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?


2014: Time for Some Creative Reorganization

I’m sure I am not the only writer who has amassed so many notebooks, computer files, scraps of paper and/or slightly-used napkins from Starbucks in and on which ideas for stories or characters are scrawled in various degrees of detail and legibility. I’m not, am I? The thing is, I used to be extremely organized about this. Separate notebooks or Microsoft Word files for poetry ideas, story ideas and novel ideas. Separate files for characters. Separate files for settings.  There was a time where I even had these files and notebooks indexed so that I could easily find anything I needed.  With this level of organization, I was able to keep my writing life efficient, neat and organized.

But much like the desk in my office or the bookshelves in my living room, my files and notebooks have gotten away from me. They are cluttered, messy, illegible monsters which haunt my dreaming hours and taunt my waking hours with their laughter and jeering and unwillingness to be tamed. You’ve heard the phrase, “Cluttered desk, cluttered mind”, I’m sure, and I’m definitely able to vouch for this phrase’s accuracy.  The more jumbled and cluttered my writing area has become, the less efficient and productive my writing has been. So my goal for 2014 is to get this back under control – to reorganize my creative world with the intent that I can bring myself back to a more productive creative life.

My plan for accomplishing this is reasonably straightforward, albeit a tad bit tedious:

  1. Review – I will read through the idea files, half-written novels or stories and tattered notebooks. Those which have any value at all will be sorted into a keeper pile and those I deem to have no potential of a future will go into a discard pile.
  2. Sort – I will sort through the pile of keepers and organize the ideas into character, plot or setting piles. Each of these will get typed up and indexed in a brand new, clean Microsoft Word file. Anything which cannot be broken down into one of the three main areas will go into a fourth file.
  3. Verify – I will go through the discard pile one last time and pass a final judgment on these items. For those deemed worthy of getting another chance, they will get sorted into their appropriate character/plot/setting/other files. For everything else, I will serve as judge, jury and executioner.
  4. Pick – I will pick one – yes, one – item from the new idea files and write until the story is told. It might be a character whose story gets written. Or it might be an idea I’ve tossed around for years and haven’t written. Ultimately, it will likely be a combination of a few of the items in these files, as they will all be fresh in my mind.

My RSVP plan is not perfect, but it should work for me. I am definitely being impeded by my creative clutter, so reorganizing is needed. I hate setting dates for things like this, but I also know that without them, I am more likely to just keep saying “Well, I’ll get started tomorrow…” and then keep saying that on every tomorrow. Being realistic about the number of notebooks and files I need to review, and also being realistic about the impact of baseball and my day job on the time available to work on this project, my goal is to have the Review portion of the plan completed by the end of February. This may sound like a long time, but it is really only 4 weeks.

I am, however, open to suggestions from the Today’s Author community. Have you found or used tools which helped you to organize your creative ideas? I’d love to hear about these tools and any other ideas you might have.

The Writers Circle: Idea Files

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Do you leverage ʺidea filesʺ for organizing your writing?  If yes, what does it entail?  Do you use handwritten notebooks, scrapbooks, or computer software?  How often do you re-visit your files?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.