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Tools | Storymill


For me, writing without Storymill would be akin to painting with one paintbrush. Sure it could be done, but with great difficulty.

I’m a non-linear writer. While I’m pushing forward from the beginning I’m zipping out into the future to sketch scenes and then back to fill out how those events came to be. From draft to draft I massively restructure, moving scenes into new chapters and in different orders. I have tonnes of characters, locations, notes, and basic details like time of day to keep track of.

Enter the software capable of streamlining it all: Storymill

I’ve written about Storymill before, but I have an update since the last time.

In the past I’ve explained Storymill thinks like I write. I can move scenes around, assign them to chapters to get a view of the whole novel, and fill out lot and lots of metadata. Through the program I can keep track of all my notes, who is in what scene, what scenes are in which chapter. Everything that keeps me moving forward while I’m going back and forth. All with a clean, elegant interface.

But I had only tried one novel writing software.

Now I’ve looked at a few more.

Ulysses was a bust. Upon opening the program I found the interface cluttered and couldn’t see a way of adding scenes separately and shifting them around in the way I needed to. It looked entirely linear.

After some poking about I found that I could add new documents from the menu, which is actually rather cumbersome when you are used to hitting a (+) for whatever note you needed. The new documents could be reorganized so they were a bit like scenes, or perhaps chapters as I saw no option under what passed as metadata.

I also couldn’t find an option to read the whole thing through without tabbing around. It might be there, but I wasn’t going to be too bothered by it. By now I could tell the interface was just not worth playing with further.

It did allow you to colour code your status, just as Storymill does. Except Storymill has a more pleasing method of noting them and allows you to adjust the colours, which is great if you are adding a whole bunch of new options. I keep track of what’s missing what via colour code so that’s a must.

I next tried Storymill’s main competitor, Scrivener. I wasn’t all that pleased by what seemed to be a pretentious description in the app store. Nor was I all that thrilled that I needed to pick a format template but could see how someone writing non-fiction might benefit.  And call me picky but I was annoyed the program asked me to save my document before I got going. I don’t always want to keep what I start.

When it opened the interface was more cluttered than Ulysses!

Again I could see no way of creating just scenes and looking at just scenes. I could add them under a chapter, I could move a scene to a subsection of a scene which I could see being useful if you want to keep track of sub elements. But nothing to work with them outside a chapter. Yes I could drag them into other chapters. But my nonlinear brain doesn’t think in chapters, it thinks in scenes. Organizing them via chapter sort of just happens and many times I need to divide them up.

The character and setting templates were a little obnoxious and limited. They looked far too formulaic for real characters that breath and take over your story and tell you that what you thought they were going to do isn’t what they are going to do. The character section was also more cluttered than the others with a pointless bulletin board look that didn’t thrill me.

But most of all, and this is a fatal as far as I am concerned. I had no easy way to control where the paragraph starts, create automatic web chunking, or really easy way to do anything. The toolbar and preferences were so cluttered they put MS Word to shame. Indeed Word has improved from early days, and doesn’t force me to save when I just want to play around.

I also didn’t appreciate my writing being describes as scrivenings as that too seemed pretentious. Yes it’s a real word, but not one that any writer I know uses. All in all it was a bust and Storymill emerged the victor.

If you look at the apple design philosophy is stresses simplicity, ease of use, and an interface that disappears so you can do what you want. Out of those I have tried, only Storymill does that. If you want to fiddle with every setting and don’t mind a presumptuous program you could try Scrivener. If you want a cluttered look with very little control and no good reason for it, you could look at Ulysses. Personally I’m sticking with Storymill.

Thank you Mariner.

Last updated March 16th, 2018

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