Novel Projects#

New projects can be created from the Project menu by selecting New Project. This will open the New Project Wizard that will assist you in creating a barebone project suited to your needs.

A novelWriter project requires a dedicated folder for storing its files on the local file system. See How Data is Stored for further details on how files are organised.

A list of recently opened projects is maintained, and displayed in the Open Project dialog. A project can be removed from this list by selecting it and pressing the Del key or by clicking the Remove button.

Project-specific settings are available in Project Settings in the Project menu. See further details below in the Project Settings section. Details about the project, including word counts, and a table of contents with word and page counts, is available through the Project Details dialog.

Project Roots#

Projects are structured into a set of top level folders called “Root Folders”. They are visible in the project tree at the left side of the main window.

The novel documents go into a root folder of type Novel. Project notes go into the other root folders. These other root folder types are intended for your notes on the various elements of your story. Using them is of course entirely optional.

A new project may not have all of the root folders present, but you can add the ones you want from the project tree tool bar.

Each root folder has one or more reference keyword associated with it that is used to reference them from other documents and notes. The intended usage of each type of root folder is listed below. However, aside from the Novel folder, no restrictions are applied by the application on what you put in them. You can use them however you want.


You can make multiple root folders of each kind if you wish to split up your notes.


It is not the notes themselves that are referenced by the listed reference keywords, but tags set within the notes. See the examples below and in Note References.


This is the root folder of all text that goes into the final novel or novels. This class of documents have other rules and features than the project notes. See Novel Structure for more details.


This is the root folder where main plots can be outlined. It is optional, but adding at least brief notes can be useful in order to tag plot elements for the Outline View. Tags in this folder can be references using the @plot keyword.


Character notes go in this root folder. These are especially important if you want to use the Outline View to see which character appears where, and which part of the story is told from a specific character’s point-of-view, or focusing on a particular character’s storyline. Tags in this folder can be referenced using the @pov keyword for point-of-view characters, @focus for a focus character, or the @char keyword for any other characters.


The locations folder is for various scene locations that you want to track. Tags in this folder can be references using the @location keyword.


If the story has multiple plot timelines or jumps in time within the same plot, this class of notes can be used to track this. Tags in this folder can be references using the @time keyword.


Important objects in the story, for instance important objects that change hands often, can be tracked here. Tags in this folder can be references using the @object keyword.


Does your plot have many powerful organisations or companies? Or other entities that are part of the plot? They can be organised here. Tags in this folder can be references using the @entity keyword.


The custom root folder can be used for tracking anything else not covered by the above options. Tags in this folder can be references using the @custom keyword.

The root folders correspond to the categories of tags that can be used to reference them. For more information about the tags listed, see Note References.


You can rename root folders to whatever you want. However, this doesn’t change the reference keyword.

Example of a character note:

1# Jane Doe
3@tag: Jane
5Some information about the character Jane Doe.

Example of a novel scene referencing the above character:

1### Chapter 1, Scene 1
3@pov: Jane
5When Jane woke up that morning ...

Deleted Documents#

Deleted documents will be moved into a special Trash root folder. Documents in the trash folder can then be deleted permanently, either individually, or by emptying the trash from the menu. Documents in the trash folder are removed from the project index and cannot be referenced.

A document or a folder can be deleted from the Project menu, or by pressing CtrlShiftDel. Root folders can only be deleted when they are empty.

Archived Documents#

If you don’t want to delete a document, or put it in the Trash folder where it may be deleted, but still want it out of your main project tree, you can create an Archive root folder.

You can drag any document to this folder and preserve its settings. The document will always be excluded from the Build Novel Project builds. It is also removed from the project index, so the tags and references defined in it will not show up anywhere else.

Recovered Documents#

If novelWriter crashes or otherwise exits without saving the project state, or if you’re using a file synchronisation tool that runs out of sync, there may be files in the project folder that aren’t tracked in the core project file. These files, when discovered, are recovered and added back into the project if possible.

The discovered files are scanned for meta information that give clues as to where the document may previously have been located in the project. The project loading routines will try to put them back as close as possible to this location, if it still exists. Generally, it will be appended to the end of the folder where it previously was located. If that folder doesn’t exist, it will try to add it to the correct root folder. If it cannot figure out which root folder is correct, the document will be added to the Novel root folder. Only if the Novel folder is missing will it give up.

If the title of the document can be recovered, the word “Recovered:” will be added as a prefix. If the title cannot be determined, the document will be named “Recovered File N” where N is a sequential number.

Project Lockfile#

To prevent lost documents caused by file conflicts when novelWriter projects are synced with file synchronisation tools, a project lockfile is written to the project folder. If you try to open a project which has such a file present, you will be presented with a warning, and some information about where else novelWriter thinks the project is also open. You will be give the option to ignore this warning, and continue opening the project at your own risk.


If, for some reason, novelWriter crashes, the lock file may remain even if there are no other instances keeping the project open. In such a case it is safe to ignore the lock file warning when re-opening the project.


