Writing Tools

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!


5 free tools for writers I’m loving right now (and other ones I need)

Feather writing

All of these have been invaluable for completely different aspects of that sprawling task of crafting a novel! In no particular order:

  1. Pinterest – capture all your images and visual inspiration onto handy boards. I have boards for individual characters, locations, areas of research – quick to assemble and brilliant for scanning for a quick answer / inspiration.
  2. Coggle.it – I have used a few mindmapping tools but this is my latest one of choice. Very simple to use and you can save the result as a PDF. I have just mindmapped my themes, my problems, individual characters. The process is as important as the result but the end map is a concise visual outline for reference.
  3. Google Docs – this is where I write. I mainly write on my laptop but as Google Docs stores in the cloud (and locally if you want) I can access it via my phone, ipad and work PC for a bit of reading or quick editing. Is it wise to trust to the Google cloud? They have a lot riding on reputation (I remind myself Google Docs is used by corporations too) and I’d rely on it more than my own temperamental hardware…but I do still make regular back-ups onto my Dropbox…just for safe keeping.
  4. Feedly – for keeping up with creative writing blogs. There’s always a danger of too much distraction but, being a very solitary writer, I find it important to have a stream of ideas and nuggets as I work. It is also a source for tweeting and blogging – I email things to myself to process later.
  5. Google maps – assuming your location is earth-bound, work out distances, routes and get Streetview of locations. You can create a map with pins for all your important spots.

Things I’m missing:

– A really good outline tool – Google Doc’s spreadsheet is clunky but I need something a bit like that, only better…not found it and my current table-in-a-doc is groaning with the task.

– A timeline tracker. I did try using Storybook for a while which handled this well but we didn’t get along.

Any suggestions appreciated!

Making it look right – epub

After doing a little pretend-book formatting, I take it into Sigil to turn it into a epub. So far, I have only done this in a very rough and ready way but it’s good enough to be able to read my WIP in Bluefire Reader or iBooks (but not, of course, the Kindle which goes its own way). I only skim the surface of the tweaking needed to get it fully fantastic but it all helps to see if the WIP would stand up next to the other titles on my shelf. Well, perhaps not the Jane Austen but at least the ebook freebies.

Making it look right – a peek at my work-in-progress as a real paperback

One day – one faraway day – I will make my novel into an e-book and put it somewhere. One day I may even get one solitary copy made into a real book, just for myself! So I am interested in how you create a good-looking e-book but also I just fancied seeing my text in paperback-style format.

So here’s my quickie solution:

Word processor (I’m using Open Office) and set page size to be 11cm x 17.8cm

Font = Bookman, 11pt


Adjust margins to be 1cm

Insert footer with page number, centred

Now this is a very rough book, but it DOES look like a book. Obviously one would need to do a lot more formatting and tweaking (I’ve just downloaded this free book to start to learn about what’s needed). However, it does show me roughly how many pages a chapter takes or where I need to break up paragraphs. And just for a moment I feel like I’m living the dream.