There’s a reason I’ve listed Evernote on my 2008, 2009 and 2010 Free Software Christmas Lists. Imagine if you could hook up a hard drive to your brain to remember anything that can be put into text, picture or file formats: Drawings, screen captures, e-mails, notes, doodles, webpages, pdfs, mp3s, etc. Now imagine being able to effortlessly sort and search through that information database to find what you need when you need it. Such a thing does exist, and it’s called Evernote.
“Remember Everything” is the mantra of Evernote. You don’t have to have a poor memory to realize how useful an information database is. If you have notebooks full of ideas and sketches, or a binder full of research notes and printouts, or even your class notes from Fiction Writing 101, store them to Evernote. Then, the only thing you’ll ever need to remember is your username and password for evernote.com.
Cool Features of Evernote
You can work offline with Evernote’s local client, which automatically synchronizes itself across the internet to any of your connected devices, meaning you are always backed up. Conflicts in data syncs are marked, making conflict resolution painless.
You can access your Evernote info no matter where you are. Evernote has Mobile Apps for droid, iphone and other mobile devices, and Application Plugins for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Outlook, and even windows file explorer. I use the Firefox plugin all the time. When I make an online purchase or a new account that gives me some kind of receipt, or account info, I don’t print it out. Press the Save To Evernote button and bam, it’s remembered.
Evernote comes with a great screen capture tool that runs in the system tray. A couple clicks, and that cryptic windows error message is saved forever instead of printing it out and losing it.
Organize your notes using folders and tags – Saving all that data up to the cloud does you no good if you can’t find anything when you need it. Evernote has nameable folders to sort your info, and tags that you can use to label and find your data in different ways, and a shiny, built-in search feature. Tags and folders automatically show up on the side of the screen for easy navigation.
Text Recognition is a cool feature. Upload a screenshot or picture and Evernote translates any legible text in the picture so you can search for it! For example, take a picture of the ultimate White Russian recipe, upload it to Evernote, then do a search for Vodka and… whammo! There’s your picture, found in the search results!
More more more. Integrated to-do list. Sharing and collaboration. Import and Export features. I could keep going, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet:
The very best feature of Evernote is that it’s Free. The free version limits the amount of data you can up/download in a month to 60MB, but unless you are taking lots of pix and syncing constantly to multiple devices, you won’t even have to worry about it. The free version also has a tiny ad space in the bottom left, but it isn’t the least bit obtrusive. A yearly subscription to Evernote is currently $45.
The nearest competition to Evernote is [easyazon_link identifier=”B0039L2XMA” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Microsoft’s OneNote[/easyazon_link] which will set you back $79.99. OneNote is a great program, I used it for years before switching to Evernote. I switched because of the massive list of features above, but there are several reasons to use Evernote over OneNote:
Evernote saves to the cloud, meaning you’re always backed up
Load Evernote on multiple devices, and sync between those devices automagically.
Evernote is useful for anyone dealing with information: engineers, students, project managers, etc, but it’s absolutely essential for authors. Here’s just a handful of ways I use Evernote to keep my writing organized.
Ever come up with some great idea that you might work on someday? Ever wake up from a horrific nightmare and decide that it would make a bone-chilling scene in a story? I drop these thoughts into Evernote if a computer is handy, or in a notebook, and transfer them to Evernote later for safe keeping under the handy folder heading ‘Ideas/Musings’.
If I’m ever stuck for something to write, I can look through the slew of bizarre story ideas I’ve had over the years.
Story outlining and structure
I used to keep my story outlines in separate word documents, but now I keep them in Evernote. I have a main project folder for each novel, story or series I’m working on. In that master folder I put notes for characters, research, locations and outlines. For example, every story I write has a note with a full outline of the story or series.
While writing my novel in MS Word, I run Evernote in the background or on a second monitor for quick and easy info lookups. Having the outline of the story handy keeps me focused. Especially when writing a series of stories, it helps to see how the story I’m working on fits into the larger picture.
I save a note for each major character in each of my stories. It’s like a CIA dossier on that character’s height, weight, eye color, hair color, likes and dislikes, personality, etc. I’ve even added descriptions from sources such as the Myers-Briggs personality types, astrological signs or tarot cards that remind me of the characters. I often clip pictures from the internet that remind me of a character and store them in the note.
Now I can easily look up details about any character. Check out my notes for the character Cayenne (from my upcoming novel Evil Looks Good) on my Evernote shared folder.
Writers often end up doing some of the strangest research. What are the benefits/drawbacks to using cold-forged steel blades? What is the layout of the ruins at Chichen Itza? What is the Sunday Mass schedule for the Minneapolis Basilica?
Finding this data isn’t always easy. Remembering it all is impossible. I save useful info in Evernote, tagged in groups like: characters, events, locations, gadgets and plotlines.
One example of my own writing research is a drug I invented for my novel, Evil Looks Good called Yellow King. I used a hybrid of online research and creativity to determine characteristics, effects, side effects, antidotes and results of overdose. Now, if I ever forget this info, I can just look it up in Evernote. You can see the results here at my shared Evernote folder.
Do you know what market you’re writing for? Who is your competition? What books are going to be on the shelf next to yours at the library? What’s their cover price? How many copies have they sold? How many pages do they have? What trends are saturating the market? What books won the Horror Writer’s Association’s Bram Stoker Award last year?
It might seem like trivia, but if you’re a serious writer (or publisher, or both) then you need this information. You need a list of books like yours. You need to be aware of what you’re writing and how it fits into the upcoming market. Evernote is a great place to drop all this market research and sift through it later, to help you target your book with or without a publisher’s help.
Submissions and Publications
How many places did I send that manuscript? How long ago was it? When should I follow up? Dump all those names, dates and places into Evernote, and track your submissions/acceptances/rejections in one place.
Using Evernote to save this info, you’ll know when to hit up your agent for a status update, when you can resubmit your manuscript to that magazine contest, and when publication rights fall back to you.
I love writing on paper. And I do my most creative work writing symbols, maps, flowcharts, sketches and scribbles using pens made from dead dinosaurs on paper made from dead trees. And I can’t do that kind of creative freehand on the computer. But there’s no organization to a mountain of spiral notebooks. So while I was interested in Evernote for organizing, I had to integrate it into a useful system that included paper. Fortunately, using Evernote does not mean you need to give up on paper entirely.
Now I still keep notebooks handy in my car/pocket/bedside, and I’ll often carry paper with me to the coffee shop instead of a damned laptop. I write, draw and sketch story ideas on paper. Later, I scan or translate the info from paper into Evernote, placing it in the proper folder and adding tags for later lookup. You can file the paper copy away if you like, but I toss it once the data is safe in Evernote.
Separating the creative aspect of writing using paper and then the analytical/organizational aspect of storing the data on Evernote has made me more efficient about what I’m doing. Best of all, I’m never in fear of losing my creative moments via theft or fire or simply misplacing one of my notebooks. For me, this is the best reason for authors to use Evernote.
The Great Software For Great Authors Series
As both an I.T. guy and a writer, I get exposed to many different computer programs that are useful not only to computer users, but authors in particular. So I created the Great Software for Great Authors series, where I discuss software that can help authors in their quest to be more organized, efficient and successful.
So here’s the disclaimer. I’ve used all the software listed in this series, and found it useful enough to give it a hearty recommendation for my fellow authors, as well as the Conrad Zero Ubercool Seal of Approval. I’m not related in any way to the software companies I endorse, and they have not paid me for my recommendation. There may be affiliate links in this blog post and website which provide a token fee to me if people buy the software after clicking through from my links, but this is my recommendation only and not an advertisement.