How Writers can use Evernote to be More Productive

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Evernote is a web-based note-taking and storage program, available across the web, on your computers and all your mobile devices – and it’s free.

I started using Evernote in 2009, when it was still in beta, but it’s not until recently that I’ve become a true power-user.  Let me take you through a few very simple functions that help me – and any writer – to simplify their writing lives, and get on with actual writing.

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Notebooks (some) and Stacks in my Evernote iPAD app

Evernote works on your computer (Mac and Windows) as a desktop client. You’ll want to download that, because the desktop versions act as a backup for all your notes. You can also keep some notebooks (the storage containers for notes) as local versions – ie. not synchronised. Local notebooks are good for particularly sensitive data, but it’s the synchronised ones that offer writers ninja-productivity powers.

If you’re not using Evernote already, register for a free account at Evernote. While there, download the desktop version, and pick up the Browser plugin – the Evernote Web Clipper – for your browser of choice.

Once you’ve setup a few main notebooks and are rocking with the web clipper and inputting notes, go download your mobile device version of Evernote too – Evernote is available for iOS – iPhone and iPAD, Android, Blackberry and Windows mobile and Windows 8. You will find the latest Evernote app versions in the appropriate app stores. All free!

Evernote and Notes

Evernote has – at my last count, 15+ different ways for getting a note into Evernote. Some fundamental methods –

  1. Type in a new note (or touch-tap, if you’re on your mobile device).
    • You can type rich-text formatted notes, or setup checkboxed to-do’s or lists. Use Evernote’s Reminder function on any note and you can be notified of a note due – instant task management but in a very simple and easy way.
    • Save all your IDEAS, PLANS, TO-DO’s.(Anywhere!)
  2. Web-clipping notes
    • The Evernote Web Clipper is great for taking excerpts or entire articles from the web.
    • There are also ways to clip from your mobile devices – handy as I do a lot of browsing on my iPAD.
    • Save all your RESEARCH.
  3. Record notes
    • There’s an audio recording function.
    • Record lectures or interviews, or your spur-of-the-moment ideas.
  4. Snap/Photograph notes
    • Using your mobile device and Evernote, you can take photos of inspiration while out and about.
    • Or use the Page Camera button to take images of your notebook pages / journals or book pages in a library.
    • And – bonus: if you have an image with text in it, Evernote will run OCR (optical character recognition) across it, and add the text it finds to the database.
    • Save all your physical writing Notes and book research.
  5. Email forwarding –
    • Evernote gives you a secret personal email address (find yours in your account settings).
    • Use this to send all kinds of notes from your mobile devices, or forward all those newsletters and other emails you have from your inbox into Evernote.
    • Save emails as notes.
  6. Drag and Drop
    • Drop files and documents into Evernote.
    • All those research notes, class handouts, and documents (including your manuscript) can live in the cloud, rather than lost on your hard-drive.
    • Save all your documents.

Evernote and Notebooks

Once you have a few notes in Evernote, you can organise them into Notebooks and Stacks. Stacks are just the container for notebooks. Notebooks contain – you guessed it – notes. Various note view methods are available.

The good thing about stacks, notebooks and notes is that you can apply tags to all of them. Tags help organisation but also help the awesome search functions.

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On the left – my many notebooks and stacks. The center pane shows the notes of one of my research notebooks. In this case, I’ve put in a search for “forensic”. Of the 452 notes I have in there, Evernote found all the notes containing this tag or keyword within nano seconds – even before I had finished typing the word in.
Incidentally, the note at the top of the list, which shows in the right hand panel, is a forwarded email from a newsletter I subscribe to. I emailed it to Evernote, choosing the notebook it went into.
Incidental No.2 – This screenshot was taken with another Evernote feature – the clipper. In this case, on Windows all I had to do was press the Windows button+prt sc, then move the cross-hairs to select the window I wanted. A new note is created in Evernote containing the screenclip.

Synchronised Cloud-Based Notes

Notes are synchronised to and from the web storage provided for your account. This means that even when you quickly input an idea note on your mobile phone while out walking the dog, once you’re back in Wifi range, your note will sync to the cloud, and be found on your computer and other devices too.

There’s also an offline notebook option (Premium Subscriptions) so that you can access all your notes while out in that park.

