Using Evernote for novel planning

Image of a colourful elephant

I’m a big Evernote fan, mostly for work. I use it to plan, to take notes in meetings, to store information I need easy access to, to copy emails into – it’s my repository of work knowledge and activity. I have used it to store some creative writing material, mostly articles that I found particularly useful, but never as part of my novel writing process which has mostly involved Google Docs and paper notebooks.

All this changed two weeks ago. As mentioned, I’m at a point of revising a first (and slightly incomplete) draft of my novel. I have been juggling paper notes and printouts and grids of scenes. Time has been particularly precious and I have had to grab odd moments more than ever. So I hit on the idea of using Evernote to pull it all together. This is how:

  • A stack of notebooks – my novel divides into four parts so a notebook for each part
  • A note for each scene: the chapter / scene number at the beginning so I can order them and also something memorable in the note name so I can glance across and know exactly what each scene is.
  • At the moment I have the following info as standard for each scene: Date / Setting / Weather / POV / Goals & plot points / Hooks & intensity / Sensory Detail / Things to Add / Problems to fix (I have drawn on Jodi Hedlund’s scene guide for this – see earlier post on Scenes for more info and link)
  • Each note is then tagged with the characters which are in it and the location
  • Add any files or images for the scene to the note.

This was remarkably quick to set up (I noticed for the first time that I have 13/14 scenes in each part of the novel. I was surprised at such an even balance). I cut and pasted an empty format structure to create new notes, then filled them in one by one. Once done, you can appreciate the beauty of this (in yet more bullet points):

  • Need to work on a character? Use the tag filter to see all the scenes they are in and add to them easily in one place.
  • My standard info is forcing me to dig deep on each scene and make sure I know what I’m doing with it. Having a standard format makes it easy to work on a scene in a focussed way, even if I can only grab a quick few minutes to work on the novel.
  • As I think of odd things to add or change, I can bring up the scene and make my notes. The next stage will be to print out each scene note and use it as I rewrite. Everything in one place.
  • I have access to this anywhere via laptop, iPad or phone. I find I can add short notes even on my phone using the Evernote android app.
  • Evernote is good at cross searching all your notes so I can locate things that way if tags are not enough.

The one thing annoying me is that Evernote’s ordering by title doesn’t let me get my scenes in order e.g. C10-1 comes before C8-1 but that’s probably asking for an unreasonably psychic elephant!

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