3 ways to organize NaNoWriMo (or any big writing project) in Evernote

Tips & Stories

3 ways to organize NaNoWriMo (or any big writing project) in Evernote

Posted by Forrest Dylan Bryant on 22 Oct 2015

Posted by Forrest Dylan Bryant on 22 Oct 2015

As sponsors of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), we’ve been talking with writers—from novelists to bloggers—about the ways they use Evernote. One thing we discovered right away is that every writer has a unique approach to organization.

This is one area where Evernote excels. Whether you like a lot of structure or prefer to keep things simple, Evernote adapts to the way you work. You can track every detail of your magnum opus across multiple notebooks, use tags and links to cross-reference notes, or just open a single note and pour everything in. It’s entirely up to you.

Sometimes, however, having freedom means it’s hard to know where to start. So we’ve looked at some of the systems shared by writers on the NaNoWriMo forum, in blog posts, and via Twitter, and we’ve boiled them down into three basic approaches. Feel free to use these as starting points for your own writing.

Method 1: One for All

The easiest way to write in Evernote is to just keep your entire draft in a single note. That works great for short stories or blog posts, but it makes for one very long note at novel lengths. The advantage is that you can just let the words flow without juggling lots of pieces, but there’s also a lot of searching and scrolling when you need to find a particular passage.

Keeping it simple: An entire NaNoWriMo novel in one notebook, with draft in a single note.

Keeping it simple: The entire novel in one notebook, with draft in a single note.

Even if you keep the draft together, you’ll probably need additional notes to manage the writing process. Create a new notebook just for the novel, then add individual notes for the draft, research topics, character profiles, new ideas, and anything else you want to track.

Method 2: The Stacker

At the other extreme, many writers like to keep each chapter, or even individual scenes, in separate notes. They’d rather focus on one thing at a time than scroll through a massive block of text. They may also want to track every last detail of the plot or compile extensive research. When a single notebook just won’t cut it, use multiple notebooks and combine them in a stack.

A novel project in a notebook stack

In this case we have four notebooks (one for each main area of organization). We might further organize the novel like this:

CHAPTERS NOTEBOOK

  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3

IDEAS NOTEBOOK

  • Dialogue snippets
  • Inspirational photos
  • Scene ideas

RESEARCH NOTEBOOK

  • Clipped articles
  • Glossary of useful phrases
  • Maps

STORY BIBLE NOTEBOOK

  • Character profiles
  • Locations
  • Synopsis

This system adds another layer of organization, but it also takes more work to manage. Also remember that each notebook will need a unique name, so you may have to get clever if you have multiple novels in Evernote.

Method 3: The Tagmaster

Here’s a way to combine the simple, flat structure of the first method with the organizational power of the second. Instead of spreading notes around in multiple notebooks, use Evernote’s tagging feature to get a similar effect.

First set up a single notebook with all the notes you need, then be sure to tag each note:

All in one notebook, but tagged. Tags are added to the shortcuts pane, too.

All in one notebook, but tagged. Tags are added to the shortcuts pane, too.

Use any tagging system you like, but here are a few starter ideas:

  • Chapters: indicates a chapter note
  • Characters: for all character profiles
  • Research: for all research topics
  • Plus one tag for each main character’s name

Now when you search for a tag, you’ll see all the tagged notes grouped together. To get the most out of this method, use shortcuts so you can access all the notes for a tag in a single click:

novel-tags-1

Using tags and shortcuts makes it easy to navigate large projects with a lot of notes. A single note can appear in any number of tag lists.

Using tags and shortcuts makes it easy to navigate large projects with a lot of notes. A single note can appear in any number of tag lists.

If you go with a tag-based system, remember that tags work across notebooks, so you’ll need unique tags for each novel project. An easy way to handle that is to add a prefix: For example, if your novel is called Secret Agent Zombie (which sounds awesome), you could start tag names with “SAZ-” to keep them unique to that novel.

What did we miss?

Like we said at the beginning, every writer has a unique system. What great ideas did we forget to include here? Let us know in the comments!

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2 Comments RSS

  • Decca

    Very cool. I love the idea of being able to keep everything (research, brainstorming ideas, character bios, etc.) in one place. I’ve been using a notebook. This looks faster and smarter. I’ll check it out.

  • Michael Hiebert

    I’m a professional author and have been slowly moving my “Story Bible” for my current series of mystery novels from my “paper and real-life binder” method to a Wiki (right now called http://www.hiebertwiki.com –once it’s done, I’ll be giving it a new URL), but I do store a lot of my quick ideas and writing exercises and a lot of poetry in Evernote.

    The one addition to Evernote that would really allow me to use it easier is one I am sure you’ve been struggling against for years, and that is the concept of notebook tabs. I realize your paradigm is to keep everything flat with tags and that you’re vehemently sticking to it, but to be perfectly honest, I find the tag structure innately confusing and confining. And then, of course, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have tabs AND tags–that would make sure NOBODY complains.

    The tab concept would help me SO much I almost (almost!) switched to OneNote instead of staying with my tried and true Evernote. I considered it for a long time before deciding to stay with Evernote, and that, really, came down to your Web Clipper, something I use a lot while researching my novel.

    Had Evernote had tabs, I would never have even given OneNote a second’s thought.

    Just letting you know. As I say, I bet you get the “Why can’t we have any tabs?” ruckus all the time. I’ve seen some of the battles online. I’m just throwing my own hat into the ring with them.

    Michael