MacJournal 6 is an ideal personal writing organizer
By William Porter
At a glance
Boy, there are a lot of writing applications on the market now. In addition to Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 (), there are word processors that specialize in handling foreign languages (Nisus Writer, Mellel), others that specialize in page creation (Pages ’09; ), and apps that you can use in your web browser (Google Docs). Then there are basic text editors, advanced text editors, idea management tools, screenplay-writing applications, notetakers, desktop blogging applications, simple writing tools that emphasize attractive font design, outliners, scrapbooks, and many other genres that I’m forgetting. One way to describe the landscape is to say there is something for just about everybody. Another way to describe it would be to say there are way too many options.
MacJournal 6 (Mac App Store link) offers a remarkably good compromise. It isn’t trying to replace Word, at least for business or academic purposes: MacJournal doesn’t offer change tracking, footnotes, endnotes, or indexing. It’s not a really a page editing tool, either, or an outliner. Nevertheless, as a writing tool, it is pretty versatile and generally capable. As a way of organizing or managing your writing, it may be without rival. MacJournal is usually categorized as “journal” software. There are plenty of folks who do need to keep daily journals, either for personal or business reasons. But MacJournal is a much more generally useful tool and a broader description might be appropriate, say, a personal writing organizer.
MacJournal is a personal writing tool. It’s not designed for the kind of collaborative editing that you can do with Microsoft Word or Google Docs. You will do the writing on your own. And if you want to keep your thoughts to yourself, MacJournal makes it easy, by allowing you both to password protect and encrypt your journals and entries.
On the other hand, if you want to share your thoughts, MacJournal is designed to help you with that, too—it is one of the best blog editors I’ve used. MacJournal is especially useful if you blog at more than one service and want to be able to keep track of what you’ve said across blogs, with a single, excellent user interface. I work with both WordPress and Blogger fairly often and have worked with Tumblr occasionally, and it is a bit vexing to have to deal with the different online tools. It took only a minute or two to let MacJournal know about my blog accounts at all three services. I had no problems posting to WordPress and Blogger, though working with Tumblr is a bit hit-or-miss.
You can’t edit your blog’s HTML in MacJournal but that could be a good thing for folks unfamiliar with HTML coding. Uploading images can also a bit roundabout depending on the restrictions set by the online services; Tumblr’s blogging API, for example, doesn’t support direct upload of images. MacJournal helpfully lets you know this and instructs you to create a separate upload location for pictures. I configured my Tumblr info inside MacJournal to use a Picasa Web Albums account. After that, images dragged into my journal entry were uploaded to Picasa Web Albums, the text of the entry was uploaded directly to Tumblr, and the pictures were referenced. The result? The blog displayed online exactly as I expected. This takes a difficult technical problem and handles it about as nicely as it could be handled.
You can also print your journals, send an entry to someone by email, or create an iCal entry from a post. In version 6, you can even create a book from a journal by exporting to ePub, though I experienced a problem exporting journals containing pictures. Mariner tech support was very helpful and they said they are working on a fix.
MacJournal is built upon the writing tools built into Mac OS X, the tools you see and use in TextEdit. MacJournal has a library of built-in character styles, line spacing and the other basic formatting options writers frequently want.
MacJournal is also very good at handling pictures and other non-textual adornments to your writing. To add a picture to an entry, just drag and drop the picture where you want it to go. Control-click or right-click the picture to resize it.
Entries are automatically given a “topic,” which is the current date and time stamp, but you can change if you like.
MacJournal’s focused editing feature isn’t simply full-screen editing (as in Pages), but a special green-on-black editing environment that eliminates just about all distractions. Pictures appear in focused editing, and simple formatting such as italics will be displayed as well. But focused editing hides the organizational environment—the panes showing your journals and entries—and lets you concentrate on the current entry.
And now we come to the dimension of MacJournal that sets it apart and above the alternatives: organizing your writing efforts. You could use Pages, Word, or TextEdit and pay close attention to where you were saving files in the Finder. But dealing with the Finder is so last century. MacJournal’s user interface organizes your writing for you.
MacJournal’s organizing tools are extensive but very easy to understand, because they resemble those in other programs we all use, such as iPhoto or Aperture for photos, or your favorite email program, or iTunes. The basic hierarchy in MacJournal has three levels. At the top, you have one or more documents. Documents contain journals or smart journals and these in turn are collections of entries. You might never need more than one document, but some may want to keep personal writing completely separate from work writing, and for this, creating two documents would be the obvious solution. A college professor, for example, might have a document named School, with a journal for each subject taught, and entries for each lecture. Only one document can be the main document, the one that opens automatically and is indexed by Spotlight. Smart Journals, like Smart Playlists in iTunes, automatically collect entries according to criteria you define.
Organizing entries by journals and entries is just the start. Entries can also be assigned tags, labels and moods.
Moving a journal to the trash is done immediately, without asking for confirmation. This is in line with the way things work now in OS X and the iOS. The good news is that MacJournal has its own trash. When you trash something, it isn’t sent to your Mac’s trash directly. You have to empty the trash in MacJournal. There is a Trash icon in the sidebar, so you can view items you’ve deleted before you empty the trash for good.
Ease of use
For the most part, in spite of its extensive feature set, using MacJournal is simplicity itself. You’ll be creating and editing entries in no time.
I did run into a couple of small problems with the user interface. For example, at one point, I spent some time trying to figure out why the Smart Journal menu command was dimmed. The documentation is generally good but I didn’t find what I needed there. In the end, the customer support folks came through with prompt answers to questions.
Macworld’s buying advice
MacJournal doesn’t address every problem you may encounter when writing. But if you keep a journal, write a blog (or a couple of blogs), or just want to have a great place to jot down your thoughts without worrying about losing them, then MacJournal 6 is hard to beat.
[William Porter is an independent software developer, writer, and event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.]
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