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Reader's Den is currently in hibernation. Since I now only write book reviews for publications and other review websites, I will no longer be updating this site. However, there are 45+ reviews here and some great guest posts/interviews, so I'll keep this site alive for as long as I can just to keep the content online. Thanks for visiting! If you want to know what I'm currently up to, you can find me at my personal blog or at Editorial Assistance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Microsoft OneNote - An Author's Best Friend

As a writer, I'm constantly coming up with new worlds, new characters and new storylines to fill the novels that I write. I find it can be somewhat difficult keeping a good mental picture of some of my characters - especially minor ones, and setting can be difficult to keep straight too, considering I make most of my locations up and I don't always have all of the details of those settings sketched out before I begin writing about them.

To start with, for years now I've had a bookshelf full to the brim of folders full of individual character profiles, including bio sheets and magazine cutouts of people who I think resemble some of my characters. Overall the notebooks are fun to put together, but I'd rather have something of a more convenient reference, especially since I'm on the computer 100% of the time I'm working on a novel. I also wanted some of my bookshelf space back to display all of the books I'm behind on reading.

So I've been on the hunt for a while now for a program that could give me a visual cornucopia of reference options. I found one or two programs - most made by indie developers - but they either weren't worth the money or they were just too convoluted and confusing that they would be too much hassle to learn to use.

Then I stumbled on Microsoft OneNote. This handy little gem has everything I could possibly want in a writer's assistant.

*A side note - all images you see in my screenshots are copyright their respective creators. I am simply showing the screenshots as an example of what I am able to do with Microsoft OneNote.*

To start with, on the left side you have notebooks. You can create as many notebooks as you like, color them whatever color you'd like, title them whatever you'd like.

Then each notebook is separated into sections (I call them tabs). Again, these tabs can be colored whatever color you like, titled whatever you want.

Inside of each tab, you can create pages. You can even create subpages branching under these pages.

I use Microsoft OneNote for all sorts of nifty writerly things. I create notebooks for each of my writing projects. Then I create tabs. Say I'm in a notebook regarding a novel I'm working on. I'll create tabs for characters, setting, research, etc.Then under these tabs, I'll create pages.

For example, for a novel I currently have on the back burner, Dark Horizons, I have a tab for characters. Under the character tab, I have a page for Carrie Green.

Now, it's the pages that bring it all together. I'm able to drag and drop pretty much anything I want into the page itself. When you start typing text, it creates a text box that you can move around anywhere within the page. You can drop images from the internet, your computer, etc. You can resize these pictures and move them wherever you want.

You can even drop documents - and audio - into the page - like I did with the Word doc of Carrie's character profile above or like what I did on this page of future projects that need to be worked on. All I have to do is click on the icon and it will open the appropriate document on my computer.

Aside from characters, I also like to use OneNote for  
novel research -

Creature creation -

Setting reference-

And I can even outline with it - just to keep all the elements of the novel together.

Having all these visual references have really helped me craft my novel more easily. I'm able to copy images from the internet so I can see what I want my characters to be wearing. I can drop documents for easy reference. I can craft my text boxes in a creative way to add to my own presentation of the applicable materials.

All in all, OneNote has become a very useful tool in my writer arsenal, giving me many of the things I need to craft my stories and work on my marketing, without all the hassle of confusing applications.

For more information on Microsoft OneNote, follow this link to Microsoft's official page on it. When crafting this post, OneNote 2010 was only $79.99 and it is a standalone Office product, meaning you can purchase it separate from the other Microsoft Office programs like Excel and Word. Keep in mind that Microsoft OneNote 2007 was used for these screenshots, so major/minor improvements may have been made since.


Tiffany White-Writer

I'm an Evernote user. OneNote is nice but I need more features. I have OneNote but I don't use it. Evernote is free and feature rich. But everyone has their preference in tools. Evernote was my right fit. :-)


Thanks for the post David! I love posts like this. They're easy to follow along with because of the visuals. By the end, I was definitely considering using it, and it's nice to see how you keep up with all of it. I'm always fascinated with how those who write fantasy keep up with everything. Jeez, I wonder how J.R.R. Tolkien kept his stuff together.

The only thing that would deter me from getting it is the price. I think I'm too accustomed to finding alternate programs for free. For instance, I don't use Microsoft at all. Instead, I use LibreOffice because it's free and does all the same things plus more.

David N Alderman

I use OneNote because it was already on my computer. But I do agree with you, Tiffany, about the price. Since I don't have much cash to throw around - if any - I would more than likely at least try to find alternative means until I had the money to purchase something like OneNote.

Just like you suggested, Tiffany White, I had a friend of mine the other day tell me to get Evernote. I just got a new phone - an actual smartphone this time - and they told me it's the first program to put on it so I can stay organized as a writer, so I'll definitely check it out.


I've also just recently gotten a smart phone. Welcome to the smart phone family! Ah, if only this laptop would've come with OneNote. That would've been nice.


Well, this is news to me! As far as OneNote, I don't know, but I'm downloading Evernote on my phone as I type this, so we'll see how that goes. I don't really have too much trouble staying organized in my writing, but I always just use Microsoft Word for everything hahaha, so maybe this'll broaden my horizons a little, especially with the pictures thing. I use pictures--and experience, first-hand or -hand-me-down--to structure picturesque moments, like with setting and shit, so the reference would be useful. Hmm.. Evernote just got done installing, so let's really see what it's made out of, shall we? ;]

Thanks for the heads-up! I don't think I ever would known about either of these without the article. Certainly not much stock into the fact that I can keep such in-depth notes on my novels like this.


Honestly, I need to stop being so ancient. Tiffany White uses Evernote, David uses Onenote, you've used Microsoft Word and is now switching over evernote.

Me? I keep all my notes on paper in filing cabinets. Psht, that's terrible.

S. R. Carrillo

Whatever! Maybe that's just the way you function. No two snowflakes are alike, right?

And anyway I find Evernote to be slightly overwhelming, at least in PC form. On my phone, it's fine (still a bit overwhelming, but more capable, it seems). On my computer, I feel like some of the features on my phone that make Evernote's organization of notes easier and so accessible have disappeared or hidden themselves from my impatience. All in all, I was kinda looking for what OneNote provided... on a freer level. Evernote is not that. Maybe I'll just go back to Microsoft Word. :\ Or maybe I'll figure out this Evernote thing one day. (I DO so love the fact that whenever I connect my phone to my computer [which is how I charge my phone], it syncs my shit up both ways. THAT is AWESOME.)

So... you know... my point is... maybe the grass ain't always that much greener on the other side, yeah?

Cas Peace

I'm like you, Tiffany, I still have all my Artesans stuff on real, actual paper. Mainly that's because I didn't own a PC when I began writing. I guess I should put some of it into OneNote (it came preinstalled on my laptop) just in case I lose some of my papers, but I simply don't have the time. And besides, I quite like leafing through those old drawings and character sketches and plotlines! :-0


I started to download Evernote, but in the end I decided not to because there were so many options that it overwhelmed me. I like to keep it simple, which is why using Microsoft Word is my next step.

Yeah, there is something wonderful about leafing through the written pages. But recently, I somehow misplaced a lot of my research and still can't find it. So now I'm turning to Microsoft Word so I can save it in multiple places and be less likely to suffer through that again.

David N Alderman

I'm thinking of trying the Microsoft OneNote app on my new smartphone, but we'll see how far I get with that. It would be nice to sync my notebooks from OneNote to my phone, so that way when I travel and such, I can keep a steady compilation of my random thoughts, images and story notes. Also might come in handy at night when I'm in bed, away from my comp, when I end up getting a lot of my ideas.

There's a chance I might even try to download Evernote, just to see what's it's like so I can compare. However, if it has as big a learning curve as everyone is leading on about, I might skip. I just don't have time for that. LOL!

S. R. Carrillo

Yeah, I tried to Evernote thing, and I find myself wanting it to do the things that this article mentioned OneNote could use. Does OneNote really have an app? Cause if so, I'm gettin it. :| I'm an app maniac sometimes. If I use it everyday, best believe I either have the app or *wish* it had one haha. (I'm lookin for a car right now and just downloaded the Kelley Blue Book app. -_-' Yep. Haha it's like Tiffany's subscription problem, me and iPhone apps.)

ANYWAY my point is I don't like Evernote. And you know why? 'Cause it ain't me. I'm used to the simplicity of Microsoft Word and just having the things I cataloged there. OneNote seems like an easy-to-figure-out spin on it specialized for organization, not just documentation. Evernote is... just too much for me. Blegh. Can't get my head around it. ANd I don't care if all the great writers of the world used that crappy thing, I'm not. /end declaration.

Karen Chow

One of the ladies in my writers group recently purchased Scrivener, which was developed by Apple first and is being slowly transitioned to PC. I saw the program and it looks VERY VERY similar to OneNote, and cheaper, too, at $40.

Just my two cents.

Karen Chow

This is the website, if anyone is interested:

S. R. Carrillo

It looks cool... but also complicated. I'd do it if I didn't just buy a car (read: tied my funds for at least the next two or three weeks), but I'm also tempted to say fuck it anyway and give it a try. The trial version will do for now. I'll come back with an assessment of how it suited my purposes. ;]