OneNote Notebooks: My Favorite Writing Tool

Here’s why I love Microsoft’s OneNote Notebooks:

First, the work surface. Think of it like a scrapbook page on which you can put anything. Usually I have one long text block for each chapter-in-progress, but there can be many text blocks on a page, plus images, tables, and links to other documents that can be opened up in that window. Text blocks and other objects on the page can be re-sized and moved around. Sometimes I have two columns of text side by side–one with notes or an outline, one with the current chapter. Within a text block, word processing is just like MS Word.

Second, but actually most important to me–how easy it is to find anything in the notebook. Everything I’ve added to my project is laid out within easy reach. Here’s an overview that shows how.

  •  Notebooks (left menu): I have several “notebooks,” three for writing projects, one for recipes, one for personal stuff. Each notebook is listed on the menu to the left, always visible, no matter which notebook I’m in.
  •  Sections (top menu): When I click to select one of the notebooks, the main screen changes to the last page I worked on in that notebook and the spot where I stopped working. Love that. Visible now at the top of the screen are tabs representing the sections I’ve created for that notebook. For “Lucie,” the notebook for my novel-in-progress, the tabs are “Characters,” “Research,” “Ideas,” etc. One section is “Chapters,” and in that section I have a page for each chapter in the story.
  •  Pages (right menu): Pages show on a tabbed menu to the right of the screen. When I click on any section tab at the top, the right hand menu changes to show pages I’ve created within that section. In my “Characters” section, each character has a page.
  •  Drawing Tools (bottom menu): I don’t use these tools, but I mention the menu to show the breadth of this application. Like the main Notebook menu, the drawing tools are always visible.
  •  Two other menus at the very top of every screen are similar to MS Word (File, Edit, Format, Table, etc.)

Specialized Search Features. Besides showing where everything is and giving me the ability to move quickly from one place to another, One Note has great search features. When I’m trying to find a passage where I’ve written a particular thing, I type a word into a search box and get a new menu highlighting every page where that term appears. If I choose to “view list,” I get a menu of snippets of text from every chapter, and selecting one takes me to that place in the notebook.

Unlike MS Word, One Note (at least the 07 version that I use) does not search on phrases, and does not have find/replace and other capabilities of Word, such as the ability to search for characters or spaces.

Compatibility with MS Word. I regularly use the “Send to Microsoft Office Word” feature to edit pages, sometimes to use Word’s different search capabilities, but mainly because Word’s 2-page display feature extends my awareness of more than a few paragraphs at a time. So I start a chapter in One Note, edit it in Word, then send it back to OneNote where it will reside until several drafts later when I put the chapters together as a single Word document.

Screen shots: A combination of the Windows/s keys allows me to take a screen shot of anything on the computer screen, even when OneNote is not open. I use this primarily to grab text, images, recipes and receipts from the web. The copied portion opens in the “unfiled notes” section, where I can move it anywhere. Many uses.

A OneNote disadvantage: Everything is automatically saved. This means if you accidentally delete something, you can get it back using “undo,” but there’s no reverting to a previously saved version. What you see is what you have.

I’m sure this isn’t all that can be said about OneNote, but these are the features I use every day. Writers: do you have a  favorite writing tool? Please share.

7 thoughts on “OneNote Notebooks: My Favorite Writing Tool”

  1. I’ve become heavily dependent on Evernote for organizing and keeping tagged info and scraps, but have not used it as a primary writing tool. I have One Note, and you do make it sound attractive.

    I don’t have a single favorite tool, but perhaps Microsoft Live Mesh comes close. It keeps my laptop and desktop in sync so I can work seamlessly on either. Evernote also syncs with my iPad. The cloud! It has to be the cloud. That’s my hidden, out-of-sight, out-of-mind favorite.

    1. Sharon – I hadn’t heard of Evernote or Microsoft Live Mesh, so thanks for sharing those. An application to keep your work in sync on different computers sounds wonderful, too. Thanks for your thoughts. – Carol

  2. I’m using Scrivener for my WIP. It has many useful features, but one downside is that my review group takes everything in Word, so I have to copy sections back and forth. That leads to multiple versions floating around. I’ll look into OneNote. I’d never heard of it before.

    1. Carol B – I dislike the idea of one application or platform becoming something everyone has to use, yet it’s convenient that MS Word is pretty much standard and therefore great for sharing. I’ve always grumped about Word because it’s big and complicated and seems to get increasingly so. I hated the big conversion to 07. But I do love OneNote. Thanks for sharing – I’d never heard of Scrivener. – Carol E.

    2. Carol, I use Scrivener as my writing tool of choice. You don’t have to copy sections to word. Scrivener exports (compiles is their term) as word, pdf, text, ebook, and kindle formats. You can select any file and compile as rtf (rich text format). Open and save in Word. And there you go. They also have a compile in Word format, but it actually doesn’t work quite as well for saving all formatting as the rtf compile.

      I hate to see you doing all that extra work for nothing.

      1. Golly, Amber – I didn’t mean to suggest it was extra work, switching from OneNote to Word with a click. I suspect Scrivener and OneNote share a lot of features, like export options, etc. Thanks for your comment. – Carol

  3. As I mentioned above, I use Scrivener almost exclusively these days, only exporting to Word when I need to share my writing with others. I also used it to publish my recent book Week by Week: A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts & Meditations in ebook and print on demand versions. I call it the “do everything tool for authors.” The only downside is that it does have a steep learning curve—worth it, in my opinion.

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