I’m always on the look out for ways to make my writing easier, and my husband recently introduced me to One Note. He uses it to keep track of details across multiple (and complicated) projects for work, and suggested it would work just as well for novels. It's free, and works across all platforms.
He was right, and I’m loving it.
One Note allows me to create workbooks for individual writing projects, with tabs to organize aspects of that project (displayed clearly across the top), and I can add pages as needed to further organize my information (displayed nicely in a column on the right). I can create text boxes and group them on a single page, or treat the pages like one big file. I can add text, or photos, or anything I deem needed for that topic. I can even drawn on the page if I want.
It’s similar to Scrivener’s folder/page system, so if you’re used to that, you’ll find the interface easy to work with. Though honestly, One Note is simple as pie to dive right in and start working. It gives you a two-minute video that explains the basics right in the program when you launch it for the first time.
Benefits of One Note
Easy to organize: With the workbook/tab/page format, it’s easy to group information and arrange it in the way that helps me the most. I can have one workbook with notes for a novel, to-do lists for activities associated with that novel (such as due dates, events, marketing and promotional), links and research I want on-hand for easy reference, and pretty much anything else I need to save for later. I can even create subpages on pages for deeper organization.
To-Do List: One nice feature is the ability to mark any task as a to-do, even across workbooks. You can see at a glance what needs to be done.
Works across multiple platforms: I use both PC and Apple products, and it can be a pain switching between them. But with One Note, I can sync my files and access them on any device I need to (This requires Microsoft One Drive). This is particularly handy when I want to make notes on my phone, which doesn't have access to my writing program (Scrivener).
Using One Note
I have a workbook for my current writing projects (both fiction and non-fiction), tabs for sections, and within each tab are the pages that contain more information. Such as:
Ideas: This is where I keep all those flashes of inspiration and general thoughts I want to keep track of for a particular project, but have no place to easily write them down without them getting lost. Which always seems to happen to me.
Characters: The first page is where I have the characters boxed by group for quick reference. I have a box listing the protagonist and the main characters, one for secondary characters, one for antagonist and minions, one for ancillary characters, etc. This way, I can quickly see everyone in the novel (and know if I have names that are too similar) and easily jump to their page for more detail. Individual pages contain all the history and details of that character (include photos and physical details), a summary of their role in the book and their story arc (their front story).
Plotting: This is where I keep my outline and scene summaries. I like to break novels down by act (act one, act two-A, act two-B, act three) and summarize what happens in each act.
World Building: This tab contains all the notes and mechanics on my world. My current WIP is fairly complicated world-wise, so there’s lots to track and plan out. I have a summary page, but also a page for history and how the world works.
Research: This tab holds all the notes, photos, websites, and whatever else I need to write the novel. I use a page per topic and can quickly look up anything I need, when I need it. One Note adds links and footnotes for items pasted into the page, so I always know where it came from and can return to that site with a click.
I really like One Note’s tab/page format and how easy it is to see everything and keep track of it. I can also mark items across multiple workbooks for a To-Do List for even better project management. This is especially nice if you want to use One Note as a day planner—something I’ll transition into now that I see now easy it is.
If you’re looking for a way to keep track of notes and research for your book, consider giving One Note a try.
Have you tried One Note? What did you think? What other organizational tools do you like?
Looking for tips on revising or planning your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She is also a contributor at Pub(lishing) Crawl, and Writers in the Storm.
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