Editing, Writing

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.

Critique Circle, drafting, Editing, revising, Style, two-page view, Writing

Write Better: Get Another View

Another view.  We must have other eyes on our manuscripts no matter how painful the corrections and comments.  It’s too easy to write alone, get lost in our own words, not see ambiguity, sentence weaknesses, lack of clarity.  We have to seek constructive criticism.  Without it, we can’t possibly get better.

I hope someone reading this post is a high school or college student who’s angry or disillusioned by a harsh review of a beloved composition.  Maybe even a middle-aged new writer who has submitted a story to a publisher or a writing group like CritiqueCircle.com and been disappointed by a lack of enthusiastic response.  It’s always a shock to discover our words did not reach a reader as we intended.

Get help.  Like other people devoted to their craft, writers all over the world willingly help each other. CritiqueCircle.com is a terrific (and free) mutual-help community.  Members can also learn by seeing mistakes and problems in the writing of others.

Don’t accept every critique as golden.  There are as many different reading tastes as food preferences and varieties of dogs.  Take a look at the writing style and reading habits of the person critiquing you (found on the site in CC member profiles).  See what that person said about stories you also critiqued.  Critiques on a story often vary widely–many readers sense something wrong but don’t know what it is or how to fix it.  Realize that the best they’ve told you may be that something doesn’t quite work. Occasionally someone does not know how to give opinions in a kind or helpful manner, but I think those instances on Critique Circle are rare. Members on the site gain experience in critiquing.  In most cases writers can find the reactions they need (though not always what they want), often by knowledgeable people.  

Before you show your manuscript to someone else, give yourself a different perspective.   Look at it in a different format. Widen the margins so the page looks like the page of a book. Don’t rely on the grammar and spelling checker–PRINT a proof copy. Mistakes jump out–typos, unnecessary repetitions, poor transitions, and so on. To save paper, look at the document in your word processor’s two-page view. This view allows you to see across paragraphs and pages and spot all kinds of weaknesses. (After I edit in normal screen view, I go to the two-page view and spend time tweaking.  I love the two-page view.)

Finally, if you’re going to show the manuscript to anyone–a friend or someone online–never say “I haven’t had time to edit this but I just wanted to get your opinion.”  I hope you see the problem in that.