NOTE: So far, the documentation here is just the same read me file that comes with Jer’s Novel Writer (except without margin notes).

It’s a start, but obviously not ideal. We at the Hut will be working to improve the situation over the coming weeks. Please feel free to participate in the process, either by asking questions, answering them, or even writing up parts of the documentation. FAQ, anyone? Let’s make it a party!

Please, Please Read Me!

Part 1

Things you really should know


First, I want to thank you for trying Jer’s Novel Writer. I hope you like it. There are some things that work differently than in an ordinary word processor — that’s the whole point, after all. Taking just ten minutes right now to review the most important features will enhance your appreciation of the program greatly.

If you take those ten minutes to learn about my little baby, you will soon be saying, “This is the best dang word processor for writing a novel that I have ever used.” Of course, that’s not saying much, as most word processors are much more oriented to technical and business document creation than creative writing.

As you can see, this read me is divided into three parts: Things you really should know, Things I’d like you to know, and a bit at the end about registration. Read the first part now; you can always come back and check the other parts later. Once you get comfortable with the main features, you can dig a little deeper.

Key Features


Each document is divided into separate sections. You can see the sections for this read me file listed in the outline. As your project grows, you will use the Insert… menu above to add more sections. The section will be added at the point that makes the most sense following the part you are working on. For instance, if you add a Chapter, it will be inserted into your project after the chapter you are currently working on.

Changing the appearance of your project

Just so you know it’s there, in the Project Settings window under the Project menu there is a tab called Appearance. That is where you can set the default fonts and paragraph styles, so you can forget about them and get on with the writing. It is much more efficient and versatile to set the appearance there, rather than formatting the text directly. I’ll go into it more later.

Margin Notes

OK, here’s one of my favorite features. You’ve already seen them over there on the left side of the window. Margin notes. For me, most of my notes apply to a specific part of the narrative. Alas, they usually refer to things that need to be fixed. Rather than agonize over a phrase and lose track of the point I am trying to make, I’ll jot a little note in the margin to come back and look at it when I’m in more of an editing frame of mind. That way when I’m on a creative roll I can ignore the nitty gritty for now but not worry about overlooking it later.

That’s not to say that margin notes aren’t good for other things, too. Sometimes I will put the purpose for the paragraph in the margin: “demonstrates that terrorist is positively motivated”. Then I can go back later and see if what I wrote really accomplished its goal. Sometimes I put a note like “consider moving to chapter 3,” or some other structural idea. When I send work to other Jer’s Novel Writer users I create a note category for their comments. Every day I come up with a new use for margin notes.

To get started, that’s all you have to know about the notes. Write away, hit Cmd-M, bang out a note, Cmd-M again to close the note and off you go. You may even want to hide the little dragger bars at the top of the notes so they don’t distract you.

Speaking of the dragger bars, you can scoot your notes around to keep things tidy, and if you drag the note over your text you can change where it is attached.

Later, when it comes time to edit your work, you’ll appreciate the richness of the margin note system. You’ve seen that some of the notes have different colors and different text styles. In fact you can define different kinds of notes to track certain issues. You could have one category of note for continuity, and when you’re checking continuity you could show only that category. That way when you’re zooming through the text, continuitizing away, you can get straight to the issues that matter. Of course, you can hide the margin notes completely as well.

There’s a nice little window with all your margin note categories under the Project menu. There you can define how the notes look and which ones are visible.

I’m using margin notes in this document a little differently than I do when I’m writing a novel. Since my audience all has Jer’s Novel Writer, I can use the notes to write messages to you, as well as to myself. Alas, when you export your work to be read in other word processors, the margin notes are left behind.

Every word processor, every program that is supposed to help you write, should have margin notes. I promise you, one day of writing with margin notes and you will not go back. At least, if you’re like me you won’t.


You’ve probably already noticed the drawer sticking out the side of this window. If there is no drawer sticking out, click the Open Drawer button at the upper right of this window. Click the outline tab. There’s the whole Read Me file, laid out for you. To expand the entire outline at once, hold down the option key when you click the little arrow thingie.

You can use the outline to plan where you’re going or to see where you’ve been. As you add sections to your story, the outline grows. Most people, I think, add the sections as they write, but if you are blessed with the knowledge of where you’re going you can create the sections and then go back and fill them in.

The highlighted line represents the section you are working on right now. Click RIGHT HERE. Did you see the highlight move?

