Notes, Focus mode, importing and more…Novlr v0.2.2

It’s that exciting time again – a new Novlr release. We’ve been working hard and we’ve got some exciting things to show for it. If you can’t wait as I go through them one by one, jump to the release notes at the bottom of the page. And don’t forget the amazing Lifetime heroes; who made this release possible.

Make notes, store ideas, build backgrounds

You’ve all been asking (rightly) for somewhere to write things that shouldn’t count towards the word count. Whether it’s making notes, ideas for later or whatever, you will now find a Notes tab in your chapter sidebar which you can fill to your heart’s content without it impacting on your word count. You’ve got one of these per novel.

 

Notes

In focus

We like stripping away distraction – that’s partly what Novlr was about in the first place – a beautiful writing space to let you focus. Well we’ve now added in the option to let you get even more focus. In Settings, you can now select Focus mode and then when you are typing the header and the toolbar at the bottom will fade away and it will be just you and your words. Only if you have your chapter sidebar closed.

Novlr writing screen in focus mode

Import a novel *beta

Sometimes you’re not starting a novel from scratch, you’ll have written some of it in a Word doc or a Google doc, or even in something like Scrivener, but now you’re using Novlr – you want all your novels in the same place. Well we’ve made that a bit easier. You can now import chapters simply including: .rtf, .docx, .txt and .odt. It’s hefty functionality, so we’d love you to all test it and see if you can break it for us 🙂

 

There is a bug we’ve already noticed – but thought we’d let you get your hands on it sooner rather than later. So text formatting in .odt isn’t perfect – sorry.

 

Import your novel into Novlr

So you’ve never used underline

With this release we’re also starting to let you customise Novlr a little – not too much (as we’ve spent a lot of time designing it a particular way!) – but if you’re someone who is never going to use underline, you can remove it from your toolbar altogether. Or you can have paragraph indents or a larger font size. Go wild!

 

Writing preferences - customise your online writing tool

There’s more too – but you’ve had enough to digest – get back to writing!

 

Novlr 0.2.2 Release Notes

Major

  • Importing: import your work from .docx .rtf .txt and .odt straight into Novlr
  • Split chapter: split your chapter at ny point to create a new one (useful if importing full novel into a chapter)
  • Notes: Notes section that doesn’t count towards your word count
  • Writing preferences: Customise Novlr to the way you work
  • Focus mode option: Fade out the application toolbars when writing to remove distractions

Minor

  • Tweak to chapter sidebar design (useability)
  • Inceased font size in settings (useability)
  • Added hover on elements (useability)
  • Tweak the way word stats show in the bottom right of editor (useability)

Bug fixes

  • Statistics adding 000s to total on a few accounts
  • GDrive not syncing daily
  • Extra linebreaks on .docx export
  • Chapter select not working if clicking above the chapter title

 

Lifetime Heroes that helped fund this release

Anna Lishman · Melanie Cotter · Jack Regnart · Travis Starnes · Ben Zuffi · Derek Ardolf · Steve Grant · Jim McNelis · Teresa Horne · Faraz Hasan · Dave Floyd · Lou Yardley · Katarina Skarbinec · Louise Holt

Release notes: Novlr v0.2.1

Thomas and I have been busy again for the last few weeks bringing you another release hot off the heels of 0.2.0. We hope you are going to like the new features in this one. As always if you have any questions, technical or otherwise, drop us an email at hello@novlr.org or tweet us at @novlrtweets. We

Release summary: We have added the much-anticipated Google Drive and Dropbox integration allowing you to sync a daily or weekly backup to your storage software of choice. Yay! We’ve also added bullets points and more granular word counting within the editor. As well as a few little bugs that also got squashed int he making of this release.

