Why I Don’t Use Evernote for My Writing

After my recent post on “A Good Word Process for Writers Should Do 3 Things Well,” I got several questions, both in the comments to the post, as well as in Twitter, as to why I don’t use Evernote for my writing. The assumption, I think, is that what I write would then be readily accessible on all of my devices. There isn’t enough room to answer the question adequately in Twitter, so I will do so here.

While I am a big proponent (to say nothing of user) of Evernote for a lot of what I do, there are two reasons I don’t use it as a word processor for my writing:

1. Evernote does not separate the user interface from the presentation layer.

Evernote’s “note” format is a WYSIWYG interface. Of course, you can also put it into a plain text mode, but in either case, the output from Evernote is not a properly formatted manuscript. It looks exactly like it does in the note itself. So far, Scrivener is the only tool I’ve found that allows you to adequately separate these two layers. Aside from allowing me to focus on the content instead of the look and feel, it allows allows me to compile and produce a “standard manuscript” with a single mouse-click. Creating the document in Evernote would require a significant amount of additional work on my part.

This may not sound like a big deal. Even supposing I had the discipline to ignore all of the formatting options and just write, the fact that the layers are not separate would cost me a lot of time. Before I used Scrivener, it would take me, on average, about 15 minutes to get a short story into standard manuscript format. (Templates would speed up the process a little.) Each time I made changes I had to go through the process again. But this process is entirely automated in Scrivener. With a typical short story through all of its drafts, it probably saves me 1-2 hours of work.

2. I am comfortable with the tools I use.

Writers, like baseball players, are all about routines. You hear writers talk about writing at the same time every day, in the same coffeeshop, day after day. You develop a kind of rhythm and teach your brain to be ready to write when you are in your environment. I think there is some truth to this. I typically write fiction at my desk in my home office, more often than not early in the mornings while the rest of the family is still sleeping. There is a comfort in this and that same comfort level exists with the tools that I use for my writing. I think of Evernote as a kind of second brain, but I don’t think of it as a writing tool, at least not for me.

That is not to say that Evernote can’t work as a writing tool for someone else.

That is not to say that Evernote is not involved in the overall freelancing process I have. Whenever I get an idea, regardless of what the idea is (for a story, a line of dialog, a quote, an idea for a post, a notion for a nonfiction piece) it goes into Evernote as quickly as possible. I’ve learned through laziness early on that just because I think I’ll remember an idea later, doesn’t mean I will. And since I have Evernote at my fingertips no matter where I am, as soon as the idea forms, it gets put into a note and filed away into an Ideas notebook.

Then, too, I am a guy who uses Evernote to “remember everything.” At the end of each day, I have a script that runs on my iMac that looks for any new writing I’ve done (fiction or nonfiction, not blogging) and creates a new note in Evernote with a copy of the writing I did on that day. This goes into a “Daily Writing” notebook, which becomes part of my overall timeline in Evernote. For any given day, I can go back and see what it was I wrote on that day. There isn’t much value in this, other than to have the history, but I like having the history so I keep it.

Freelancing is a business. There are contracts to sign, checks to be cashed, appearances, conventions, reprint requests. There is also receipts for travel and other things. All of this stuff needs to be captured and organized and I use Evernote to keep all of these things together where I can access them no matter where I am.

So while I don’t use Evernote to do the actual writing, I do use it for a lot of things related to the business side of writing and for capturing the ideas that allow me to write in the first place.

Published by Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

2 replies on “Why I Don’t Use Evernote for My Writing”

  1. Totally agree with you about the formatting issue and I generally either copy it into Evernote or e,ail the file. What is the script that you are talking about as I think that would be perfect for my job too.

  2. I agree completely. I use Evernote for almost every aspect of my life, and I keep writing ideas in it, as well as snippets of prose.

    For the actual work of writing though, I mainly use WriteRoom on my iPad.

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