Search and Find

The key to greater productivity is Evernote’s Search functions. You don’t even have to tag notes – Evernote’s search parameters work through the entire text content of a note – the title, the body of text, tags if you have them, and even images or PDFs where OCR has recognised text inside. Key word searches mean that you can safely “file” away all your ideas, inspiration, and research documents and know that you’ll find them again, quickly.

Write Anywhere, on Anything, and Stay Organised

Quick summary –

  1. Evernote lets you create notes from anything – emails, web-pages, typed notes, images, audio, all your documents stored through numerous file trees on your hard-drive – and, that 2:00 am in the morning epiphany (hint: use the audio recording function on your smart-phone).
  2. Evernote lets you create notes anywhere – via the many mobile versions of the app.
  3. Evernote lets you synch the notes to cloud storage, and organise them however you want. Once they’re in Evernote, you can find them again, using a quick key search.

These were the very basics of Evernote. There are many other options to get notes into Evernote – in fact, you can Tweet to Evernote, Pocket to Evernote, or save your blog feed to Evernote using a connection service. Once you have notes, you can share them to the public, or individuals – think collaboration.

But this post has hopefully highlighted some of the common-place uses for Evernote, and how the program may help you be more productive and efficient in some of those writing tasks.

What are some of your own favourite uses of Evernote?

5 thoughts on “How Writers can use Evernote to be More Productive

    1. Excellent, if I have convinced you, I would be thrilled if you also let me feature you as a quick case study in the book

  1. Ok, this is a great article, especially because I am constantly losing web research links and then having to re-research them. I have had Evernote on my devices for at least as long as you have, but I never thought to use the version that came installed on my laptop.

    Do you use it for a gazetteer of your story, or as some people call it, a story bible? I use a wiki for my gazetteer and I don’t see ever replacing it. But it is not good for research, so perhaps Evernote could fill in that gap.

    1. Tia, I consider Evernote one of the best tools in my writer’s toolbox. A couple of obvious reasons – as you’ve noticed – is the web clipping ability (much of my own research is webclips – but Evernote Mobiles also have the fab page camera and photo notes functions – so I can be in a library researching, and take a shot of the page in a book, or in the city, and take a photo of the perfect building for a setting.

      The second reason is mobility. I can have all my notes for a project on any device I’m working on – and I work a lot on my iPAD.


      I write (mainly) in Scrivener, which was made for the purpose. Unfortunately, Scrivener for Windows is still without some functions that Scrivener Mac users have – such as compiling ebooks with internal hyperlinks in them. This lack of internal links has forced me out of using Scrivener for my little ebook on Evernote – afterall, internal links to different pages are some of the interactivity we want in a non-fiction ebook. So, in answer to your question – for non-fiction, I’m actually doing everything in Evernote – research, planning, indexing and structure, and writing to first draft point.

      Scrivener still doesn’t have a mobile version either (although rumours are it’s being working on). As I’m a fiction writer, and working on a series, I’ve kept the story bible as a master project in Scrivener – there, I’ve collected character profiles, and story arcs across the series of books, etc. But – that big reference bible isn’t available to me when I’m out and about. As yet.

      So, I have a series of templates for character profiles etc, inside Evernote, and Scrivener can export to text or PDF files, which are easily imported into Evernote, and available for me to read whenever I need. And Evernote reads them and indexes them so that I can search and find anything. (Note: because Evernote is such a tool in my toolbox for writing now, I am a premium subscriber, which means I can take notes I want offline, making them available anywhere I have my iPhone). If I ever loose that Scrivener project – say, I’ve forgotten to backup, and my hard-drive crashes (like it did last Christmas) I have a backup on the cloud with the same data – and my manuscripts – in Evernote.

      You’ve given me an idea for a simple walk-through of my own case study, however, as a bonus for the book. And I intend sharing the templates as a free reader giveaway too.

      Good luck with your web clipping and research curation. Which – another reminder – there’s a new whizbang web clipper for Chrome just out. I must go and download to see what features it gives me.

  2. Thanks for going over your process in such detail. I use Microsoft Word because I outline using the Navigation Pane. I tried Scrivener once (for Windows), but I could not see it replacing my current system.

    I’ll see what I can do with capturing my research notes in EverNote.

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