Novlr v0.1.2

Major

  • Sync to dropbox
  • Sync to Google Drive

Minor

  • Bullet formatting
  • Improved word count in the editor (in your status bar at the bottom you now have the chapter count, novel count and, on hover, todays count)
  • Show word count as negative if words deleted
  • Updated editor library (quil.js to 0.20)

Bug fixes

  • “ctrl+y” not working as “redo” on windows
  • Export not working in Firefox
  • Lazy loading in Firefox

Happy writing wonderful beta users!

Two bug-fixes pushed live: Page scrolling to top and extra line breaks when pasting from word

Hello beta testers. So today we pushed some code live that we hope fixes two quite small but annoying bugs that were happening to quite a few of you. I have found it hard to replicate them because they happen only on some devices and operating systems (and the windows license key nature of Novlr being just Thomas and I means we don’t have all of these to test on!) however, I think I know where they were coming from (more on that in a bit) and so am hoping this resolves it. The two bugs are:

Scrolling back up the page when typing
Windows predominantly. Reported only from IE
When typing, once the length of the chapter extended down the height of the device, every save would skip you back to the top of the editor.

Pasting from word adds additional line breaks
WIndows and Mac. Various version of Microsoft word. Multiple browsers.
Pasting text in from Microsoft word would add additional line breaks half way through sentences.

What do we need from you?

If you were having trouble with either of these bugs, it would be a huge, and I can’t overestimate how huge, help to us if you would see if it is still happening and let us know if it is or not. You can do this by tweeting us @novlrtweets or email kim@novlr.org.

How did you fix it?

Firstly, I don’t know for sure that it is, as I say because I had trouble replicating it, I’m hoping you will tell us for sure! However, I believe that both of these bugs were as a result of the editor library we use, Quill, requiring the editable part of the page to be in an iframe. This adds many complications – it’s a bit like having a webpage inside of a webpage. The latest version of Quill was a big re-write and dropped this entirely which makes it 1. much easier to develop and 2. much easier to debug inflatable bouncers!

That time novlr made the words invisible

Slap, bang, we were so close! So tantalising close to launching offline. I mean we did launch it. But there was a problem.

Last night at 00.30am GMT, we launched offline editing. We always release new functionality at least 12 hours before announcing it in case any issues crop up. Well they did. We woke up to two people rightly very worried that their words seemed to have disappeared. We reverted the code and within an hour they could see them again.

But what had happened?
Well, it’s a strange one. When you look at Novlr, you are probably looking at the most recent code, but browsers also “cache” code to stop it reloading it every time. The code can tell the browser if it is modified and that will tell it load the newest stuff. Well our code had a bug that meant that it was telling the browser that it wasn’t modified and so users weren’t getting the latest copy of the code. (If you are technically minded, details of the bug are here.) One of the things that was affected was the stylesheet which defines what everything looks like and, as a consequence, the colour of the font. Meaning that all of the words were there but were ‘invisible’! Yeah, I know. Not something we’ve come across before either!

The solution
Reverting the code, then asking the affected users to refresh brought the old code back. We then corrected the code that was telling the browser that it was always unmodified. We have also added extra caching instruction to make sure that you always have a full copy of the latest code when you need it. We launched all that today. As for the offline stuff which we had to take down, we are giving the caching 24 hours as it is new functionality, before then launching the offline work again.

Another lesson learnt and another improvement to the Novlr code and deploy process.

Oh and I don’t think I can say this enough…WE WILL NEVER LOSE YOUR WORDS. We triple back them up every five minutes to different locations, so even in the hugely unlikely event they really did go missing, we would have them.

Working out multiple devices

So since we opened up beta to everyone (at the end of October), the number of beta testers has grown at over 50 a day! That is a lot of people using Novlr!

This increase in people means we are getting more issues reported. Sounds like a bad thing I know. But it sort of isn’t (we’re optimists here!). What it means is that issues that are happening to a number of people show up pretty quickly because our diligent testers are reporting them in larger numbers. basically it makes it easier for us to figure out what is a “one-off” bug and what is something that needs dealing with urgently.