If you choose to ignore the warning and continue opening the project, and multiple instances of the project are in fact open, you are likely to cause inconsistencies and create diverging project files, potentially resulting in loss of data and orphaned files. You are not likely to lose any actual text unless both instances have the same document open in the editor, and novelWriter will try to resolve project inconsistencies the next time you open the project.

Using Folders in the Project Tree#

Folders, aside from root folders, have no structural significance to the project. When novelWriter is processing the documents in the novel, like for instance during export, these folders are ignored. Only the order of the documents themselves matter.

The folders are there purely as a way for the user to organise the documents in meaningful sections and to be able to collapse and hide them in the project tree when you’re not working on those documents.


You can add child documents to other documents. This is particularly useful when you create chapters and scenes. If you add separate scene documents, you should also add separate chapter documents, even if they only contain a chapter heading. You can then add scene documents as child items to the chapters.

Project Documents#

New documents can be created from the tool bar in the Project Tree, or by pressing CtrlN. This will open the create new item menu and let you choose between a number of pre-defined documents and folders. You will be prompted for a label for the new item. You can always rename an item by selecting Rename Item from the Project menu, or by pressing F2.

Other settings for project items are available from the context menu that you can activate by right-clicking on an item in the Project Tree. The Transform submenu includes options for converting, splitting, or merging items.

Word Counts#

A character, word and paragraph count is maintained for each document, as well as for each section of a document following a header. The word count and change of words in the current session is displayed in the footer of any document open in the editor, and all stats are shown in the details panel below the project tree for any document selected in the project or novel tree.

The word counts are not updated in real time, but run in the background every few seconds for as long as the document is being actively edited.

A total project word count is displayed in the status bar. The total count depends on the sum of the values in the project tree, which again depend on an up to date index. If the counts seem wrong, a full project word recount can be initiated by rebuilding the project’s index. Either form the Tools menu, or by pressing F9.

Project Settings#

The Project Settings can be accessed from the Project menu, or by pressing CtrlShift,. This will open a dialog box, with a set of tabs.

Settings Tab#

The Settings tab holds the project name, title, and author settings.

The Project Name can be set to a different value than the Novel Title. The difference between them is simply that the Project Name is used for the GUI (main window title) and for generating the backup files. The intention is that the Project Name should remain unchanged throughout the project’s lifetime, otherwise the name of exported files and backup files may change too.

The Novel Title and Authors settings are used when building the manuscript, for some formats.

If your project is in a different language than your main spell checking is set to, you can override the default spell checking language here. You can also override the automatic backup setting.

Status and Importance Tabs#

Each document or folder of type Novel can be given a Status*_ label accompanied by a coloured icon, and each document or folder of the remaining types can be given an Importance label.

These are purely there for the user’s convenience, and you are not required to use them for any other features to work. No other part of novelWriter accesses this information. The intention is to use these to indicate at what stage of completion each novel document is, or how important the content of a note is to the story. You don’t have to use them this way, that’s just what they were intended for, but you can make them whatever you want.

See also Document Importance and Status.


The status or importance level currently in use by one or more documents cannot be deleted, but they can be edited.

Auto-Replace Tab#

A set of automatically replaced keywords can be added in this tab. The keywords in the left column will be replaced by the text in the right column when documents are opened in the viewer. They will also be applied to manuscript builds.

The auto-replace feature will replace text in angle brackets that are in this list. The syntax highlighter will add an alternate colour to text matching the syntax, but it doesn’t check if the text is in this list.


A keyword cannot contain spaces. The angle brackets are added by default, and when used in the text are a part of the keyword to be replaced. This is to ensure that parts of the text aren’t unintentionally replaced by the content of the list.


An automatic backup system is built into novelWriter. In order to use it, a backup path to where the backup files are to be stored must be provided in Preferences.

Backups can be run automatically when a project is closed, which also implies it is run when the application itself is closed. Backups are date stamped zip files of the project files in the project folder (files not strictly a part of the project are ignored). The zip archives are stored in a subfolder of the backup path. The subfolder will have the same name as the Project Name as defined in Project Settings.

The backup feature, when configured, can also be run manually from the Tools menu. It is also possible to disable automated backups for a given project in Project Settings.


For the backup to be able to run, the Project Name must be set in Project Settings. This value is used to generate the folder name for the zip files. Without it, the backup will not run at all, but it will produce a warning message.

Writing Statistics#

When you work on a project, a log file records when you opened it, when you closed it, and the total word counts of your novel documents and notes at the end of the session, provided that the session lasted either more than 5 minutes, or that the total word count changed. You can view this file in the meta folder in the directory where you saved your project. The file is named sessionStats.log.

A tool to view the content of this file is available in the Tools menu under Writing Statistics. You can also launch it by pressing F6, or find it on the Sidebar.

The tool will show a list of all your sessions, and a set of filters to apply to the data. You can also export the filtered data to a JSON file or to a CSV file that can be opened by a spreadsheet application like for instance Libre Office Calc.

As of version 1.2, the log file also stores how much of the session time was spent idle. The definition of idle here is that the novelWriter main window loses focus, or the user hasn’t made any changes to the currently open document in five minutes. The number of minutes can be altered in Preferences.