Using Evernote

Your Essential Guide to Completing NaNoWriMo in Evernote

Like marathon runners or mountain climbers, many of the folks driven to compete in NaNoWriMo (a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month) each November are motivated by a common goal: To prove that they can do it. 

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo challenges competitors to write a 50,000-word novel, start to finish, in the space of one month. As the NaNoWriMo website says, “hundreds of thousands of people around the world… enter the month as elementary school teachers, mechanics, or stay-at-home parents. They leave novelists.”

While everyone who makes it to the end is a winner, that isn’t to say it’s easy; it requires courage, preparation, and a commitment to the task. 50,000 words in 30 days works out to 1,667 words every day, which is a marathon in its own right—and although no-one ever suffered heat stroke participating in NaNoWriMo (at least as far as we know), competitors need to be well organized in order to succeed. 

If you’ve been bitten by the literary bug and are planning to join this year’s challenge, we have some good news: Evernote makes it easy to gather your ideas and inspiration, organize your research, and keep track of everything you need to make the writing process smoother. That way, you can spend less of your precious time searching for information, and more time getting the words out of your head and onto the page.

Save time with templates

A section of J.K. Rowling’s notes for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
A section of J.K. Rowling’s notes for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

“Sometimes writing and seeing where it takes you will lead you to some really good ideas, but I would say nearly always it won’t be as good as if you sat down first and thought, ‘Where do I want to go, what end am I working towards, what would be a good start?’”

—J.K. Rowling

While we can all marvel at the richly detailed world she created in her Harry Potter series of books, one glance at J.K. Rowling’s very detailed notes show the level of planning required to keep the various elements of that world straight. Having identified the major themes of the books in advance, she plotted out, chapter by chapter, how she would develop each storyline to keep readers engaged and ensure that the finished story flowed smoothly and coherently. 

Thankfully, you can create a plan for your own story without resorting to such a manual process. Evernote comes pre-loaded with a selection of note templates specially designed to help you keep all the details straight:

  • Story Premise Worksheet — Use this to brainstorm and expand story ideas and plots, so everything makes sense as you write. Capture details like the timeline for your story, who your protagonist is, what he or she wants, and the problem or conflict to be overcome.
  • Character Profile — The more you know about your characters, the better you can describe them. Understanding where your characters come from and how they think helps you create more realistic actions and motivations and keeps readers engaged.
  • Novel Plotting: 3-Act Structure — While not as detailed as the example above, this template helps you lay out plot ideas and arrange them so your story works from beginning to end.

And that’s not all: We have even more creative writing templates to help you do anything from building a fictional world to self-publishing your finished work. You can download them all for free here.

Power tip: If you’d like to dive right in and create your own version of J.K. Rowling’s story plot, create a blank note in Evernote and insert a table into it. Assign a column for each of the main themes of your story and a row for each chapter, and start filling in the details. One advantage of doing this in Evernote? You can make changes without having to reach for the Wite-Out.

Keep everything organized

If you’re writing a short story or blog post, it’s probably enough to keep all your writing in a single note. But for novel-length projects, that soon becomes unwieldy, as you jump back-and-forth to check on different parts of the action.

Instead, create a notebook and name it the title of your novel. Then create a new note for each chapter inside that notebook, with the note title being the title of that chapter. Then (and here’s the good part), create a Table of Contents note to make it easy to keep track of everything. From there, you can get to each chapter with a single click, and Evernote even numbers your chapters automatically as you add them.

See it all at a glance

Evernote has always been a great tool for writers. Its structure is similar to that of a book, with notebooks, notes, and tags being analogous to a book’s cover, chapters, and index.

Now Evernote’s newest features, like Home, Tasks, and Calendar, make it even more powerful, taking it from being a great tool to an indispensable one. 

Home in Evernote is your one-stop dashboard for all the different elements of your novel. In one place, you can see all your notes, including your research, story plots, character profiles, and individual chapters. From there, it’s easy to double-check names and dates, and pick up where you left off every day. You can also see what tasks you need to complete each day, as well as your schedule so you can find the perfect time to write.

Jot down ideas before you forget

Do you ever have an idea for a plot point or character detail, but now isn’t the right time to include it in your story? Instead of writing it on a scrap of paper that could easily get lost, capture it with the scratch pad widget in Home instead. 

You can also use the scratch pad to keep important details where you can see them. For example, is your character right-handed or left-handed? Was the moon bright on the night of the murder or were there clouds in the sky? Losing track of these could see you writing yourself straight into a plot hole, but with the scratch pad widget, they’re always front and center.

Power tip: Evernote Professional and Evernote Teams customers can add multiple scratch pad widgets, and even change their title and background color, so you can have a different one for each character.

Keep track of your to-dos

When we think of a writer creating a novel, most of us imagine someone hunched over a keyboard, feverishly entering words on the screen. And while that’s certainly a crucial part of the process (especially during NaNoWriMo), it usually comes after a lot of preparation, which doesn’t stop once you start writing. In fact, the act of writing can raise new questions that you need to answer.

Use Tasks in Evernote to capture all those little to-dos, from researching historical time periods and cultures to scientific concepts and methods. That way, you’ll never find yourself stuck without an answer and unable to continue.

Power tip: Fortunate enough to have someone helping you with research? (It’s okay, we won’t tell.) Assign tasks to them in Evernote, so they can see them and mark as complete when they’re done.

Manage your time wisely

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days sounds daunting because, well… it is. Like most NaNoWriMo competitors, you probably have other commitments such as work and family responsibilities. In order to get ‘in the zone’ and meet your word goal, you need to set aside blocks of time each day when you can focus solely on writing. But it can be done.

If you use Google Calendar, connect with your Evernote and add the calendar widget in Home. Then create a calendar event (with you as the only invitee) so everyone knows you’ll be busy and you can see it right there in Evernote. Best of all, you can add a link to your latest chapter or table of contents and open it with one click, so you can hit the ground running and make the most of your limited time.

Get a filtered view

No matter what kind of story you’re writing, you’ll probably amass a large amount of research material and plot or character notes in the course of the month. Organizing all that information can be tough, and finding it when you need it can be even harder.

The filtered notes widget makes locating information quicker, showing you only the notes that match your selected criteria. Try adding tags to each of your notes, such as a location, character name, or plot device, then set up the filtered notes widget to only show you notes that correspond to a particular tag. That way, it’ll be easy to see exactly what you need, like character profiles, details of your world, story timelines, and more.

Power tip: Evernote Professional and Teams customers can add multiple filtered notes widgets, so you can have a different widget for each of your main characters or locations.

Put it all together

As one previous NaNoWriMo winner says, “every writer has a unique approach to organization.” That may be true, but there are a few common traits every successful writer shares: discipline, commitment, and a solid plan for rising to the challenge. With Evernote on your side, you have everything you need to finish strong and finally write the novel you’ve always dreamed of completing.

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