We’ve come across one of the latter.

We have had reports of people occasionally having issues with Novlr not updating when switching from one device to another. We’ve had about 15 reports, which may not sound like many with 2000 people using the product but it is an indication that it is not an ad-hoc thing. We are working on this as we speak. Weirdly, our work on offline editing fits really neatly with our solution to the multiple device conundrum so we have fast-tracked both together and this is our current focus with an aim to have it live in the next few weeks.

The work on this is thanks in *whole* to the lifetime heroes who have invested in Novlr, saving them a tonne of cash in the future and also helping us pay for current development. You can be one too if you like.

Anyway, in the meantime here is some advice on working on Novlr on multiple devices

  1. If you come to a device with Novlr open where you previously left off and a chapter isn’t up to date with what you worked on elsewhere –
    • Don’t write in the chapter (this will overwrite your work written elsewhere)
    • Refresh the page. This will update it in 95% of cases.
    • If that doesn’t work, flush the cache and refresh the page again.
  2. If you are still having problems get in touch with kim@novlr.org with the time of the problem she will do what she can to help you.

Like I say, we are currently building functionality that will resolve this. But we wanted to make sure you were of this bug.

Thanks again for being the best beta testers a couple of optimistic procrastinating writer-come-developers could ask for.

Novlr – for life, not just for Christmas

We’re so pleased to be sending someone a special present. A lifetime of Novlr!

We recently offered all those wonderful people who backed us on our recent Kickstarter the opportunity to get their hands on a lifetime’s worth of Novlr. We’ve been so pleased by how many of you have and it is really helping us get Novlr features out as soon as we can.

One of our Kickstarter backers even bought a lifetime Novlr for one of their friends as a Christmas present. So we (Kim) made them a lovely card. Hopefully their 2015 will be filled with lots of fantastic writing.

IMG_3324

Opening it up to beta testers.

We do hope to open the option of buying a lifetime Novlr account to all of our beta testers over the next few days. We’ll be offering a limited number of these accounts so watch this space!

It’s all coming together

Exciting news friends! Novlr is getting close to ready for beta. All of the functionality that we are going to have in the test version is there and we are just doing some front-end development to make it work like a dream on as many devices as we can and then its time for some alpha testing (that’s the kind of testing the developers do, the beta is where you lot come in).

We are both working every hour we can pilfer from our regular lives on this project and cannot contain our mix of excitement that it’s nearly there and terrified anticipation at the thought of you guys taking a first glimpse. There is always the nagging feeling in the back of my head that you’ll see it and go “Is that it?” after the anticipation of the last few months. Obviously the hope is that instead you will find it easy to use, simple and ultimately will change the way you write your novel in the future. So here’s to hoping for reactions on the latter end of that spectrum!

You can read about what’s in the beta in my blog post from last month and if you missed sign up for beta you can sign up to be notified when Novlr is ready for public release (boy will that be an exciting email to get!).

So whilst you quell your enthusiasm for another day, we’ll get on with fine-tuning this.

Not long now!

You never have to hit “Save” again

This week’s project has been the little task of never making you ever have to hit save again!

One of the most important things you asked for was constant saving so you don’t even have to think about it – it just does it. So that’s what we’re doing. First step: building the editor. We’ve not got to formatting yet but are just looking at how to build the editing bit, the bit we are calling the “paper”.

This is an important bit to get right (I have said this a lot throughout dev, I guess everything is important!) so we did a lot of research around what libraries (code) already exist, particularly markdown-ready ones and ones with simple interfaces. After exploring pen, tinyMCE and Hallo, we settled on an open source editor called Quill.js (for now at least). So what we have done is used the raw form of Quill to provide the foundation for the editor.

