Managing Projects#

Your text in novelWriter is organised into projects. Each project is meant to contain one novel and associated notes. If you have multiple novels in a series, with the same characters and shared notes, it is also possible to keep all of them in the same project.

Creating Project#

New projects can be created from the Project menu by selecting Create or Open Project. This will open the Welcome dialog, where you can select the New button that will assist you in creating a new project. This dialog is also displayed when you start novelWriter.

A novelWriter project requires a dedicated folder for storing its files on the local file system. If you’re interested in the details, you can have a look at the chapter How Data is Stored.

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


The project list (left) and new project form (right) of the Welcome dialog.#

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’s novel text, including word counts, and a table of contents with word and page counts, is available through the Novel Details dialog. Statistics about the project is also available in the Manuscript Build tool.

Template Projects#

From the Welcome dialog you can also create a new from another existing project. If you have a specific structure you want to use for all your new projects, you can create a dedicated project to be used as a template, and select to copy an existing project from the :guilabel:”Prefill Project” option from the New Project form.

Project Structure#

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.

The root folder system is closely connected to how the Tags and References system works. For more details, see the Tags and References chapter.

Root Folder Types#


This is the root folder type for 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 type 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 type. These are especially important if you want to use the Outline View to see which character appears where, which part of the story is told from a specific character’s point-of-view, or focusing on a particular character’s storyline.

The character names can also be inserted into for instance chapter titles when you create your manuscript. Tags in this type of 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 character present.


The locations folder type 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 folder type can be used to track this. Tags in this type of folder can be references using the @time keyword.


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


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

The root folders are closely tied to the tags and reference system. Each folder type corresponds to the categories of tags that can be used to reference them. For more information about the tags listed, see How to Use References.


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

New in version 2.0: As of version 2.0, you can make multiple root folders of each kind to split up your project.

Deleted Documents#

Deleted documents are 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 moved to trash from the Project menu, or by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Del. Root folders can only be removed 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 accidentally, but still want it out of your main project tree, you can create an Archive root folder instead and move it there. It has the same effect as moving it to Trash, but it is safe from deletion.

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

Using Folders in the Project Tree#

Regular folders, those that are not root folders, have no structural significance to the project. When novelWriter is processing the documents in a project, like for instance when you create a manuscript from it, these folders are ignored. Only the order of the documents themselves matter.

The folders are there purely as a way for you 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.

New in version 2.0: As of version 2.0 it is possible to 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.

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 storage folder that aren’t tracked in the core project file. These files, when discovered, are recovered and added back into the project.

The discovered files are scanned for metadata that give clues as to where the document may previously have been located in the project. The project loading routine 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 type. If it cannot figure out which root folder is correct, the document will be added to the Novel root folder. Finally, if a Novel does not exist, one will be created.

If the title of the document can be recovered, the word “Recovered:” will be added as a prefix to indicate that it may need further attention. If the title cannot be determined, the document will be named after its internal key, which is a string of characters and numbers.

Project Lockfile#

To prevent lost documents caused by file conflicts when novelWriter projects are synchronised via file synchronisation tools, a project lockfile is written to the project storage folder when a project is open. If you try to open a project which already 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 given the option to ignore this warning, and continue opening the project at your own risk.


If, for some reason, novelWriter or your computer 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.

Project Documents#

New documents can be created from the toolbar in the project tree, or by pressing Ctrl+N. 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 when a document or folder is selected.

Other settings for project documents and folders are available from the context menu that you can activate by right-clicking on an it in the tree. The Transform submenu includes options for converting, splitting, or merging documents. See Splitting and Merging Documents for more details on the latter two.

Document Templates#

If you wish to create template documents to be used when creating new project documents, like for instance a character note template, you can add a Templates root folder to your project. Any document added to this root folder will show up in the Add Item menu in the project tree toolbar. When selected, a new document is created with its content copied from the chosen template.

New in version 2.3.

Word Counts#

A character, word and paragraph count is maintained for each document, as well as for each section of a document following a heading. 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 trees.

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 project index. If the counts seem wrong, a full project word recount can be initiated by rebuilding the project’s index. Either from the Tools menu, or by pressing F9.

The rules for how the counts are made is covered in more detail in Word and Text Counts.

Project Settings#

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

Settings Tab#

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

The Project Name can be edited here. It is used for the main window title and for generating backup files. So keep in mind that if you do change this setting, the backup file names will change too.

You can also change the Authors and Project Language setting. These are only used when building the manuscript, for some formats. The language setting is also used when inserting text into documents in the viewer, like for instance labels for keywords and special comments.

If your project is in a different language than your main spell checking language is set to, you can override the default setting here. The project language can also be changed from the Tools menu.

You can also override the automatic backup setting for the project if you wish.

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 labels are there purely for your 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 is 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. The path defaults to a folder named “Backups” in your home directory.

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 name and path of the backups. 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. For more details about the log file, see How Data is Stored.

A tool to view the content of the log 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 or Excel.

New in version 1.2: 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.