Going Paperless: 4 Ways I Use Evernote in My Freelance Writing

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are generally 3 parts to being a writer: (1) the art, (2) the craft, and (3) the business. Like most writers, I focus (mostly without thinking too much about it) on the art and craft. In other words, on writing stories and articles. That is where I want to spend what little time I have. But the business can be just as important, and is a catchall for anything that doesn’t fall into the first two categories. As you might imagine, I use Evernote in all three parts, but I find that it comes in most handy in dealing with the business of being a freelance writer. Today, I’ll share a few ways in which I use Evernote in my freelance writing.

1. Using Evernote to capture assignments and deadlines

I spent the first 14 years of trying to be a writer1 dreaming that one day, I would not just be submitting stories and getting rejection slips, but that editors would ask me for stories.

These days, I do get asked to write stories and articles. Last year I was invited to submit to my first “invitation” anthology. I sent a story and that story was accepted. The anthology, called Beyond the Sun came out on August 1. I’ve been commissioned to write an editorial for Analog Science Fiction, as well as nonfiction for Lightspeed. I have a column in a new science fiction magazine called Blue Shift. Unlike my normal way of working, which is to write stories on my own schedule and submit them when they are ready, each of these assignments represents work that has a fixed deadline, and often some set of instructions to go along with it.

I use Evernote to capture each assignment. Here is roughly what I do:

  1. Create a new note for the assignment and give it an appropriate title, e.g. “Editorial For Analog”
  2. Document for whom I am doing the work and all of the relevant contact information
  3. Document any editorial instructions within the note, including summaries of conversations that I have with the editor. I may paste in email conversations as well.
  4. Tag the note “pending assignment”
  5. If there is a due date, I will use Evernote’s reminder feature to set a note reminder one week ahead of the actual due date.

I have a saved search that lists all of my notes tagged “pending assignment.” With a single mouse-click, I can call up a list of all pending assignments and have them at my fingertips.

When I complete an assignment, I’ll remove the “pending assignment” tag and replace it with a “completed assignment” tag2.

2. Using Evernote to manage contracts and rights

When you sell a story or an article, what you are selling is a certain set of rights. Those rights are set forth in the contract you are given for the piece. I scan in each signed contract I receive. Since Evernote released its Reminder feature, however, I’ve gone one step further. I will scan the contract for when the rights revert back to me, and set a reminder for each right so that I have a quick and easy way of finding out when the rights come back to me.

For those not familiar with freelance contracts, a typical rights clause for a short story looks something like this:

Contract sample

The highlighted portion indicates the rights I’m selling and for how long I am selling them. In this case, it is for one year after the publication date. So on the note for this contract, I created a reminder set for one year from the publication date. The reminder is set to remind me on August 1, 2014.

Some contracts that are more complex may break different rights into different time intervals. In these cases, I simply create multiple reminders on the note. I do this by adding a date to the existing reminder:

Contract Reminder

The note titles for these notes appear in the Reminder List when I am looking at my list of notes so that I can easily access the reminders without having to see the note itself. Double-clicking on the reminder also takes me to the note. And I will get an in-app notification and an email on the day the rights revert back to me.

3. Using Evernote to track payments and expenses

Stephen King wrote somewhere (I can’t remember where) that his definition of a professional writer was someone who wrote a story, submitted the story, had the story accepted, was paid for the story, cashed the check and used the money to pay his or her gas bill.

As a freelance writer I get paid for my writing and that means that I pay taxes on the income from my writing. It is important, therefore, to keep track of all of the payments I received and the expenses I incur as they relate to freelance writing. Since I want to minimize the time I spend on the business side of things, I’ve worked up a process that more or less fits into my daily routine:

  1. When I received a check, I scan it into Evernote
  2. I tag the note as “payment”
  3. I change the Create Date of the note to match the date on the check
  4. Sometimes, I create a note link back to the “assignment note” I created if this was a commissioned work. Makes it easy to link the payment back to its source.
  5. I deposit the check

At the end of the year, when tax time comes around, I search for any notes tagged “payment” with a create date in the current year. I can then use the resulting notes to create a simple spreadsheet to calculate my freelance income.

At the same time, there are some expenses that I incur as a freelance writer. There are conferences and conventions, and some travel. There are professional organization dues. There are restaurant bills, etc. I capture all of the receipts for these in Evernote. These go into my Freelance notebook, tagged as “expenses.” I alter the create dates to match the date on the receipt. Once again, at the end of the year, I can do a search in my Freelance notebook for any notes tagged “expenses” in the current year. I can use this to create another spreadsheet listing out expenses.

All of these: spreadsheets, payments and receipts, I can send to my accountant so that she may figure out how much taxes I owe for my freelance writing.

But Evernote makes it easy to capture and organize it all so that it is easy to find come the end of the year.

4. Using Evernote to capture my day’s work

I don’t actually do my writing in Evernote, but I do capture each day’s work there. I do the bulk of my first and second draft writing in Google Docs. There, I have written a set of scripts that automate the tracking of my writing from day-to-day. For those interested, I made a set of these scripts available in GitHub.

For me, the scripts do two things related to Evernote:

  1. They show me what I wrote on any given day.
  2. They summarize my work for any given day.

My scripts compare the current days work with the previous days work and then send the current day’s work to my Writing notebook in Evernote, highlighting what I added, what I changed, and what I deleted from the previous day. This is all done automatically thanks to the scripts I wrote. I don’t have to take any action. Here is a sample paragraph from yesterday’s writing that illustrates the results. This was clipped from the note of yesterday’s writing that was sent to Evernote automatically by my scripts:

Writing Sample

The green text is text that I’ve added since the previous day. The red text is text that I removed from the previous day. And the unhighlighted text is unchanged from the previous day. The highlighting is handled automatically from my scripts. All I have to do is write.

The result is a kind of daily diary on what I wrote, changed, added, removed or tweaked from day-to-day, captured in Evernote. I’ve been running my scripts for over 160 days now, so I have 160 notes worth of daily writing in this writing diary:

Daily Writing


There are many other smaller ways that Evernote helps me manage my freelance writing, but the four ways I illustrated above are the most helpful to me. And they help me to be a almost entirely paperless freelance writer.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: Capturing Your Favorite Blog with IFTTT and Evernote.

  1. I call myself a brute force writer. I began writing submitting stories to magazines in January 1993. I didn’t sell my first story until January 2007. That’s fourteen years. A lot of people might have given up. Just goes to show that practice and persistence can be important if given enough time.
  2. Sometimes, I forget to do this step, but I am reminded to do it when I pull up my saved search and find completed assignments showing up in that list.

One thought on “Going Paperless: 4 Ways I Use Evernote in My Freelance Writing

  1. Evernote is such a powerful tool, I really love it since it’s launch! I also use it in my work, for project management and to-do’s. Lately I connected it with SmartTM app, this one is based on GTD so I can manage my tasks really simple and keep it all in one place 🙂

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