It’s currently a blank page on the Novlr product (no formatting – we’ll get to that in a couple of weeks). You can type on the page and the words are stored as part of the chapter in the database. This is progress. It still has a long way to go – the formatting, the usability of it, keyboard shortcuts and crucially what it is doing behind the scenes (to make it exportable to all of the formats you will need). However, this means that one thing that is working is the feature voted second most important by you (at time of writing :)) which is constant saving.

Constant saving: the nitty gritty

For saving we thought that there were essentially two ways to tackle it. Save at intervals or save when something’s happening. We drafted about five solutions:

  1. Save the whole novel every 5 seconds
  2. Save the chapter being edited every 5 seconds
  3. Save the chapter being edited every 5 seconds whenever you are typing
  4. Save the chapter every time there is a third of a second break in the typing (so “whenever something has changed”)
  5. As 4. but only save “the difference” rather than the whole chapter

I won’t go into all of the discussion around the options. I also acknowledge that on the face of it there might not seem much difference between these options, however when you are spending hours writing a novel, it is these little interactions that make a big difference.

We went with, *drumroll*, number four. Which we believe is the second best option there. The best being number 5 which I’ll get onto in a second. So number four works by detecting when keystrokes are being made. It then essentially gets ready to save but stores it up until there is a 0.3 second break in the keystrokes (this time period we can experiment with and adjust) and then saves. And then as soon as a keystroke is detected again, it starts storing up the save again! For those technically-leaned, this is utilising something called “de-bouncing” and comes packaged as part of a helper library called lo-dash.

So, what happens on that “save” event is: we take the whole chapter and update the database with this newer version. Like I said above, this is probably not the ideal solution, number five would be as it would save only the difference. This would be less “expensive” on the server (not as intense on the memory), however, this is technically a much greater task and something we hope to add in the future when we look at adding versioning (being able to track back through all the changes you’ve made). For beta, the number of people using Novlr at the same time should mean that this marginal difference in processing times shouldn’t have an impact of usability, however when it is scaled up and used by thousands (ney, millions) at once, we may need to rethink.

To have the constant-saving in place is a great step and I am now just excited to get on with the rest of it!

And that’s it. As I say, the editor requires a lot of work so will dominate our attention for the next couple of weeks but after that we will be looking at the export functions and the settings available to you.

All about beta

I thought I’d give you a little update on development as it’s been a few weeks since the last one. Our goal of having a beta ready in July is hovering in the distance, just close enough to get us sweating at the collar but far enough for us to treat ourselves to the occasional cup of tea! We have a pretty clear idea of what we want the beta to be now (and what’s feasible in that timeline) but maybe haven’t shared that with you guys yet. Before you read on, make sure you are signed up to be one of our Beta testers.

Release 0: Beta

So, in summary, Beta will be the foundation. It will be the first draft but be robust and secure. It will be opened up to the 500 hundred of you who have signed up to beta so far and those that do so in the meantime. We may roll it out in stages starting with those who signed up first to keep the level of feedback and bug fixing manageable. Beta will be the crux of Novlr and will have the user-friendly interface, chapters (with the ability to add, delete and move them around), the editor, basic settings, wordcounts, basic export options, formatting and – crucially – constant saving. It will be tablet-ready and device responsive (but not to mobile at this point – mobile will need a whole other level of thought to consider how people will use screens at that size with something like this – writing up whole chapters is unlikely with just your thumbs!).

Then the next step will be planning for the first public release of Novlr where features like tagging chapters, advanced exports and quick search will be introduced – exactly what we do will be entirely informed by the feedback from beta. From there, we will be working through the feature list in order of priority that you decide on. This includes adding character profiles, tagging of paragraphs, plot arcs, motivational tools and whatever else you clever people come up with. Beyond beta we have an idea of the direction but the road is untrodden, our users will be the ones to mark it out for us – Novlr is being built for writers and we need you to be a big part of the development of it.

I’ll be blogging in between coding sprints and Thomas will be blogging too – often writing more inspiring blog posts about your actual writing and useful feature pieces!

Until next time x