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

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!

What’s in a Name: Writing the Perfect Email, part 2

Last week, I discussed the 4 elements of the perfect email, and this week, I want to go more in-depth on one of those elements–addressing the recipient of your email by the correct name. 

This one is a little personal for me. 

Hi, I’m Dr. Jones, Ph.D, and I have come to expect that most people I interact with will, most likely, never register that fact. Even if I introduce myself that way. Even if I sign my emails to them that way. Even if I correct them once or twice. For some, I am and always will be, Miss Jones or Mrs. Jones. 

Now, most of the time I don’t feel slighted by the mistake. Often, I just go by my first name, so no “Dr” necessary. It’s only a title after all and one that can be more confusing than helpful outside of an academic setting. 

“Are there any doctors in the house?!”

“Me! Oh… you mean medical doctors. Yeah, nope.” 

But the experience of constantly being denied my title, the fruit of my years of labor, has taught me to be extra careful when addressing others. I don’t want to accidentally disrespect someone, especially through email, where the written word is all they have to judge me on. 

And if you want to make sure your email is perfect, you’ll address your recipient correctly. Consider these tips to make the most of your email greeting and sign off:

What’s your Relationship Status?

Your opening greeting, or salutation, should be as formal or informal as your relationship with the person you’re communicating with is.

Be as formal or as informal as your relationship with the recipient.

If you don’t know the person, and they’re above you in the professional hierarchy, be more formal. Use “Dear” or “Hi” to greet and “Sincerely” to close.

If you’re on a first name basis with the email recipient, if you share jokes in the lunch room or drinks after work, you might open with “Hi” and close with “Thanks” or “Best.”

Recipient’s Wishes

If the email recipient has a title and has asked you to use that title, USE IT. Even in email. If, for example, they’ve introduced themselves as Dr. Smith, then address your email to Dr. Smith.

If, at any time, the recipient requests you be more familiar, then you can change your email greetings to reflect the recipient’s wishes and your evolving relationship.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

I think, I hope, this last one goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

Don’t offend the recipient of your email by using the wrong name or omitting their title.

Spell the recipient’s name right. Check and double check! You don’t want to accidentally offend them! Or accidentally turn their name into a curse word. Or accidentally call them by the name of their worst enemy. 

See, anything could go wrong, so double, triple, quadruple check that spelling! 

Write Email with Confidence!

You now have a basic foundation for writing a perfect email!

It’s possible to dive deeper on this subject, but if you prioritize respect for the recipient of the email while you’re writing, you’ll increase your chances of finding a willing audience for your message after you hit “send.” 

Do you have any bad email stories to share? Email pet peeves? I’d love to hear them! 

Write the Perfect Email in 4 Easy Steps

As a university professor and teacher of online writing classes, 75% of my job is answering emails. And while I try to teach my students how to communicate properly and clearly through email, it doesn’t always sink in. Besides, writing the perfect email can be daunting.

That means that I’ve seen every bad email known to teacher kind.

  • There’s the one with no names. At all. It’s addressed to no one and sent to no one.
  • There’s the one written entirely in text lingo so that reading it is like figuring out a secret code. Do u c wut i mean?
  • There’s the email that’s so entirely vague that I have to reply back to get more information just to answer the ORIGINAL query.
  • Then there’s the one that’s nine pages long and doesn’t get to the point until the bottom of the twelfth paragraph.

What scares me the most? Most of my students are already in professional positions. They have jobs. They communicate electronically all. the. time. And yet… sigh.

No. Not just sigh. ALL THE SIGHS. Because sending a proper email is easy. It is, in fact, formulaic, and the students who GET IT impress me. They automatically establish a professional and competent persona that  makes me, and others I’m sure, go–wow, what a joy to work with this individual!

So, how do these students do it? By following these four guidelines for an impressive email every time.

#1: Open and Close with Names

agreement-business-business-agreement-1483914For this first rule, you want to channel your inner Victorian lady, always letter writing to keep in touch with “Dear Evelyn” or “Dear brother Jacob.” Open with a salutation to an actual person with an actual name. And close the email by signing off with your name. Seems simple, right? But it’s often forgotten.

And yet, using names to begin and end the conversation shows respect for the person you’re communicating with and gives them important information about that communication, especially if the recipient of your email is someone who works with a lot of different people.

#2: Get Straight to the Point

arrow-blur-board-226568Tell the email recipient what you want or the problem you’re having right away, in sentence one. Don’t ease in with pleasantries or social niceties. Communicate with purpose.

In my experience, very few people these days have time to spare. We’re all trying to have it all–family, fun, professional success, Netflix binge nights. And I say YAS go for it! Do. All. The. Things. But it’s a lot more difficult to do all the things if you’re wading through paragraphs of filler just to get to the point. Save your recipient AND YOURSELF some time by getting down to business immediately.

#3: Organize Ideas

arrows-box-business-533189So, this is a thing that happens to me regularly: I open an email to see a giant block of text. This thing is, I swear, five inches long, and I just stare for a few seconds, building up the mental fortitude it will take to sort through all the information presented in that Everest of an email.

Dear email writer, don’t do this. Instead, use paragraphs. One per each idea. And maybe, if you have more than two ideas in an email and they’re not really related, consider sending a few different emails with good, specific subject lines to help your recipient sort through and categorize the information later.

#4: Be Specific

beard-confused-digital-nomad-874242Sometimes, I get emails like this:

So, I need help with that thing for the class. Thx.

And I just blink at the screen a few times because WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THAT?