Most of the time I use the outline to look up things I have already written. If you click on any line in the outline view, you will jump right to that spot. Go ahead and try it. Jump around a bit, then come back here. How do you do that? The Back arrow above works just like the one in a browser. Wherever you roam, you can find your way home with that.

You may have noticed that the background color behind the text changes a bit between text sections. That’s just to help you see where one section ends and the next begins. You can change the color or turn the feature off completely.

The Database Tab

As long as we are rummaging through the drawer, let’s take a moment to look at the database tab.

What you see is a list of the characters that are around me right now, as I am writing this. Normally what you would see is a list of the people, places and other stuff in your story. Find a name that looks interesting and double-click it.

There’s nothing fancy here, just a handy way to keep track of all the people who move through your story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to try to find the part of the story where the woman meets a man at the bar, and I can’t remember the man’s name. Three months later, it’s time for him to show up again. I end up reading twenty pages of my story just to look up his name. While I am reading, I start editing. Talk about a momentum-breaker.

Now I have a list of all the people and what they are like. Earlier today I read a post concerning another tool for writers, and he said, more or less (I don’t remember exactly), “I don’t need something to keep track of the names of my characters, I have my memory for that.” That might describe you, too, but in my current story I’ve got about seventy-five characters, most of whom are just passing through, but you never know when it would be totally juicy to have them show up again. Perhaps a quick check on what you wrote before will protect you from writing a senseless contradiction.

This program is all about keeping your momentum when the juices are flowing. You don’t want to break your momentum filling in information about characters, either, so there’s a shortcut for that. Let’s have a little fun.


Write your name here:

Write a short description of yourself here:


It’s OK, no one else will ever see it.

Now, select your name. Control-click your name (if you have a two-button mouse, right-click the name). A menu will pop up. Choose Add to Database and your name is now part of the character list. Now select the description you wrote. Control-click again and choose Add to the Description of… and choose your name from the submenu.

Check yourself out in the Database Window. You’re part of the read me now!

Now take a look at the categories. You can put any item in the database into any number of categories, and you can put categories inside other categories as well. Put the cursor in the categories field for the database entry you just created, and type “p”. The program looks at all the categories that have been defined and guesses what you want. It’s a standard Mac token field, so it will work the way you expect. Now type in the category “User”. There wasn’t a category with that name before, so the program will ask you if you want to create it.

But users are people, too! Perhaps it would make the most sense for you to drag the User folder into the People category. It’s up to you how to organize the categories; whatever works best for your project.

The Notes Tab

The last tab is the Notes tab. It’s just what it looks like. You can write stuff there. It will remember what you wrote. This is good for general notes that apply to your story as a whole. You can organize your notes into pages, as well.

Hiding the toolbar

Some people like their writing environment clean. I use the standard Apple toolbar technology, so you have control over it. Under the View menu you can configure the toolbar and modify its appearance. The handy little bubble at the top right of this window lets you hide the toolbar completely, and will bring it back for you later. I was surprised at how pleasant it was to make the toolbar go away.

Full Screen Mode

If hiding the tool bar isn’t clean enough for you, you can hit Cmd-Shift-F and pop into full screen mode. You can control the color and magnification of your text in full screen mode from the preferences dialog. Full-screen mode is a feature that is here because of feedback from users like you. It never would have occurred to me, but I do like it.

Other Handy Bits

Each part of the project has a default font associated with it. You can set those fonts in the Project Settings window under the Appearance tab.

There is a spelling checker that works in the standard Apple way – you can right-click a word for suggestions or you can turn on Check Spelling as You Type under the Edit menu.

You can show a ruler and copy and paste rulers between text sections. If you format a bit of text exactly the way you want it, and make it the default by Ctrl-clicking and choosing “Make this style the default.” Your new style will be applied to all text that used the old default, but specially-formatted text will be left alone.

For a long time, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) was a big deal in word processors. However, what works best on the screen is not always what you need to print. Jer’s Novel Writer has tried to make a step toward What You Want Is What You Get. You can create completely different appearance settings for when you print, even showing or hiding information.

Cmd-shift-B sets a bookmark and allows you to define the Cmd-number key that will jump you to it. When your cursor is at the bookmark, you can clear it.

Part 2

Things I’d like you to know


I wrote this program to fit the way I write. More specifically, I wrote it to help overcome my shortcomings. It would be terribly presumptuous to think that anyone else out there faced the same obstacles I do when I write, but it would also be presumptuous to think that I was the only one in the world with these handicaps. So I offer what I created to make me a better writer, hoping that it will help others too. If those others who are helped decide to pay me for the software, that’s not so bad, either.

There are several things that can break my momentum when I am writing. This program is specifically designed to help me keep writing when the creative juices are flowing, and then find all the things I need to go over again when I am in a more nitty-gritty mood.

You have already read above that one of the things that slows me down is looking up things I have written previously. That’s what the outline is all about. Rather than spending fifteen minutes rereading parts of my story, tracking down the passage I am looking for, I can use the outline to find the right spot, read what I need to read, and then get back.

Sometimes it will be months between when I first describe a character and they return in a significant role. Sometimes my idea of who the character is will evolve as I write. The database window provides a place for me to keep tabs on who is in my story, as well as the settings and factions.

Other times I will get hung up on getting a sentence just right. I can’t leave it behind – it’s ‘good enough’ and will pass a reread, but I know with a little concentration I can do better. The thing is, my mind is already moving on. I have ideas, and that’s no time to be hung up on mechanics. A click in the margin, type “make this sentence flow better”, and off I go.

So, what it boils down to is that I am a rockethead. Anything that will give me any grip on what I have written and what I need to write can do nothing but help. This software is dedicated to fellow rocketheads – people with more ideas than memory.

Microsoft Word is not really a good program for creative writers. Jer’s Novel Writer is not a good program for formatting a technical document or even a read me file. This program is all about making it as easy as possible to put your ideas down in an disorganized fashion, yet still find them and work with them later. Don’t get too worked up about fonts and formatting as long as it is easy for you to write.

More Details About the Program

If you’re still reading this you are either captivated by my inimitable style as a read me artist or you are genuinely curious about how to get the most out of Novel Writer. In either case, hurray!

Deep inside margin notes

By now you’ve probably already been playing around with the margin notes. I just want to make sure you don’t miss anything. First, note that you can move the notes around over there, but they will still remember the point in the text they refer to. When you roll your mouse over a note, a little line will appear showing you where the note is attached. If you want to change where the margin note is anchored, just drag it over the text to the point you want it to be attached. Piece of cake!

Moving the text the margin note is attached to will move the margin note as well, even to another Jer’s Novel Writer document.

The width of the margin is adjustable; just grab the gray bar over there and scoot it around.

I put the setting to give margin notes shadows in pretty much on a whim and I had planned to remove it from the shipping product, but you know what? Those shadows are pretty nice when your notes are very lightly colored.

If you end up with overlapping notes a lot, you can make your notes translucent. That way you can see what’s going on underneath.

When I’m banging away on a novel I find the controls at the top of the note a little distracting, so I like to turn on the setting so they only show when you roll the mouse over that area. They’re still there when I need them, but I don’t have to think about them.

Changing the appearance of your project

Jer’s novel writer goes a little further than most word processors when it comes to keeping the content of your novel and the appearance of your novel separate. Most of the others that do keep content and appearance separate don’t give you much flexibility at all while you’re working. So while I take the more traditional approach for little things like bold text and italics, most of the way this document looks is controlled from the Appearance tab in the Project Settings window.

In that view you can control the way the text looks on the screen, without mucking about with the text itself. When you want to change the appearance you just go up there and fiddle with it until it is the way that helps you work best.

Of course, the way you work best may be different on a printed page than on-screen. No biggie, there are separate settings for the appearance when you print. The window can be a little scary with all those buttons and stuff, but if you take it one bit at a time you’ll be comfy with it in no time.

You can also save print presets so you can easily switch from printing out the tiny-text version in the Klingon font to the double-spaced Times-Roman that your publisher, having no sense of humor, will insist upon. You can even have different settings for different publishers, so they’ll love your story unconditionally before they even read it.

Changing the structure of your project

Perhaps the most potentially confusing part of Novel Writer is the Project Structure panel in the Project Settings window. Its purpose is simple enough; it allows you to customize the levels that will appear in your outline and how they will be displayed.

This Read Me project has four levels: Book, Part, Section, and Text Block. There is one book, which has three parts. Each part has some number of sections, and each section has some number of Text Blocks.

You can modify the structure by opening the Structure tab in the Project Settings Window. Go ahead and open that puppy up and let’s poke around for a bit.

Each level for the project has its own set of controls. Try clicking the checkboxes and see how it affects the way this document looks.

So far you have just changed how the project is displayed on the screen. You can also add and remove levels. As an example, let’s add a level called Chapter between Part and Section.

Click the Insert button between Part and the Section levels. A new level is created. Name it “Chapter”. Now look at the outline. Each Part now has a Chapter 1. All the sections that were in each part are now in Chapter 1 for each part.

Removing levels is just as easy but a little more dangerous. To see what I mean, Click the remove button for the Section level. Click Continue in the warning dialog and look at the outline again. All the text blocks that were in the different sections have been combined together into chapters. All your work is still there, but you have lost some of your organization.

I recommend that you set up your structure early in your project and not remove levels after you have done a significant amount of work.

Reorganizing Your Story

The outline can be used to modify your story as well. You can delete a part by control-clicking. A menu will pop up with the option to delete that part. When you delete a part of your work, all the subparts that belong to it are deleted also.

You can also drag the parts of your novel around in the outline view to rearrange your story. When you drag a chapter it will always stay a chapter – the outline will only allow you to drop it between other chapters.

If you want to split a text section in two, put the cursor where you want the split to occur and select “Split Into…” from the Edit menu, and choose what you want to create. Everything after the cursor will be in a shiny, new section, chapter, or whatever all its own.

Project Statistics

In the Project menu, there is an option for Project Statistics. This tells you how many words you have in your project and approximately how many pages it is. Unlike other programs, the page count is not based on the word count. Behind the scenes, the program pretends to print the book and counts how many pages it takes. If you write a lot of dialog, this is far more accurate than just dividing the word count by some number.

Incidentally, I based the default page count on measurements taken from the paperback Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons by Kurt Vonnegut.

Exporting to .rtf and .doc

Amazingly, there may still be publishers who have not adopted Jer’s Novel Writer as their standard. Some day they all will, but until then, It will be useful to export your work in Rich Text Format, which can be read by almost any word processor, or Microsoft’s Word format. Note that the exported file will include the main text only, not your outline, database, or margin notes.

You can export just part of your work by selecting it in the outline and right-clicking (or Control-clicking if you still haven’t sprung that twenty bucks for a better mouse). Also, you can export the text using your current print settings rather than your screen settings. That way you can have your document just the way your publisher wants it, no muss, no fuss.

As with just about any Mac product, you can create a pdf version of the document through the print system.

Scrolling Mode

Another feature that came about because of user requests is typewriter mode. In this mode the document moves while the insertion point stays put. There are two variations of the typewriter mode; “sticky” keeps the insertion line where you put it, while “center seeking” will move the insertion point toward the center as you work, but not away from it.

No matter which mode you are in, pressing the Enter key (as opposed to the Return key) will center the insertion point on the screen.

Your Opinion Counts!

Try Jer’s Novel Writer for a while. The best word processor is the one you don’t even realize that you are using. I don’t think I have accomplished that, but I do think that when you do notice the tool, 87% of the time you will be appreciating that it made your job easier. That doesn’t mean that the program is as good as it could be. I’m just some guy writing software in his pajamas, which means that input from you is infinitely valuable and infinitely appreciated. Today’s user tirade is tomorrow’s killer app.

What should this program be? What should it do? I want this software to be as good as possible for a fairly small audience of writers that share my inadequacies. If you are part of that tiny community, I want to hear from you. I may not agree with every criticism, but I want to hear them all. The people who care enough to write about it are the people who will be my best friends.

I would especially like to hear from professional writers who have other techniques to help them write better that I could build into this software.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll accept input from any source if it will make the software better. Please feel free to writer me at:


The best place of all to give feedback is in the forums at That way other people can benefit from your questions and bug reports.

Part 3

Registering Jer’s Novel Writer

Thanks, intrepid beta testers!

That about sums it up, I would say. I could not make this software great without your continued help. Although the beta is free, the 1.0 version of the software will not be. Those who participate in making the software better will be able to use that karma to save money when the time comes – the best way to build up your money-saving mojo is to participate in the forums at

In the forums there is a small but growing community of very clever and creative people who have already helped make Jer’s Novel Writer much better than it would have been. You can be one of them! There is also a tech support thread where you can find answers to questions or ask your own.

If you really want to, you can pay for the software. The key you receive will work all through beta and version 1.0. Judging by the rate I increment version numbers, that could be a long time. Drop by and support the cause!

As I revise this document, sitting in a Café nine time zones away from Callahan’s, I gotta say I’m pretty excited. People are starting to use the program, and I’m getting all kinds of great suggestions and criticism, as well as a heaping helping of compliments. I guess there are other people like me out there, who just want to write without having to worry so much.


And now, if you will excuse me, I have a novel to write.


Jerry Seeger

Jer’s Software Hut

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