Continuing this week’s look at tools to write books, here’s what I think of trying to use Evernote and OneNote to write novels. I tried both of these a few years back, and while I don’t use either today (having substituted other things for their functions), so there’s a chance major revisions have outdated my impressions, so feel free to let me know if I’m hilariously wrong here.
Both Evernote and OneNote, like Word, are not designed for writing novels. They are, however, designed to take the thoughts out of your head and get them into a more “permanent” digital paper. With even fewer barriers to jotting down your ideas than Word, both Evernote and OneNote give you some of, if not the, fastest ways to get going on your story. That both allow you to group your various “notes” and order them means you can structure a book without too much trouble. Both also allow easy synchronization between multiple devices, like your phones and multiple laptops, so if you have a sudden burst of inspiration and you’re nowhere near your home computer, you can still jot it down.
However, since these aren’t long-form writing tools, you’re going to run into problems with things like formatting, organization, and exporting the finished product. As with Word, longer chapters can get messy in these programs, which prompted me to create numerous “notes within notes” and hierarchies to preserve chapters, character details, and settings or research. While it’s satisfying, in some ways, to fill all this stuff out, your story can quickly become a mess of notes that need a lot of tending to. Again, as with Word, a lot of this is going to come down to familiarity – can you make both of these work? Sure, but you’re going to have to get your strategy in place before you get too far along or your novel will end up a maze of folders, pages, references, and globs of text that can’t be easily sent out to a formatting program.
- Efficiency – Both OneNote and Evernote have simple interfaces that let you get going quickly. There aren’t as many frills as Word, nor document templates to fiddle with.
- Connected Anywhere – OneNote and Evernote sync easily over mobile/online, allowing you to check in on your work from multiple computers and/or your phone. Word and other programs, through things like DropBox or Microsoft’s own OneDrive also allow this, but the synching isn’t quite as effortless.
- Full of useful features – Neither of these programs is difficult to get a handle on, and both have numerous interconnected features that can help you stick to your preferred style of writing. They both support smart pens and notebooks that let you transcribe in stuff you write by hand automatically. You can scribble ideas with a Surface pen into OneNote. Evernote allows easy clipping of web pages with extensions so you can grab that Wikipedia article that’s perfect for your next chapter.
- Cost – Both Evernote and OneNote have free tiers, which will likely be enough for what you’re looking to do with it. Evernote’s Plus version is only $34 a year as well, so you’re not out too much if you want a slew of extras.
- Not really word processors – Neither Evernote nor OneNote are true word processors, meaning they will have difficulties formatting lots of text on the page. It’ll be hard for you to tell when your pages break, or to visualize new chapters.
- Document export is difficult – You might think that you only need to put together a novel once, but you’re going to be going back to your completed works all the time. Whether that’s to update things like front and back matter (with lists of published books), fix mistakes, or change blurbs at the front and back, you’ll want your files in good condition. OneNote and Evernote are going to make it a pain for you to make these changes.
- Lots of manual lifting for you – While OneNote and Evernote offer plenty of ways to organize your work, it’s going to be on you to do it effectively. You’ll need to set up the notebooks, arrange the documents, and make your places to store your research and plot. All those minutes dragging things around, creating new folder structures and so on is time you could spend writing.
Both of these programs are, in my opinion, better used alongside your actual word processor (if you want to use them at all). The messiness created when you have so many “notes” eventually grows to make the process of writing a novel untenable, or at least difficult, in much the same way as a lengthy Word document becomes hard to sift through. On the other hand, if you’d like to experiment, these are free to try. I’d caution about using these permanently for budget reasons, though, as you’ll have to invest in people or programs (like Vellum) to do a lot of formatting work for you. And to get your notes into those programs is going to take a lot of copy/pasting, or tricky exports.