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Do you get lost in your novel draft? Here's a helpful tool. -- by Carol Ervin

I love Microsoft's OneNote Notebooks for drafting a novel. Its design and tools help me organize the millions of elements, ideas, and words floating in the mix of a new story.

First, the work surface. Think of it as scrapbook pages on which you can put anything. On a page I usually 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 where I’m writing the current chapter. You can make those blocks anywhere you place the cursor. Within a text block, word processing is much 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’ve created several notebooks, three for writing projects, one for recipes, one for personal stuff. Each notebook is listed on the OneNote screen in the menu to the left, always visible, no matter which notebook I'm using. The graphic above shows the Notebook "Legacy" at top left.
  • Sections (top menu): Since this is a screenshot of OneNote 2013, the section tabs are in color. When I click to select one of the notebooks, the main screen changes to the last page I worked on and the spot where I stopped working. Love that. (MS Word 2013 does it too.) Visible now at the top of the screen are tabs representing the sections I've created for that notebook. My novel notebooks have sections like "Characters," "Research," “Ideas,” and a “Chapters” section where there’s a page for each chapter in the story. In the graphic, the "Chapters" section tab is foremost, and its menu shows at the right.
  • Pages (right menu, shows here in green): Pages show on a tabbed menu, screen right. When I click on any section tab, the right hand menu changes to show pages I’ve created within that section. Here the chapter 1 page is highlighted.
  • Drawing Tools (bottom menu, not shown in the graphic): 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 letting me see at a glance 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. (Note: Word 2013 now does this also.)

Unlike MS Word, One Note 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, later 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. It’s easy to go back and forth.

Screen shots: A combination of the Windows 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. (This description relates to OneNote 2007. 2013 works differently and I've not used it since I'm no longer drafting.)

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 keep.

I'm sure this is not all that can be said about this app, just the features I use every day. It's part of Microsoft Office, and can also be purchased separately.

Writers: do you have a favorite writing tool? Please share.


Posted by Carol Ervin 23 Sep 2013 at 00:26
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