Tips & Stories

How to Use Evernote for NaNoWriMo, An Evernote Employee Shares His Tips

Posted by Mel Walker on 31 Oct 2012

Posted by Mel Walker on 31 Oct 2012

  • Name: Mel Walker
  • Profession: Software Engineer at Evernote
  • Hobby: Writing
  • Location: Pleasanton, CA


Mel Walker is a software engineer on the Evernote Mac team. He calls himself a “novelist” as well, even though he’s still working on the rewrites before publishing. Mel used to own over 1,000 novels before he started donating them to the local library. He’s always wanted to learn French so he could read “The Three Musketeers” in its original language.

I use Evernote, Everywhere:

  • Mac
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Web

I use Evernote for participating in NaNoWriMo

Writing is a hobby of mine, my main creative outlet. I love the dialogue and description, action and mayhem, plots and themes. I put my poor characters in the most awful situations before I save them.

I got into writing a few years ago by participating in National Novel Writing Month, and now I take part in it every November. NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge, the object of which is to write a novel of 50,000 words in a month. That’s roughly 1667 words to write every day!

Some of the writers in NaNoWriMo just sit down, start writing, and keep it up until they reach “The End.” I’m not much for seat-of-the-pants writing so I collect, brainstorm, and organize everything I need by the end of October. I tend to amass a lot of information that I like to keep handy, so I use Evernote for creating and organizing my notes for my novel.

Before Evernote, I tried to organize my notes in everything from text files to 3×5 note cards. The problem was that I didn’t always have access to the text files (on the train to work, for example) and the big stack of 3×5 cards was too time-consuming to search through. I tried using notebooks both for plotting and notes, but searching didn’t get any easier, and it was one more thing to carry around.

Evernote solved those problems neatly.

I use Evernote for remembering ideas.

Ideas can come at any time, from anywhere. When I stumble over a new story idea, no matter where I am when the idea strikes, I can write it up and put it in my Ideas notebook. I can also create an audio note if the idea shows up when I’m driving.

Sometimes I stumble over the beginnings of an idea while surfing the Web, so I select the text or image and use the Evernote Web Clipper to save it. I don’t lose the context, either, because the Web Clipper captures the URL from each Web clip.

I use Evernote for planning.

I keep notes on my characters, places and plot in Evernote. I use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip pictures, inspiring ideas, and whatever else I think might be useful. I also use the iPhone’s camera to add photos to my notes.

I use Skitch to annotate pictures and Penultimate to draw simple maps to keep track of where the characters are during the action scenes.

I use Evernote while I’m writing.

How tall is the starship captain? What color is the helmsman’s hair? What language does the security chief swear in? What’s the top speed of a shuttle? What hotel became the enemy base? Does it have a pool?

Questions like these have to be answered quickly so I don’t lose my train of thought. I keep my novel notes organized by notebook and tag. I can search my Evernote notebooks to quickly find what I need. If I search for the same information a second or third time, I can create a Saved Search to save me time.

There’s a flip side to all this: What if I haven’t decided what color the helmsman’s hair is? After I choose a color, I add that piece of information to her character note. Now I have it when I need it, either now or for the sequel.

During NaNoWriMo, the local volunteers often hold “write-ins” so we writers can meet and introduce ourselves. We also have a bit of fun while writing, like engaging in word count races (e.g. most words added in ten minutes). I have Evernote with me, so I still have access to all my notes, either on my laptop or on my iPhone.

I wish I didn’t have to mention this last one, but having all the character names in Evernote means that I (1) don’t misspell any of them, and (2) don’t spontaneously rename them halfway through the book.

I use Evernote when I’m done writing.

The first draft of a book is never publishable. Often the sixth or seventh draft isn’t publishable. Throw out a chapter! Eliminate a character! Rewrite entire scenes! Such is the lot of a writer. I keep the old drafts around to see what I did before, just in case my new idea was even worse than my old one (which happens too often!). I simply drag the word processing document into a note and add a summary of the changes I made.

I use Evernote to improve my writing skills.

