Exploring Mellel

I’ve been interested in the Mellel word processor for years. But as I’ve switched my writing format to Markdown, and my writing environment to Scrivener, I haven’t had much of a reason to put the software through it’s paces past it’s trial period. Until now, that is.

Each Summer I put together the annual directory and Annual Session guide for The American Baptist Churches of New Jersey. This project eventually reaches around 150 pages and includes many different sections and sub-sections. Putting it together is very time-consuming.

During the development phase, I’m often moving these sections into different orders in the document structure, which makes the current version of Pages a non-starter1. I don’t own Microsoft Word, nor to I want to, so that is also not an option. Last year I was working on laying out a devotional book for the region, so I was able to create the project in InDesign, which was a breeze, but I don’t like the idea of paying $20/month just to be able to access projects I’ve already created and might need to reference.

Thank goodness for Mellel.

Mellel's Interface

Mellel is a word processor designed to excel with both long projects and right-to-left languages such as Hebrew or Arabic. It takes a bit of getting used to, as the interface and styles setup are handed rather uniquely2.

It’s auto titles, on the other hand, are absolutely best of class for any word processor I’ve ever used. Mellel’s titles are like ordinary styles on steroids. They add document structure to a project in a way which makes them incredibly useful. Similar to ordinary paragraph styles, the titles become linked with a particular character style – this creates a uniform look throughout a document. Auto title styles can also be formatted to include multi-level numbers and other formatting characters, which makes outlining a breeze in Mellel. These titles are also used to create a visual outline for the document as a whole, and sections can be moved around the project via drag and drop – the outline pane is actually remarkably similar to Scrivener’s Binder, which is a huge compliment. I have found some quirks which make arranging sections a bit of chore to set up 3, but discovering work arounds wasn’t very difficult.

Another favorite Mellel feature is a “Page style break.” Page styles can include a different first page, distinctive “left” and “right” pages with alternating headers and footers, it’s own margins, and even page orientation. This is a fantastic tool to have in Word Processor, particularly for projects which will need to repeat the same Page styles over and over for different sections of material.

Mellel also has an iOS version, which is able to read every feature currently implemented in the desktop application. At some point during my current projection I will likely be picking this up, if for no other reason but to see how well it integrates with it’s desktop sibling.

The only feature I’d currently like to see in Mellel is the ability to auto-update an embedded Table of Contents. Currently, once a ToC is inserted into the text it’s treated like any other bit of text. It can be modified like any other bit of material. While this can be helpful for altering the look of a table of contents “after the fact,” it’s reduces the usefulness of it’s automation somewhat. Any time a portion of material is altered the previous ToC has to be removed from the document and then reinserted. An “update table of contents” feature would be most welcome.

My first impressions of Mellel have been very positive. The Word Processor is a power-user’s dream, but is accessible enough for even a relative newcomer. If I were interested into switching back to a traditional word-processor for my writing, this would certainly be a serious contender. It’s well worth checking out.

  1. Pages has become better ever since it was pillaged and left a shell of it’s former self several years ago. But real document structure and features like facing pages have yet to return. 
  2. Mellel links paragraph styles to particularly character styles in order to control the look of a paragraph. This is actually similar to InDesign, but very unusual in a “traditional” word processor. 
  3. None of which are Mellel’s fault. I’m creating a very particular type of document with pages that end on special characters. If there’s no content below these characters, things get screwy. This basically because I’m pushing Mellel into page layout, which is a task it is not primarily designed to accommodate. 

One Comment

  1. Peg Horton says:

    What ever you use, it has to encourage the flow of your creativity. That is important, I think.

    Sent from my iPad


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