Five Ways Writers Can Use Microsoft OneNote to Improve their Writing Lives

creative writing, academic writing, writing apps

Any time I mention Microsoft OneNote to writers, I get one of two responses.




Needless to say OneNote doesn’t seem to inspire writers the way other writing apps such as Scrivener do.  BUT (I’m sure you sensed a BUT coming), it is a useful tool for research, outlining, character profiles, and brainstorming.

ven diagram
Thanks to my husband for this awesome venn diagram!

While I may be all alone in the middle of a venn diagram of Writers who are also OneNote lovers, tons of other folks find the note-taking app to be incredibly useful. While I’ve only ever used it for creative projects, I wish I’d had it when I was writing my dissertation, as I can see dozens of applications for academic writing. And a quick Google search offers a variety of ways to use OneNote for productivity, educationwork, or even musical creation.

Don’t believe that OneNote can be a writer’s best friend? I’ve got five reasons using it will leave any creative writer organized, informed, and ready to kick ass.

First, What is OneNote?

Basically, OneNote is a collection of digital notebooks with sections and pages you control and fill with whatever content you like!

OneNote is note-taking software that’s a part of Microsoft Office. It’s basically a digital notebook!

From what I can tell, OneNote is similar to Scrivener, a pay-for writing app beloved by many. I say “from what I can tell” because I don’t use Scrivener for one excellent reason: the interface confuses and terrifies me. I’m an advocate of Microsoft Word because it’s what I’ve always used, but also because of it’s simplicity. A single document that I can zoom in or out on. This allows me to focus in on the words, the story.

The multiple tabs and functions inside Scrivener promotes, in my already too-scattered mind, more chaos and distraction.

This is why I love OneNote. Like Scrivener, it offers a variety of functions, tabs, and notebooks for different projects, but these necessary distractions can be kept in a different app.

Word = document/text/novel

OneNote = all novel supplementary materials. 

Now that you know what OneNote is, let’s talk about how it can help your writing!

Reason 1:
OneNote Helps you Stay Organized

creative writing, novel writing
Writing a novel, or dissertation, or grant, or anything else, really, can be a huge, daunting, and perilous process. It’s important to stay organized.

This is the most organized any of my projects have ever been ever. It’s especially great since I can’t seem to limit myself to one writing project at a time. Oh, no. I have to have SEVERAL all going at the same time.

So, I make a OneNote notebook for every novel project, and inside the notebook, I have sections for:

  • Needed research
  • Character profiles
  • Historical information
  • Plot Outlines
  • Necessary revisions
  • Brainstorming

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 8.04.58 PM

Additionally, each section of a OneNote notebook can contain multiple pages. So, for example, if I want to give each character their own page in the character profiles section, I can!

Reason 2:
OneNote is GREAT for Visuals

novel writing, creative writing
OneNote makes it easy to collect, edit, and manipulate images that inspire your novel writing!

Have you ever tried putting images in Microsoft Word? I know a few different ways to do it, and NONE of them are swift or easy. Apparently, they saved that tech for OneNote. Not only can you easily insert images in a variety of ways, but you can also MOVE THEM WHEREVER YOU WANT. I love it.


Many writers use Pinterest for their image collections and vision boards, and I do too! But that’s just another app you have to bring up when writing, and then you’re likely to get sucked down the Pinterest rabbit hole and come up hours later with six muffin recipes, DIY instructions for a dog house (do you even have a dog?), and a new Pinterest board dedicated entirely to ombre curtains.

I’ve been there.

That’s why I now curate my images in OneNote. Sure, I use Pinterest and Google images in the initial stages, but then I take the images I like the best and put them in character profiles, the history section, or setting pages in OneNote. This way, I can flip to them instantaneously while writing without succumbing to Pinterest temptation. Instant pictorial inspiration!

Reason 3:
Everything Saves Automatically in OneNote

writing, creative writing, novel writing, writing apps
OneNote literally and metaphorically saves the day!

Even with Auto Save on, I have to hit the save button every other sentence in Microsoft Word. I SWEAR.

However, OneNote saves every single thing as soon as it’s placed in the app. No worries here! It’s liberating!

Reason 4:
OneNote Allows you to Quickly Access any Detail about Your Project

Need help juggling all the details of your novel at once? Try OneNote!

When I’m writing, I’m thinking of a billion things at once.

What’s that character’s name? 

Did I already put that in chapter 1? 

Is this historically accurate? 

Am I focusing on the purpose of this chapter? 

Juggling these constant questions and concerns is much easier when I have my OneNote notebook up for the novel I’m writing. Worried about names? Flip over to the Characters section in my notebook. Worried about historical accuracy? Flip over to OneNote and put the question in the “To Research” page.

This way, I can quickly deal with issues that arise and make notes on what needs to be done later without breaking my writing flow.

Reason 5:
OneNote Helps you See the Big Picture

writing, creative writing, novel writing
It’s so easy to see your novel as only tiny snippets at a time. But there’s more to it than that! Make sure you check in on the big picture now and then.

Because all of the information about my novel is right there, nicely organized into clearly marked sections and pages that I can bring up almost instantaneously, OneNote helps me see the big picture of my novel more clearly.

In Microsoft Word, the novel is reduced to a single page, and sometimes even a single paragraph. It’s easy to lose sense of overarching themes, concerns, and questions. But OneNote puts everything right in front of me, allowing me to flip quickly to new sections and pages, so I am able to keep those big-picture concerns front and center.

The Big Picture of this Post

writing life novel writing organizationBasically, I love this program. It’s a great supplement to Microsoft Word if, like me, you live and breath that software. I wish I could say that Microsoft was paying me to advocate for OneNote. But they’re not. I get nothing for spreading the word about its many uses, except for the joy of knowing some writer out there will use it and feel as organized and powerful while doing so as I do.

If you’d like to explore OneNote and see if it’s for you, check out this quick guide!

What are your favorite writing apps or organizational software? Do you use Scrivener? Should I NOT be terrified of it? Tell me what you know!

Published by jonesfrancis10

Whitney Jones, Ph.D., is a developmental and line editor for indie authors, specializing in the romance and fantasy genres.

7 thoughts on “Five Ways Writers Can Use Microsoft OneNote to Improve their Writing Lives

  1. I use OneNote, too, and I have to say that I’ve been enjoying it. However, I do not use it as extensively as you do, because I just have it on my phone. I don’t like writing on my phone, so I mostly “Note”. But I forget that I can sync it and access it on my computer (right?). I had no idea about the pictures. That’s awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m a current high schooler. Teachers have to incorporate technology into classrooms, and OneNote was used for Geometry class. It’s really a huge pain, because there were so many tech glitches and many a kid was behind in class because they couldn’t view the material on OneNote or whatever. Thankfully, my teacher has switched us back to good ol’ composition books. Class is now happy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow. That sounds frustrating. I love a good old paper notebook myself. The only time I’ve had a OneNote glitch was when I tried to share it through email with someone. Did. Not. Work.


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