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On a Tool Quest, I came upon Mt. Evernote

August 12, 2013

Let’s talk tools. Writers need certain things in order to write. The obvious ones are well, obvious. Pen/Paper, Paper/Typewriter, Computer. They take care of the serious work, The Writing. For me, I like a trusty notebook or journal. I’ve talked about Moleskine products in the past. They are, in my opinion, simply the best things ever. Every part of my writer-self is satisfied with a Moleskine. The touch, smell, heft, appearance and utility of a Moleskine is unsurpassed.

The notebook is indispensable for a number of reasons. First, it’s always ready. No batteries, no Wi-Fi or cellular signal needed. Pen, paper, ideas, Done! You can place it anywhere, table, nightstand, bathroom sink or desk. Anything can go into it. Written ideas, excerpts, thoughts, character traits etc. You can draw in it, make notes, put clippings in it. The Moleskine even has a pocket in most models and an elastic band to hold the book shut. As long as you have a writing implement it is ready to go.

It would appear then that the notebook/journal is just about the perfect tool. Some would argue that it is perfect. I will not argue against that. However, I believe that a writer’s tools are as personal as a person’s preferred means of learning. Some people are audio learners, others are visual, still others are a combination. You see the point? While idealistically I think the notebook is grand, for me it is flawed.

Yikes. What’s a person to do?

Well, for starters you have to be willing to try out different things. I am talking about basic organization. Maybe like me you have a dozen different notions going in completely different directions. I have found that unless I keep separate notebooks I start getting one story or plot mixed with others. Then it becomes more difficult to go back into the book to find what idea or notion I was after. Updating is difficult because pen and paper tend to be permanent.

What’s a disorganized, scatter brain like myself to do?

Evernote. Evernote is simply stated a notebook application. Of course, it is more than that. There are features on top of features. And I like it!

At its core, Evernote is an electronic notebook. But you can create multiple notebooks in the app. So instead of laying out cash for each Moleskine (or whatever notebook brand you prefer) you click a button and instantly have a new notebook. Personally, I have one for each major writing project.

Once you have a notebook in place the next thing to do is add Notes to it. A note represent what we are familiar with, a single page in a notebook. However, these notes are quite a bit more robust. You can add plain text, URLs, Images, whole webpages (using a browser tool called web clip), you can create lists and checkbox tasks.

Take a basic research trip to the internet with me. Say I want to know about the Chupacabra. Google Search brings back all kinds of results. I snag a few URLs and throw them in a note title: Chupacabra Links. That note is stored under an imaginary notebook: Tales of the Chupacabra. The note also has a Tags field. This concept of tags is pretty familiar to most people who use WordPress or other blogging software. A tag is a filter. So, I might tag the note with: ‘Research’ and ‘URLS’. Then if I want to find it later I can search by tag, or text. If I have the notebook selected, then a search is limited to that notebook, otherwise all notebooks are searched.

I mentioned web clip browser extension. I have it installed in Google Chrome. It is rather like Pintrest. You can clip part or all of a webpage and send it into your Evernote account. For me it makes research that much easier. Now I don’t have to fire up a browser, I can view a large selection of research material right in the application.

Evernote has gone far to make sure that they are easily available. I have the client software on a Windows 8 laptop, iPhone, Android table (which dual boots WebOS, and yes I have a version of Evernote on that too.) Not to mention their incredible web application. No matter where you are, as long as you have a computing device and a connection you can access your account and add/sync data. If you do not have a connection, but you do have a client application installed, you can work offline. Great if you need to jot down an idea at 30,000 feet for example.

I think one of my favorite features about Evernote is Email. When you create your account you receive an email address specific to your account. You can then email notes to this address and Evernote will add them to your account. Using the subject line you can specify the note’s title, the notebook it needs to be stored in, tags, reminder and if it is an update to an existing note. Some examples:

Basic Adding a new Note: Chupacabra Eating Habits @Tales of the Chupacabra #research #gross !tomorrow 

What that all means: The first part “Chupacabra Eating Habits” is the title. “@Tales of the Chupacabra” is the notebook, “#research” and “#gross” are tags that will be applied (if they exist…) “!tomorrow” is a reminder, Evernote will remind you about this note on the next day.

Updating a Note: Chupacabra Eating Habits @Tales of the Chupacabra +

See the new bit? Yes, the “+” sign tells Evernote to update our note on eating habits.

Reminders are a recently added function. They can be added in the web app, as well as the iOS and Android apps. Strangely, not in the desktop clients. Perhaps later. Reminders in conjunction with Evernote’s ability to turn a note into a to-do list, make for an excellent tool. An email will be sent the day the note is due if configured in the preferences. A popup on your client application will also announce the arrival of the due date/time.

A useful reminder might be a note telling you the who, what, when, where of a submission deadline or that your favorite TV show is about to start or that it’s time to feed the cats.

I have to admit, I am a pretty big fan of Evernote. It hasn’t replaced my Moleskine in my heart, but I am finding that I use it more and more as time goes by. Oops, I almost failed to say, Evernote is a pretty huge fan of Moleskine too. In fact, so much so that Evernote teamed up with Moleskine and released a pair of Evernote Moleskine notebooks. One with lines and one without (more for the sketching artist type.) What they do have is teeny-tiny little dots making up a grid. If you take your smart phone, open the Evernote app, you’ll find on the create a note page a camera button. Click that little sucker and take a picture of the notebook page. The image file will be uploaded into your Evernote account. And thanks to the magic of those little dots, your handwriting will be parsed and indexed. Meaning your can search through the handwritten text! The whole process is pretty fast and really amazing. The Evernote Moleskine also comes with a sticker sheet. The stickers are predefined tags (things like: home, work etc..) Which you can configure in your apps settings, so you do not have to stay with the factory defaults.

There are two types of accounts, free and premium. Free allows for 60 megs or so of storage space on their server and there is an allowance of data sync, per month. With the premium account you get access to notes offline on all your devices w/o network connection, additional mobile security, upload 1 gigabyte a month, search with PDFs, Note history, share notebooks. 5 bucks a month, or 45 for a year. I haven’t taken the plunge just yet. You can check out the differences here.

There are a whole host of Evernote products, all of which are pretty interesting in their own right. You may want to check them out at Evernote’s Site.

In closing, writing tools are a personal choice. Everyone has their own prefered method. Because a basic account is free, I would encourage you to investigate Evernote and see if it can be of use to you.

Thanks for reading!


From → General, Writing

  1. I will check out Evernote but I doubt anything can beat the old simple notebook, I keep them near my bed and on the writing table as well. and as soon as a idea strikes I jot it down.

    • And that is why I won’t give up on the notebook either. I really like the search and organization features Evernote gives me. However at 4:00am in the morning, I am not going to go find my laptop or try to peck a note on my phone, I am going to use pen and paper \^_^/

      • true that and I am downloading evernote right now as i type this’s always good to have an extra feature specially when you are recommending it.

      • I hope you like it. There a a bunch of other features that I didn’t even get into.

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