Writing tools – Journler

Someone asked me the other day “how can you be so careful about your writing, and still make so many mistakes?” Since the questioner was not an Obama supporter, I found it safe to assume she was talking about my grammar, not my content.

In a lighting quick reply I said, “It’s not easy. You have to work at it”.

What I should have said was, “It’s not easy you have to have a system”.

And I do. One of my crucial writting tools is an application called Journler. It has been with me from the start of my writing adventure, ever since I got my Mac, and it is the primary reason why I’m sure I’ll never again go back to a Windows machine. There just is nothing comparable in the vast sea of Windows applications to Journler. Although I find this surprising, I don’t really care, because while Journler brought me to the Mac I have since learned that there are a number of other reasons to use OS X as a writing platform in addition to the functionality in Journler. So this looks like a one way trip.

Journler is a notebook, datebook, cataloger, research collector, document organizer, and, yep, a journal, all in an deceptively simple application. The front end of the app allows you to add meta data like category and tags, labels and flags to rich text entries and then sort, folder and edit these entries using manual or smart screens.

In other words its just like the handwritten Moleskins I kept for years but in a format that I can actual use to synthesize rough work into something useful.

The developer is brilliant programer named Phil Dow, who gets the award for software guy most involved in his user group. Phil is constantly in on-line chat with the Journler community taking suggestions, fixing problems, but mostly educating people about the power and functionality already inherent in his application. Phil and Journler also have a large and devoted user community who seem to answer functionality posts instantly. There is one user, named NovaScotian, who seems to know as much about scripting the app as Phil does and generously donates his time to many comers. This kind of community is crucial when you are adopting an application you will be in everyday, sometimes all day long.

Journler has a Palm like simplicity engineered inside of a Mac OS’ power. All of the entrees (in my case fiction and non fiction drafts, ideas for development, notes about the day, travel logs, my Covey like vision goals and objects stuff, research about topics the pique my interest, pictures from the Opera…) are saved as natively readable files in folders in the Mac. It is like a giant index card file. The best part is the natively readable format. What this means is that (heaven forbid) Phil packs it in and heads to Tahiti leaving us with an abandoned application, all the files are just sitting there as if you had written everything in Word and set up your own folder system for organization (Its not quite that simple, but its close) Those of you who used applications like Commence for journaling or date-booking, or just keeping address, will know exactly what I mean when I say it really sucks when an application is abandoned and you are stuck with an unreadable proprietary data file or a funky, only kind of works but usually doesn’t, export option.

This safety hatch alone was enough to get me to commit to using Journler for my everyday witting. Phil would tell you that there is much more to Journler, like full text indexing, a bizarrely powerful thing called a lexicon, integrated media options like picture capture, movies, and sound, GTD support, some blogging integration, and the like, but for me the ability to have a repository tool for my stupid ideas, that can be integrated with some other less stupid ideas, then reworked into some vaguely coherent thoughts, and linked to the same stuff I already wrote about four months ago, referencing notes I took from a periodical in 2006 , and then slowly developing it all into something that just might be readable by someone outside of my immediate family, (they have to say they like my stuff because I feed them) this makes Journler my everyday writing tool.

A few years ago I went to Mark Twain’s house located outside of Hartford to escape an interminable business meeting at a stupid little company that was on the verge of failing before we bought them. I paid the museum’s admission, walked through the explanatory display and took the tour of the brown victorian house Twain called home from 1871 to 1891. It was exhilarating to walk the same halls this great American mind had occupied, to see the dining room where he tried out his lecture material, and see the upstairs study where he had penned his greatest works. At the head of his desk was a forty cubby hutch where he would keep cards and scraps of paper organizing the thoughts that came to him and which he later would meticulously arrange into his writing or his wildly popular speeches. As I think of the tools I use, I can’t help but think that were Twain with us today he would have the same cubby systems, but in an electronic format, on his Mac, and he would probably have built it in Journler.

