The Organized Writer: Using OneNote to Stay on Track

November 21, 2011

I crave organization, but I’m not very good at it. I own an oversized desk, a customized closet, a “smart” kitchen, a “smart” phone, calendars, datebooks and “an ap for that,” but I’m still a mess. Is it any wonder that my writing suffers the same fate?

At Disney, we used Outlook calendars, emails, texts, IMs, content management systems, conference calls, in-person meetings, Google docs and high-tech secretive thingys to keep everyone on task and organized. While never the Queen of Multi-tasking Task Mastery, I came damn close and was incredibly competent. But then I quit. The day I packed up my laptop, printer, software and security fob, I apparently packed up all organizational knowhow, leaving me right where I started from.

And where’s that? Messed up.

You might not know it by looking at the photo, but those are notes for two different stories. Nice, huh? The calendar is supposed to help me keep my heroine’s days and weeks in order, but I wasn’t happy with the timeframe, so I changed it. Now when I look at the calendar, I have to remind myself everything is opposite. I’ve lost more sticky tabs then I can count, and I can’t remember what was on the lost ones to even make new ones. I can’t take it anymore, so I’m doing something about it.

I researched some pricey and not-so-pricey writer software. I looked at dry erase boards and wall calendars. In the end, I settled on something I already owned but didn’t know how to use. Microsoft OneNote 2010. Here’s how it works:

After sitting through the tutorial, I decided this software that came installed on my new-ish laptop and allows me to make e-notebooks was the way to go. Each document is named for the manuscript and includes “notebook” pages (identified along the top by tabs) for a calendar (which I brilliantly and laboriously copied, cut and pasted from another document), character sketches, plot and random notes (scribbles).

I got particularly fancy with the last tab, “Submission History.” You guessed it. That’s where I’m going chart the journey of this manuscript once it’s complete. (I have never tracked a manuscript, because I submit like a sloth moves for pure entertainment—rarely, if ever. [I promise to change this.])

It looks pretty fancy, doesn’t it? But is it working? So far. I write with the notebook open and I’m referencing it and adding to it daily. I also feel more capable. The only thing missing is a conference call or Skype meeting now and then to make sure I’m staying on task. Any volunteers? 😉

Seriously, how do you stay organized while writing?



4 Responses to “The Organized Writer: Using OneNote to Stay on Track”

  1. Oh, Elley. I’m laughing over here, but I really shouldn’t be. I’m not a techie like you, so my “organizational” plan is not at all computerized…but the post its. I printed my first draft. Marked each chapter with yellow post it tabs…with notes on them, then for important events I have pink post it tabs…with notes on them. Then for date issues I have blue post it tabs…with notes on them. Then as I rewrite, I have regular post its on the pages, and a notebook that I make notes and do rewrites in with page numbers and colored pens. Then I print up a new draft and start again…’s really, really scary….and if any of the pages ever get mixed up…..I don’t even want to think about it!

    • I have four older manuscripts in huge gallon-sized plastic zip bags. These manuscripts are marked up and sticky tabbed upon. Back in those days, I didn’t worry about staying organized so much, because I was blissfully ignorant of what it would take to get published. I always thought I’d go back and edit or rewrite “one more time” after I finished whatever story pulled me away in the first place. The one time i tried to go back, I couldn’t even remember why I’d scratched what I’d scratched on the pages and sticky notes. I’m a hopeless cause!

      I think the key for me is to handle things a little bit more like you do…focus on one manuscript at a time. I’m not cut out for multi-tasking manuscripts until I learn a little more about this whole writing/publishing game.


  2. I got stuck in OneNote once because I wanted to print out a page from a legal document that was sent to my email. It kept “printing” it in some OneNote notebook or other until it dawned on me that I hadn’t yet installed my old printer on my new laptop. I have no idea how the thing works, but after reading your post, I guess I should at least check out the tutorial.

    I tend to scribble notes on cheap paper pads. At some point I might transcribe them to a file in Word — if I can remember why I made the note! To keep timing and plot somewhat clear in my mind, I like to use a story structure map designed by Rachel Savage back in 2010. It came from one of Larry Brooks’ blog posts at If anyone’s interested, here’s the link:

    I find it gives me a one-page glance to see if I’m on track.

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