How I use Microsoft OneNote as my writer’s notebook

In recent days I started to reap the rewards of a decision I made two years ago to utilize the Microsoft OneNote application as my writer’s notebook.  I use this software application to organize story concepts, manuscript outlines, character descriptions, dialogue snippets, and inspirational photographs for characters and settings.

Think of OneNote as an infinitely-sized, electronic version of a physical three-ring binder that contains one or more smaller-sized binders.  Within these smaller-sized binders you can insert and re-arrange single loose-leaf pages, separating the pages using adhesive section tabs.  Of course, pages and binders can be re-ordered on a whim when the need arises.  Now imagine having this binder with you on your laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or even all three!  In essence, this is the power of OneNote.

Within OneNote I create a new notebook for each new story, in addition to a more generic notebook for more nebulous ideas that pop-up throughout the week but are not yet solidified into an existing story I’m working on.

MS OneNote Notebook Example

Next, I’ll create a few new sections within the notebook, like Plot, Characters, Dialogue Snippets, etc.

MS OneNote Section Example

Lastly, I’ll create pages as needed to further separate content.

MS OneNote Pages Example

The real power of OneNote is in the type of content you can create within each page.  Unlike a word processor, in OneNote you can click anywhere on the page and begin typing, or inserting bulleted/numbered lists, or insert photographs, or insert sound clips, or draw with the mouse, or insert shapes, and so on.

MS OneNote Detailed Page Example

For me, OneNote is an indispensable tool to organize my writing.  What tools do you find useful?  Do you stick with a physical notebook, or do you use software for organizing your thoughts and ideas before writing?


7 thoughts on “How I use Microsoft OneNote as my writer’s notebook

  1. I am what most would consider a technologically savvy individual in the world of corporate America. I have always struggled with using OneNote effectively. I still am not sure that I will be able to use it well in my day job as an engineer, but I now have a wonderful guide for how to utilize it best in my writing life. Thank you!

  2. I worked at Microsoft when OneNote was first being developed. Since we all had to use new product releases internally from early in the development phase, I got my hands on this tool pretty early. Initially I questioned the point of the tool at all. But after I started using it, I grew to like it.

    Initially, I basically made it something I used for my (at the time) daily writing efforts. Each day got a new tab and since the tool automatically puts date/timestamps on it, it was easy to keep track.

    Later I started using it as my “in-progress” notebook for poetry. If I had an idea for a poem, I’d slap it in there and start poking at the structure or rhyme or whatever was needed right in there in OneNote. It definitely has become a fantastic tool for writers and one I think many are not even aware of.

    What’s best? Earlier this year, Microsoft made OneNote free to download for Windows, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android, iPad, etc… I use OneNote on my Windows 8.1 laptop and on my Windows 8 Phone and the notebooks can be shared across both of those devices.

  3. Great review, Matt. I had this discussion over on my tech ed blog, but geared toward digital note-taking in the classroom. I was surprised how many teachers loved OneNote. I tried it once and stayed with Evernote–not because anything was wrong with it, but I didn’t see a compelling reason to switch from what I know.

    One problem with OneNote: It is a download which means it won’t work with Chromebooks which is today’s device-of-choice in education.

  4. I’m a fan of Evernote, but I’ll have to check this out.

  5. I too use evernote but I will look into OneNote. Thanks for the tip!

  6. OneNote sounds awesome! So far, I’ve just been using Microsoft Word documents and organizing them into folders, but I’ll check out OneNote.

  7. Thanks for the OneNote tip! I haven’t used it before, but I am just starting to act in a position at work for the next 12 months covering a maternity leave, and the person who left on maternity leave used OneNote for everything! So I am going to have to learn it for work anyways, maybe it will be handy for personal writing as well … thanks for the ideas! -Matt

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