Let’s see how this could be improved. First, note the vague items:

  • I (who are you?)
  • that thing (which assignment?)
  • the class (which class?)

Being more specific with all three of these things means that the next email you receive is an answer to your question. However, if everything, including the really important pieces of information, are vague, your next email might read like this:

Hi Susie, I’m happy to help, but could you answer some questions for me?

Depending on the pace of your communication, that extra email your recipient has to send to get more information could add minutes, hours, or even days to the length of time you have to wait to get an answer to your initial questions. It depends on how often both of you are checking your email. So, do yourself a favor and be as specific as possible immediately.

The Perfect Email Every Time

accomplishment-achievement-adults-1059118I promise that if you write an organized, to the point, specific email that begins with an appropriate salutation and ends with a good sign off, you’ll impress your recipient and make life easier for yourself at the same time!

Do you have any email pet peeves or questions? I’d love to hear from you! 

5 Steps for a Successful NaNoWriMo

NaNo-2018-Writer-BadgeIf you’re a novel writer, you’ve probably heard of a little thing called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It is, depending on who you talk to, the most grueling writing marathon known to human kind or the most useful of drafting exercises.

2018 is my second year as a WriMo, and while I found last year definitely grueling, I realized,  after about a month of sleep in December, that it had also been exhilarating. I wrote 64,000 words! That’s a complete, if crappy, first draft of a novel that I would continue to work on for the next eleven months. Cue jazz hands!

However, one week into my Sophomore year of NaNoWriMo, I’m struggling to find the time to put fingertips to keyboard (and yet, here I am… writing a blog post…), so I tried to remember what made last year so successful.

Whether you’re an experienced WriMo or a newbie, these five steps for success will help you write all the words and win this November!

Read all the NaNo Advice

There’s so much great information out there on scheduling, prioritizing, pushing through walls, building communities, that you can find a solution for any NaNo problem you might encounter.

You can start by checking out Pinterest. FromNothingToNovel has an entire board dedicated to collecting the best NaNo articles you writers could ever need to succeed in the long, hard, novel-writing month of November.

Have fun!

I know, I know, how could 50,000 words in 30 days possibly be fun? But it is! I had a blast last year. I was super busy juggling family, friends, and (it seemed like) 1000 professional obligations, but I enjoyed NaNoWriMo so much that I’m back for seconds in 2018.

Here’s the deal. When else do we say to ourselves: here, take an entire month to focus on your writing. NEVER. At least, if you’re like me, writing tends to sink lower and lower on the priorities list. Compared to, say, making sure your kid has healthy food to eat or that you don’t get fired from your day job, writing tends to lose out. Understandable. Don’t beat yourself up about it! But use November to treat yourself. And let it be just that: not serious business, but a treat, a break from the other eleven grinding months when writing is not prioritized.

Try Not to Edit

I am a HUGE believer in Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft,” and I love that NaNoWriMo helps writers produce these subpar but oh-so-important drafts.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” –Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

In November, ditch perfectionism. Just write. Allow yourself to be awful. Chuckle at how awful those sentences are. But then know you WIN anyway; every awful word that piles up leads you one step closer to the less awful ones.

And, remember, you can’t begin shaping your masterpiece until you have the raw materials out of your head and onto the page. So, use November to excavate and pull up all those awful words, that raw material, so that you can spend the other eleven months of the year making them shine.

Try not to edit, but if you can’t help yourself, DEVELOP

I’ll admit, I don’t always follow my own rule of NO EDITING during NaNo. And I do try not to edit on a sentence level in November. Instead, I develop the writing I’ve done in previous days. 

Here’s what I mean. When I’m writing during Nano, I often end up focusing on actions and dialogue. It’s easier and quicker for me to get those down on paper. But later, when I read what I’ve written, I realize that there’s no internal character development on the page. And sometimes, to move forward in the story, I need the development to be there, on the page.

So, I spend my 1000-2000 words for the day developing. When I’m developing, I often answer these questions:

  • Why did the character say that?
  • Why did the character do that?
  • Would this be better from character 1’s POV or from character 2’s POV?
  • Does this action / dialogue help move along the central conflict of the story? How can I show that?
  • What is the character feeling right now?

Answering these questions helps me 1) develop dialogue and action through character, and 2) increase my NaNo word count. It’s a win/win!

Find a Buddy

Accountability is huge when tackling a goal like NaNoWriMo. That’s why, last year and this year, I buddied up with my favorite writing partner and friend, Julie Tyler. We write different genres and have different writing processes, but we both know the importance of feedback and collaborative brainstorming.  We work well together.

NaNoWriMo encourages buddies. In fact, you can buddy up with others doing NaNoWriMo right on their website, connecting with others writing in the same genre as you! Additionally, Facebook has an abundance of groups for writers in general or for WriMos specifically. This year, I joined the NaNoJaneOs, a WriMo group for lovers of Jane Austen! These groups are beautifully supportive communities. They share tips and advice, offer spaces for you to share work you’re proud of or provide ears for when you need to rant about the 2000 words you didn’t have time to write that day.

Are you a WriMo?

If you’re a new or experienced WriMo, I’d love to hear from you! What tips or tricks work to get you through November?

If you’re not sure whether or not you want to commit to a grueling month of drafting an entire novel… that’s understandable! I’d love to hear about your reservations or answer any questions you have about how to manage it while still, you know, living life.


Looking for some professional guidance as you write your novel? Check out my creative writing services. I’m excited to help you tell a powerful story!