Boswell for Macintosh - A Writer's Companion: Part One

One of the essential tools that a writer needs is a system for organizing information. Boswell for Mac may be just the thing. Think of it as PostIt Notes on steroids.

Let me say up front that this is a Mac OS program, with an OS X version in the works. As I work almost exclusively in OS X, I chose to review Boswell on the expectation of that OS X version. Even as a classic Mac OS application, it stands on its own merits. But ultimately a native OS X version is required.

Boswell is the flagship creation of Copernican Technologies of Santa Cruz, California. I had the pleasure of visiting that locale during my vacation last year. It's a stunning spot with, so far as I could ascertain, two principal industries: software development and surfing.

Likened to an efficient librarian, Boswell is a software program that strives to organize your thoughts on a project by making it reasonably convenient to store and keep track of the bits and pieces that go into the making of a finished document, as well as to help pull them together later. It also does a good job of archiving things in various ways, notably with its document version control.

Boswell utilizes a number of windows. Since each of those windows contains several columns and other information, you'll want most of them expanded somewhat. So, screen real estate rapidly becomes a premium. On a 17" monitor or larger, this shouldn't be an issue, but on my 15" slot-load iMac I do a fair bit of flipping between windows, which can be inconvenient. Boswell is the kind of program that you just leave running all of the time, and hide when not in use. That way, your windows stay where you want them. You also have it available when that brilliant idea pops into your head for a fleeting, precious moment.

For the first while, you'll want some active guidance in using Boswell well. It's more than being merely about coming up to speed. It's about developing a new facility, or habit, if you will. Do it right the first time, and the program will reward you handsomely in the years to come. An online tutorial, called The Nickel Tour is replete with screen shots and a flow diagram that I'd recommend printing and hanging on the wall near your Mac. The same information is also available in the included manual.

A Boswell demo is available. Download and install into your Applications (Mac OS 9) folder, like any standard Mac OS application. We'll play a bit now, and aim to to break it, in order to learn something. So go ahead and start Boswell, but save your PhD thesis for later. You may also find it useful to turn on balloon help (Help, Show Balloons). Pull down File, Open Library... and open the Boswell_Library alias inside the folder of the same name. We're ready.

The front window is called The Journal. This is your input point. Any journal entry can be modified. In the full version, inputs can be manual creations, clones of existing journal or notebook entries, and file or folder imports. The demo can handle all but the last type.

Create a new entry. Notice that some information is filled in for you. Modify the title a little, add some comments in the middle box, and type in a couple of lines in the text entry area below. Copy and paste a block or two of text from, say, this article into it as well. Select some text and pull down Text, Size to make it bigger. Good. Now leave this journal entry aside for a moment.

In the Notebooks window you'll find a set of preconfigured notebooks. Open up the Boswell Encyclopedia notebook with a double-click. Select the Clues entry, say, in the same way. Notice the three little icons above the body of text. The first one looks something like a little hammer. Click and hold it. Choose Clone. Voila! The entry has just been cloned as a new journal entry, where you can modify it at will. Do so, to distinguish it from the original. Put this one aside for a moment also.

Now pull down File, Import, Single Text File and open Boswell_Folder. Select Boswell_Overview.html and see what happens. The file will be brought in as a new journal entry, html codes and all. Modify at will.

Now you have three new journal entries, created in three different ways. The Journal is your workbench, as it were, so eventually you'll want to store your handiwork. Press that little hammer icon again (yes, the same one as you used in Notebooks) and select Archive. Pick a notebook, Daily Activities, say, and add that to the list on the right. Note that *RECENT is always preselected. Finally, press Archive. Do this for the other two entries.

What has just happened here? You have created some new entries, modified them, and stored them permanently in a database. As they're archived, they are also removed from the journal. If you want to pull up an entry and modify it again, then open the relevant notebook and clone it. When you archive the cloned copy, it will be as a totally new entry. However, you'll probably keep the title. So modified copies of the original note will stay together, and are differentiated by creation date, among other things.

Instead of Clone, you could also have chosen Versionize in the journal window. This would have produced an identical entry in the *RECENT notebook while leaving the journal entry as-is. Play with this a bit to get the feel of it.

Let's assume you're ready to produce something of a document, using selected notebook entries. You have at least three such entries so far. Open *RECENT (or whichever notebook you used) and select the entries. Use Cmd-Click or Shift-Click to select multiple entries. Now create a new notebook called Test, using Cmd-N in the Notebooks window. Next, drag Test onto the bookshelf icon (third of the three little ones) to copy the selected notebook entries into the Test notebook. Sort the entries as you will, according to the Archived tag, say. Finally, pull down File, Export Notebook and save the whole thing as a text file called Text.txt, which you can open in TextEdit or whatever and tweak to taste.

This is a fairly barbaric example, but if it serves the purpose of getting your feet wet with this program, then it served its purpose. The included documentation is quite good, and includes the basic steps typically used to build a complex document such as a thesis. Once you get the hang of the Boswell lingo and the way things work, you can try your life's memoirs. Next week, we'll work a more detailed example. Meanwhile, hack away with anything at hand, and see how you go. As they say in Santa Cruz, Happy Boswelling!