt their patience will last for a third trial in a few months).

I think Novlr is a great product that needs a little more maturation before it can be used. In the meantime, I think that means I will continue to use Google Docs. It’s not perfect, but it’s consistent in its flaws.