I have a notebook catch-all for articles and notes about writing in general. I can read them anywhere, thanks to having Evernote accessible on all my devices.

While studying is good, the only way to improve as a writer is to write. Ideally, I should write every day. Using Evernote as a journal, I can keep all my practicing in one spot for later review or for sharing with my writing group.

More NaNoWriMo Tips from Paperless Ambassador Jamie Todd Rubin

This November will be Paperless Ambassador Jamie Todd Rubin‘s fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo and he’s sharing his tips for ways to use Evernote on his blog. Check out Jamie’s tips for using Evernote for NaNoWriMo.


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12 Comments RSS

  • Jamie Todd Rubin (@jamietr)

    Good luck, Mel! Just a few hours to go here on the east coast!

    • Mel Walker

      Thanks, Jamie, and the luck of the Bard to you! I’ve got my first line all ready to go! Sadly, my second line isn’t as ready. 🙁

  • Bill Bittner

    I’ve used Evernote in my writing. But one area that I tried to use it, but couldn’t, is Outlining. I once tried to have one note per chapter, and keep the notes in order via a numeral at the beginning of the title. But that eventually became unwieldy. So now, though I will still do general notes and clips in Evernote, I’ll do my outlining in a different program, such as Google Docs or via a MindMap.

    How do you do your outlines?

    • Raymond Yee

      I love evernote but also find it lacking as an outliner. I’ve tried OmniOutliner but haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. I still cling to EccoPro, which I run in Windows XP in Parallels on OS X!

    • Mel Walker

      I wrote my simple plot outline in Evernote this year. It’s the basic “1. this scene. 2. that scene.” and so forth. Same the character notes—I just use a simple format to keep all the information in a note for each character. There are certainly dedicated writer’s applications that are more formatted, and I have used and liked them, but I find that being able to access the information anywhere is something I don’t want to give up.

      Last year I tried using mind-mapping software, which worked well in some respects (general information associated with scenes and characters) but less well in others (ordering). I figure you have to use what works best for you, because your outline should be in whatever form you find easiest to think in.

      I would recommend that you keep links to the Google Docs (or whatever) page in your notes so you can reach it with a single click from inside Evernote. Keep your information accessible from one place!

    • Dirk Boersma

      I suggest you try OmniOutliner or Scrivener. The first one is a full-scale outliner, the other a very flexible and complete writing app that can be used for outlining, I think.

  • pdw

    I also use Evernote in similar ways for NaNoWriMo. I make clippings and notes of ideas, dreams, characters, whatever, for my “Story Clip” notebook, instructional writing material and templates in a general writing notebook, and as Nano approaches, I create a new notebook for that year’s Nano. Review my story clip file and pull ideas that interest me the most and seem like they could work together into the Nano notebook. Use Freemap to start a mindmap on the novel. Start pulling together character descriptions, each in their own note, in the Nano notebook. Clip pictures of people who look like the characters and merge them into the character notes. I did some exercises from the “snowflake” method this year, and added the tagline, plot synopsis, etc. to the Nano notebook. As I am out and about doing other things — running/exercising, shopping, riding the bus, whatever, and other ideas come to me, I use my phone quickly jot down additional ideas in the Nano notebook, or use Siri to send my Evernote address an e-mail with my thoughts.

    I do my actual writing in Celtx (or “Write or Die” and then paste to Celtx), but everything else goes into my Nano notebook until the novel is done. Then I copy any research and backup to Celtx, and archive the notebook.

  • Hugh O'Donnell

    @jamietr: I’d love to visit your website, but McAfee keeps throwing up this big yellow warning screen asking if I really want to go there. The cite suspicious activity.

    You might want to get them to reassess your site. I’d like to go there and learn from you, but as long as I see the yellow sign, I can’t risk it.

    Best regards,


  • docek nove godine

    Great post! Looking forward to more posting from you.
    Thank you.

  • prevoz do aerodroma

    I’m not sure why but this site is loading very slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  • adamwrighla

    I use evernote to develop the outline but the final draft is constructed via word doc

  • adamwrighla

    I use evernote to develop the outline but the final draft is constructed via word doc