Evernote, the universal notebook

Everyone knows Evernote is great for note taking, but what else are notebooks for? Specifically, for writers? That’s right, drafts. And with Evernote, I can compose both articles and fiction on any device: locked down work PC, desktop at home, netbook, Windows Mobile and yes, even my iPod Touch.

I wrote my first novel, Between Heaven and Hell, almost entirely in longhand in a paper day planner, typing the pages in at night when I got home. In large part, it was this experience that led me to my focus over the last decade on technology for mobile writing.

As computing moves into the cloud and more of us have multiple computers to use throughout the day, I’ve been looking for a solution for not so much as mobile writing as ubiquitous writing. The ability to access the projects I’m working on or jot down new ideas any time, anywhere. And the center of my system is Evernote.

If you haven’t seen Evernote before, it’s a multiplatform note taking and retrieval application. You can use it on the web, on Windows (installed or portable), on the Mac, on the iPhone, Windows Mobile and a mobile web version for other phones. The data all syncs to the cloud, so what you save in place shows up everywhere else. You can organize your notes in multiple notebooks, and each note can also be tagged with keywords. And of course, you can search for any aspect of a note, from contents to date modified. (Notes even have fields to store your GPS coordinates from when you created them.)

Obviously, this is boon for writers when it comes to research. But what I’ve discovered is that it works just as well for writing copy itself. Every article I write for my blog, and every chapter of novels I write, begin as notes in Evernote. They all live in my “Writing” notebook, with blog entries tagged with “JeffKirvin.net” and chapters tagged with the name of the book they’re a part of. Then I just start typing.

I’ve found that I prefer the various dedicated clients to the web version, just for speed. I use the portable Windows version running off a thumbdrive at the office, installed Windows clients on my netbook and home PC, and I have Evernote installed on both my Windows Mobile-based Touch Pro and on my iPod Touch. Stuff that I’m currently working on is tagged with “!QuickAccess” so I can just search on that tag and see everything at once.

On the iPod Touch, I have to be mindful that on that device I won’t always have an active internet connection, meaning I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to pull notes down from the cloud. Mobile clients don’t store everything locally and sync the way the desktop clients do. They basically just provide a faster interface to your web-based notes. But the exception is that on the iPhone and iPod Touch, you can mark individual notes as “favorites” (they get a little star) and those notes will be locally cached on the device for offline access. So I make sure every time I access something on my QuickAccess list on the iPod that I star it as a favorite.

There is one catch I feel I should mention. On both the iPhone and Windows Mobile clients, you can view any note you want, but you can only edit plain text notes. Any rich formatting– italics, bold, changing the font– will make the note read-only on the mobile device. Since I’m using this for drafts, not presentation, this doesn’t really affect me much. I write everything in plain text and then add formatting only when I copy the text into either Word (for fiction) or Live Writer (for blogging). But I thought it warranted a mention just to save people some of my initial confusion.

If you want the capability to write anywhere you have a PC or a phone, no matter what it is, Evernote might just be the tool for you. I breathe a lot easier knowing that not only is all my writing automatically backed up to the cloud, but that I can get to it, add to it and edit it from wherever I may be.

6 thoughts on “Evernote, the universal notebook”

  1. Not really, because it doesn’t work the other way. I can’t post a tweet from Evernote, which is kind of what Birdhouse does.

    Birdhouse gives me a way to edit and refine my tweets before posting.

    Evernote’s functionality, while crazy wicked useful, just allows me to save really good tweets to my Evernote notebooks.

  2. BTW, for those wondering, my notebooks are: !Inbox, Business, Personal, Shopping, Technology, Time Management and Writing.

    Most used tags are: !QuickAccess, Bookmarks, Development, Dish Network (my day job), Ghost Ronin, JeffKirvin.net, Journals, Reading Material, Reference, Software Keys, Story, Windows Mobile and On Writing.

  3. I’ve also stopped using Xmarks or Delicious and just bookmark everything by saving it to Evernote now. Not only do I get a bookmark that way, but I optionally also get a copy of the article or site I’m bookmarking for later searching goodness.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    Very useful article. And I’m saying this because when I’m looking at how you are using Evernote, I’m thinking that, when you have time, you might take a look at our free dedicated platform for writers, Shelfster, and let me know what do you think about the idea.
    Of course, everybody’s invited to test it 🙂


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