How to Organize Big Writing Projects in Evernote

We’re all familiar with information overload, when demands on our attention start to feel overwhelming. On a typical day, info comes at us in a nonstop flood of work meetings, social media, email, and news that can leave us feeling exhausted, or even paralyzed.

For writers, especially those working on a book, there’s another source of potential information overload. Unfortunately, it’s one we can’t turn off or step away from. It’s our own heads.

Overload happens when there are too many balls to juggle and we don’t know which one to focus on first. From plot brainstorms and character descriptions to mountains of online research, the inspirations, ideas, and decisions a writer has to manage can pile up fast. Before you know it, you could get lost in the swirl, unsure of what to do next, or where to find anything. That’s where Evernote comes in. Instead of scattering information around or keeping it all in your head, Evernote can be the home base for all your writing projects. A plan, some structure, and a few minutes of effort is all it takes.

Make a plan

Large projects become less intimidating when you break them down into bite-sized steps. There are a couple of different ways to do that.

You could start with the big picture (your writing goal), identify the major milestones that lead up to it, and then work out all the little steps that will get you to each milestone. If that’s too scary, you could start small and work your way up, beginning with one tiny thing you can do right now, and then thinking through each step that follows.

However you like to plan, tasks and checklists in Evernote are your friend. Instead of living in their own app, disconnected from the rest of your project, Evernote’s tasks live inside your notes, right next to the information you need to get started. You can even combine tasks and checklists, assigning deadlines to your important milestones while tracking every step on the path to your book.

Power tip: You can manage all your tasks in a single view by upgrading to Evernote Personal, Professional, or Teams. Then if you combine tasks and checklists, like in the example above, you can keep your task list small without letting subtasks fall through the cracks.

Add some structure

Information isn’t useful unless you can get to it when you need it. Using Evernote is a great first step, because its powerful search can help you find anything you save, whether it’s a scene you typed, an article you clipped from the web, a cool fact buried in a PDF, or even a bit of handwriting in a photo. But searching takes time. You can save yourself some of that effort by creating a structure for your notes. 

Start by setting up a notebook just for your book project. Fill that notebook with all the stuff related to your book, and you’ll always know where to look.

Check out our creative writing templates to get a head-start on your note-taking. And if you want to go a step further, you can even try writing your manuscript in Evernote.

You might also want to create a catch-all notebook for things that aren’t tied to one project:

  • Story ideas
  • Daily writing exercises or prompts
  • Poetry
  • Favorite quotes on writing
  • Query / submission records
  • Query letter templates
  • Publishers and publications in your genre
  • Reading list

For an extra layer of organization, you can keep your list of notebooks tidy by combining them into stacks. If your company uses Evernote Teams, you can also create a space to collect all the material for a writing project and share it with your teammates.

But what if you want to reuse material across several projects? Say you’re working on a series of novels, all featuring the same character. This is where a simple tagging system can be a big help.

Create a tag for a particular character, topic, or location, and you can search for all the notes that use that tag, no matter which notebook they’re in. Save that search, and you can run it again with a click, or use it to populate a filtered notes widget in Home. Now it’s easy to track useful information across all your projects.

Know what’s next

There’s no magic wand that will organize your writing life, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, either. A plan, even a sketchy one, makes it easier to focus. Sorting and tagging your notes makes it easier to find what you need. When you bring a solid plan and organization system together, you can reduce anxiety and set yourself up for success, ensuring you never get lost along the way to your goals.

One quick way to do this is to set due dates and reminders on your tasks so you won’t forget them. You can also set a reminder on a note, so Evernote will prompt you when it’s time to open it. That way, your plan comes to life and your notes are ready for action.

If you find yourself with too many tasks to manage and not enough time, that old sense of overload could creep in again. A good prioritization method will help you limit your list to only those tasks you can complete in the day or week ahead, focusing on the ones that will have the biggest impact. We’ve collected several excellent methods right here on the Evernote Blog.

We hope this guide has sparked some ideas and given you the confidence to get organized and achieve your writing goals. All that’s left is to begin. Check out our creative writing resource center for more ways to get started!

Originally published on November 1, 2017. Updated on November 1, 2022.