This past weekend, science fiction writer Bud Sparhawk and I delivered a talk at the Capclave science fiction convention on “Online Writing Tools.” The purpose of our talk was to demonstrate a wide variety of tools we use in our daily writing work. Bud and I use different tools and have different styles of writing so it made for a diverse discussion. We talked about Scrivener and Google Docs, FileMaker and Inspiration. And, of course, I talked about Evernote.
I thought it might be interesting for readers of this column to see the Evernote part in more detail. For anyone who wants to look at the entire presentation, it is available on Google Drive.
What a writer does
Before I jump into the parts that focus on Evernote, I wanted to make sure we are on the same page concerning what it is, exactly, that a writer does. I have friends who think that writing is easy, that all it amounts to is sitting in front of a computer (or typewriter) and banging out your thoughts on the keyboard. In our talk, Bud and I used the following illustration to help clarify a lot of the things a freelance writer has to do as part of their job:
The tools writers use to do all of these things vary by task and by writer. Since we are talking about one particular writer today (me) and one particular tool (Evernote), here is where I find myself using Evernote in my writing life:
Below, I will touch briefly on each of these areas and how I integrate Evernote into my writing life.
1. Using Evernote to capture ideas
There is nothing worse for a writer than getting a great idea and not writing it down. The reason, of course, is that you end up forgetting the idea. In fact, I have a theory that the likelihood of forgetting an idea is directly proportional to the quality of the idea times the length of time since you got the idea, squared. Put another way, the better the idea and the longer you go without writing it down, the more likely you are to forget it.
Long experience has taught me that there are two critical factors in capturing ideas:
- You must be able to capture the idea quickly and easily.
- You must be able to find the idea once you’ve captured it.
The first is pretty obvious. If you get an idea and have a cumbersome method for capturing it, you are less likely to use it. You need a tool that allows you to capture the idea within seconds and without hassle.
The second may not be as obvious. For instance, you can scratch an idea on a napkin, but what happens if you lose the napkin? The same principle applies here as with backing up data: it is not the ability to backup that is critical, it is the ability to restore. It’s all well and good if you capture your idea on a napkin, but if you can’t locate that idea later, the method you used to capture it is meaningless.
I use Evernote to capture my ideas, and since they released their newest upgrade for iOS 7, it has indeed become quick and easy to use. I often get ideas while taking my daily walks, and it has become easy to pull out my iPhone, jot down the idea and move on:
In the screenshots above, you can see how I do this. I tap on the Quick Note section of the screen on the left. That takes me to a new note. I jot down the idea, tag it and save it. Later, I can find the ideas I’ve captured simply by searching for the tag I’ve assigned to the notes. And because all of the notes are stored and centralized on Evernote’s servers, I can access my ideas from any device.
2. Using Evernote for research
With few exceptions, research is a part of just about any writer’s life. Since much of what I write is science fiction, research is a large part, although this mostly applies to the second draft. In my first drafts, I don’t spend a lot of time researching. In order to get the story done, I just make stuff up and then leave notes in the manuscript that say things like, “Need to do a calculation here” or “need to find out how far you could hit a baseball on the moon.” The actual research happens in the second draft.
Evernote is a great tool for research because you can do it all in context of what you are researching. For instance, I was doing some research on the science fiction writer Clifford D. Simak not to long ago. In my browser, I pulled up an article on Simak from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:
If what I find is useful, I’ll use the Evernote Web Clipper to capture the page in Evernote. I usually capture it in “Simplified” format. I have 3 reasons for this: