Evernote as an (almost) complete writing solution

evernoteOn Evernote’s website, they have a promotional campaign going on right now promoting Evernote as the workspace to do whatever you consider “your life’s work.” The opening illustration shows a writer-type, with a notebook for story ideas, a checklist for writing articles, and a reminder to call his editor. Below, there are expanded sections explaining how to use Evernote to write, collect, find and present just about anything you do.

This isn’t a new concept. I’ve been using Evernote on and off as a writing tool since at least 2009, maybe longer. I’m sure a lot of writers use Evernote for gathering clippings and ideas, maybe even for notes and other meta-information. But it’s worth looking into as a place to keep your drafts, work with your editor and even store the completed works for reference after publication. Let’s take a look at how that works.


This is the easy part, the part everyone already knows about. With Evernote’s web clipper extensions, integration with other apps. For example, I can send an article straight from my RSS client, Newsify, to Evernote without any intermediate steps thanks to Evernote’s iOS 8 share extension. But the short version is that it’s stupid easy to get stuff into Evernote. If all else fails, you can just email stuff to your unique Evernote address and it will show up as a note. Getting all your research into once place, no matter if it’s a snippet of text, a PDF, an image or a web page, is a piece of cake.


Holy wars have been fought over tags versus notebooks. And the truth is that there is no right answer apart from what works for you personally. For years I kept each project in a separate notebook, all in a stack called “Writing.” Now I have one notebook called “Writing” and tags for each of my projects, as well as meta tags for Draft, Research, etc. Experiment until you have something that mirrors the way you naturally organize in your brain.


Of course, all the above only pays off if it helps you make the clackity sound. I do all my first drafts in Evernote. For articles like this one, I just have a note in the Writing notebook tagged with Draft and Taledancer. Even though Evernote supports RTF formatting with true italics, indentation and whatnot, I write in Markdown. It doesn’t really matter, and it’s easy enough to convert an Evernote note to plain text before you copy it somewhere else.

For novels, I write each chapter in a separate note, and I have a master Table of Contents note for the book with internal links to each chapter. I have the table of contents formatted as a checklist, so when I’m done with each chapter I can just check it off in the main note and know it’s time to move on to a different chapter the next time I sit down to write.

Creating a link works like this. In the note you’re linking to, click on the menu bar, Note and Copy Note Link (Control-Option-Command-C if you have a Mac). Then in the table of contents, select the line for that file and click on the menu bar, Format, Link, Add (Command-K on a Mac). Then when you click on that link text, Evernote will jump right to the linked note. You can use the browser-like forward and back buttons in the upper left to move back and forth as you write.


Once you’re done with your first draft, you’ll want to work with your editor to make it the best it can be. Fortunately, Evernote makes it easy to share notebooks. Then if your editor also has a premium Evernote account, they can edit the notes just as if they were in their own account.


This is one part of the process where Evernote can’t do much to help you. If you’re writing an article, you can of course just copy and paste it into your blog engine. But for novels, you’re going to need to copy and paste each chapter from Evernote into a word processor for final assembly into a single manuscript. And from a manuscript, you’ll also need your own tools to convert that into an Epub or Kindle ebook.


Once all that is done, you can save the ebooks, manuscript files and anything else back into Evernote for safekeeping and reference. Evernote aims to be a “hundred year company,” meaning everything they do is with the ultimate aim of keeping your data around and available a century from now if you still need it.

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