More on file systems, archiving and note taking from Dougist…

Dating DEVONThink

The Low Fi Manifesto – Data Architecture, and Journler

Shifting Mediums

WriteRoom and Notational Velocity

Moving on from Journler, DT, all of them… File System Infobase Manager

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  1. NovaScotian
    Posted August 23, 08 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    As you apparently have, I fell in love with Journler on first tryout and couldn’t imagine continuing to use SOHO Notes any more. When Phil Dow responded very helpfully (along with other forum members like justG, Nanotechmama, Bluefrog, and too many others to mention, I was hooked. Because I’m an avid AppleScripter (and one of the moderators of bbs.applescript.net), I was particularly interested in extending Journler for my own use; scripting it to provide functions that weren’t built in that I share with the forum that has taught me so much. Thanks for the honorable mention.

  2. Posted August 24, 08 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Very useful info. Thanks…

  3. Posted August 28, 08 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I am just exploring journler … and it seeems to be THE application I was lookng for! Your article is a good motivation for me. It shows me that I’m on the right track. I was looking for something to write down my notes and to link part of them together. Also I was dreaming about integrating media files into my notes, but I did not believe it would be possible …

    Thank You!

  4. Posted September 2, 08 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Very nice article about Journler. I use it to keep all sort of information: research, project proposals, writing papers, personal stuff – it’s my one-stop information repository. The smart folders and the tagging and search abilities, together with the ability to attach any file to an entry, makes it possible to simply enter all sorts of information in there without worrying too much about classifying it in advance. It’s really a wonderful program, it is always open on my Mac (on its own space, next to Things).

  5. Posted October 7, 08 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    You may also find Karl Stolley’s “Lo-Fi Manifesto” interesting. I’m curious how you would think it relates to Journler.

  6. Posted October 10, 08 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment. I think Journler is going to be really useful for me. The smart folders are very efficient although there was a learning curve because I was used to thinking in hierarchical terms for collecting information (despite using smart folders for my email and iTunes, etc). My brain wanted to create folders and then put the appropriate info inside them but the beauty and ease of this program is that the info goes in first and then they are grouped and categorized. Unfortunately my free trial has been crashing on me. My computer probably needs an overhaul. But, I am considering purchasing the license for the program.

  7. Doug
    Posted October 10, 08 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Hey Nichelle,

    I think I mentioned this before but the support forums at Journler are great. If you are having crashes I’d bet the crew over there can help you out.

    One of my adoptions issues was similar to yours. Journler is very flexible and powerful, and sometimes you just don’t need all the stuff that it can do. I started with a hierarchical folder system with a few categories, and then started to exploit tags, and smart folders. Recently I’ve begun using tabs and labels. I guess my point is: Turning a bunch of stuff off at first is not a bad idea, you can always start using more features later.

  8. Doug
    Posted October 13, 08 at 11:12 am | Permalink


    Thanks for the reference. I posted a short piece about the Low Fi Manifesto here…

    The Low Fi Manifesto, Data Architecture, and Journler

  9. Posted November 16, 08 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Mmmm. Nice write up of Journler. It’s perhaps my current favourite app for general note-taking, though (as you know, Doug) I’ve been considering the way I store information about projects recently. One thing I forgot to mention in my own write up (http://www.jsamlarose.com/2008/11/systems/) was that I also use Scrivener. For all of my creative writing, Scrivener’s what works best for me, and with the way you can manage and reorder sections within a longer piece of writing, I think it’s a decent tool for drafting and developing a broad range of written works.

    One question: have you tried Evernote recently?

  10. Doug
    Posted November 16, 08 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jacob,

    I keep threatening to try Evernote, but never get around to it. I’m resisting, resisting, because it would be like a new toy I’d have to work on customizing and importing all my data. I find the iPhone capability alluring, as well as the sync (a real missing point for Journler)

    But somehow I get a little antsy about using a server based system.

    Scrivener is great! I use it for my big writing work. And now I’m using Bean for my little writing. (It has a great outliner, a very light weight OmniOutliner)

    Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Etuian
    Posted August 8, 12 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    The last paragraph of your opinion here is fantastic! I enjoyed reading your critique of Journler. I just wish it had a better name; Journler doesn’t convey its full potential and is annoying to say.

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