Review: MacJournal 3.0.2
Developer: Mariner Software
Price: $25 (download); $30 (boxed)
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.2
Trial: Fully-featured (15 days)
When you write often and generate a great deal of supplementary text, as a blogger or as a “real” writer, keeping track of all the bits you’re pushing becomes quite a challenge. Where did I put that nut graf for the signed column I’m writing? Where did I write down those inspired sentences to make into a lead—and where are my notes on that review of MacJournal for ATPM?
I sat down, just before I agreed to review MacJournal, and took an inventory of all the myriad places I keep my text files, and it dawned on me that I must be insane. When I write a Bloggable column, I do about three hours of organization. In any given month, I take notes on research for info graphics, product pages, and features I’m working on; I make clippings for fiction that is under way; I jot things down for the occasional weblog post; and of course I produce my columns and reviews.
The goal, in reviewing Mariner Software’s very nice tool, was both to test its explicit functionality and to see if MacJournal made my writing process cleaner and more organized. To give away the conclusion, the answer was that it was not useful as a blog client, that it did made me more organized, but that didn’t lead to better or faster writing. At least everything is in one place now.
Let me detail the challenge I was asking a piece of software to overcome. My writing system has undergone natural selection over the years. It involves a lined paper notebook, voice notes on my cell phone, sticky notes on my desk, text and clipping files strewn about on my desktop, a Gmail label for link dumps, and a clipping drawer in Drop Drawers X. To write one of my columns or reviews isn’t rocket science, but it sure generates a lot of inane jottings. The computer has made it possible for people like me to be as disorganized as gonzo Hunter S. Thompson, R.I.P., and produce clean writing: I have yet to fax my astonishingly patient editors, Michael Tsai and Chris Turner, numbered pages of notes otherwise out of sequence. Before I finished downloading the disk image, my software was already developing an ulcer worrying about organizing me.
MacJournal, doing a month’s worth of computerized organizing.
The first thing I did with MacJournal was, basically, try it for its intended purpose. I reviewed MarsEdit in January, so I wanted to kick the tires on an entirely different kind of client. MacJournal stores its entries in what seems to be RTF, so you have access to the full OS X rich-text editing suite; and you can do other interesting things, like insert text links that show up as underlined and clickable. Then, you export it to HTML (or RTF or plain text, if you must be so déclassé) and put it on your Web page, if you’re still into that mode. One of the perks, though, is that MacJournal also supports posting to LiveJournal and Blogger—and therefore Movable Type, in theory, though I couldn’t make it work in practice.
For this purpose, I went through a great deal of effort, importing all my old Bloggable: The Companion Weblog entries. It could have been smoother, but MacJournal doesn’t automatically recognize and import Movable Type’s export format; I had to go through and tweak each entry into a format the import window’s “Try to discover entries in file” option wouldn’t gag on. (Hint, hint, Mariner Software.) As you can imagine, it was great fun with 13 entries, so I did not attempt it on my 176-entry primary blog. Also, if you use MT and write your entries with a text formatting system other than the default “Convert line breaks” option, you will have to go through and convert every link and blockquote, too. What I got from this exercise had one advantage over a conventional weblog client: I had offline access to all my old entries, too. I tried it on an airplane, though, and did not find this to be particularly useful. If you are often away from the Internet, and you write as you go along like Alex Pang or Maciej Ceglowski, you could turn this into a posting queue, but I am neither a heavy traveler not a reliable blogger, so I am seldom offline.
Bloggable: The Companion Weblog, in a vastly prettier format than even Markdown. It’s a shame I couldn’t make the ‘Share->Blogger…’ option play nice with Movable Type.
In theory MacJournal can identify individual entries in an imported file. In practice, it must follow an unusual format incompatible with most weblog systems’ exporters.
Then, I moved to the heart of the matter. How could I leverage a wide variety of incompatible formats into one application?
MacJournal supports multiple journals, so I divided my usage up into “Clippings,” “Randomness,” “Writing,” and the already-present “Bloggable.” Then, I made some new entries and treated them as my clipping files.
It turns out this is a fantastic approach. The best analogy I can make is that it is like the process of fact-checking, at least the protocol we use at the major New York magazine where I am now an extremely lowly intern. If you want to be sloppy, you can scatter your notes from phone calls, your Web, Nexis and e-mail print-outs, and the writers’ back-up files in your desk drawer. If you want to be clean, you start sticking things in folders, and dating the sheets of paper and sticky notes and everything else, and highlighting relevant portions.
But for the proprietary nature of the notes contained within, and my present lack of a scanner, I would gladly show you how much cleaner these notes are than the notes I keep in my Moleskine. (I still keep grocery lists and the like in it.) For instance, I recently wrote an entry to go on the magazine’s blog, and my notes, if I had done this the old-fashioned way, it would have involved a link stuck in a clipping Drawer and the text jotted down in the Moleskine. Instead, it looked like this:
Imagine how much easier it is to write a quick post, when you don’t have to cross-index URLs and suggested text in separate places and formats.
I would guess I shifted several hours of organizational time, in writing my Bloggable column for this month, from the front end to the back end using MacJournal. It became a lot more time up-front, because it meant no more making notes while standing on the 4 train. The old method afforded me a lot more luxury to be cute and funny, even though I am neither, and to ponder word choice, in part because it relied so greatly on offline work.
And, of course, for fear of losing everything, I reverted to the old method for this review. (The notes for my reviews are written in the Moleskine, ever since I got burned with a last-minute hard drive near-miss last fall.)
To summarize the process, I enjoyed using MacJournal to organize my writing. It turned the process of forging words from thoughts into more a craft and less a scavenger hunt. Yet I did not enjoy it for its intended purpose, keeping a journal, because without the interoperability, it was just like keeping a folder somewhere full of RTF files. Its lack of a talented import-export unit, like an American car company, hampers it.
Does your writing process sound like mine? The $25 will be well worth the hours (or days, if you are particularly Thompsonian) MacJournal could save you. But are you an avid blogger? You may want to look for a tool that will better suit your needs.
• • •
On April 27, just before this issue went to press, Mariner Software released an updated MacJournal, version 3.1. Though we didn’t feel we should offer you a less-than-thorough review of the new version, their press release does not indicate what I consider to be any major new features other than pre-release 10.4 compatibility.
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