How to use Evernote to write pretty much anything

Should you use Evernote when writing? As a full-time Evernote evangelist I’ll have to say, yes. Yes, you should. I use Evernote all the time as a writing tool (yes, I used it to create this post). Check out a more generic guide for using Evernote if you wish, then follow these six steps to help you use Evernote to produce anything from blogs to books:

1. Create a project notebook

And notes. You will want to start with a single note to get the ball rolling. Give this note a tentative project name (eg Using Evernote to help you write). Write down every little thought you have on the project. From the moment you conceive the idea to the moment you start writing (and probably a little after). Even if you think the idea is terrible. Write. It. Down. The best writing is produced when you have too much to write and can freely take out the stuff that doesn’t make the grade. And remember, these are note to yourself so feel free to shrten wrds, write incomplete…, or use termzzz only you would understand.

2. Gather reference material

You might be producing a 500 word blog post and decide to skip this step. On the other hand you may be prepping to write a 10,000 word dissertation and this step is crucial. Do your research and, when you can, copy and paste any material you think may come in handy into a new note in you notebook. You might want to call this note reference material/ideas depending on what you’re writing. If it’s important to the project to develop a bibliography, note the page number, book edition etc. Take pictures of pages using the Evernote document camera, clip full page web articles and quickly type up snappy quotes. Why? You’re creating a trove of information that Evernote allows you to easily search through.

3. Tag everything

If you find/take a picture that inspires you to write a photo blog, drop it into Evernote and add a tag of your project name and “inspiration”. If your project name is too long, turn it into an acronym. You can use the same technique if you record a speech that gives you an idea. If it ever gets difficult to find a particular type of note in your project notebook just filter your notes by tag to get to exactly what you want (eg UEtHYW & inspiration).

4. Structure

You have everything gathered in one place and tagged appropriately and you’re just about ready to write. But first organize and structure your notes. Let’s say you’re writing an 80,000 word book, your initial “project name” note may by now be an unproductive sprawl. You may want to break it down further into other notes. Try note headings like “Plot”, “Themes”, “Structure”, “Character”, then structure each note individually, ensuring the information flows logically. Your book starts with the end of the world as we know it? Make sure your Plot note starts just the same. And tag, tag, tag. Try tags like “writing” and “story elements” so you can quickly filter it from your “inspiration”. Feel free to add the names of the notes as tags as well. If, for example, you think you may want to quickly search through a host of book plots at some point.

5. Format

When you’re done structuring, go one step further and add formatting to your Evernote notes to improve readability. Whatever works for you. I like to use colours on text: red when I want to signal that this bit is super-important and needs to be written in, blue to leave notes to myself that I won’t necessarily transfer to the final product but which I should nevertheless be thinking of when writing. Add bold, for headings or italics for stress. Increase or decrease font size for emphasis. Specific lines will pop out if you do it right and thus remind you to put them in.

6. Write

You have everything noted, structured and formatted now you can start writing. Try to improve on everything you have written in the first instance. Don’t just copy and paste lines in. That initial word vomit of ideas and structure can usually be refined very easily. Your final product will inevitably be better than those jottings because you have now had time to think about what you have written down, and read it over before transferring it. And don’t feel pressured to have everything mapped out before you start writing. As long as the general shape of the piece is in your head feel free to get started. You may only need a few, unstructured and underdeveloped lines to start. Of course, it depends on how ambitious (and lengthy) your project is.

Bonus tip: Phone_Project Name and Graveyard notes

Evernote is a great bit of software but it has its flaws. You may have it installed on your laptop and phone and decided to add to individual notes on both devices. Which is a good idea… if the software worked perfectly all the time. I tend to get a lot of conflicting notes and then I have to go through them and make sure any crucial note jottings don’t get lost in Evernote’s conflicting notes pile. I suggest creating a separate note (Phone_Project Name) in your project notebook and adding to it solely on your phone — you can always combine them later. It works for me.

Also add a ‘Graveyard’ notebook to your project notebook to help make deleting bad stuff easier. I know how it is. You spend so much time writing something (a chapter in a book maybe), and it doesn’t work. So you’re looking at thousands of words and thinking: “I have to delete all of this?”. Drop it in your graveyard notebook instead. You’ll feel better that way. And if there’s a specific line or paragraph you like that you feel you can work into the rewrite, just search for it in Graveyard and copy and paste it in.

And we’re done. Those are my six steps to writing with Evernote. Now go forth and create.

Do you find these tips helpful? Tell me what you think in the comments section below.

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