Tools for Writers: Evernote (Part 1)

What Evernote Is ... and What It Does

Evernote is one of my favorite applications, whether on my laptop, phone, tablet, or on the Web. It has innumerable features, which can be expanded via various apps, plug-ins, and extensions. I use it to store everything from financial statements (automatically downloaded from my bank, electricity company, etc. via a 3rd party service), to instruction manuals for home electronics, to recipes, sheet music, copies of official documents … and information related to writing projects, including this series of blog posts.

What is Evernote?

Evernote is a place to store stuff. It’s also a place that gives you easy access to that stuff—your virtual brain or “memory in the cloud.” And, because it’s available on just about every platform you can imagine (laptop, tablet, Android, iOS, Web), that information is available to you just about everywhere. You can even make data available offline, so it’s available without an Internet connection or even a cellular connection. Its logo is an elephant head, emphasizing the fact that, with Evernote, you need never forget anything.

Everything you store in Evernote is in a Note and Notes are stored in Notebooks, which you can name pretty much anything you like. Notebooks can be kept in Stacks. This is similar to the concept of Folders, Sub-Folders, and Files on your laptop, the main difference being that Evernote does not allow you to have Notes within other Notes, or Stacks within Stacks, so it has a shallow hierarchy. It could look something like this:

  • Notebook Stack
    • Notebook
      • Note
  • Blog Post Ideas
    • Evernote
      • Article about Evernote
      • Another Article about Evernote
  • Book Projects
    • The Great American Novel
      • Character Charts
      • Book Outline
      • Chapter 1 Outline
      • Chapter 2 Outline
    • The Great American Non-Fiction Book: Research
      • Article about the History of Somewhere
      • Article about Something Else
      • Photos of Relevant Places
      • Article about John Doe

There are also different types of Notes and Notes can contain different types of “stuff.”

For example, you can record audio straight into an Evernote note, or insert a PDF file or an image. You can use your mobile phone to take a photo of something straight into a Note—it will even extract data from a business card into a specially formatted note, so you can store the contact details of all of those agents and publishers you spoke to a Mt. Hermon and the WCCW Conference!

And, of course, you can type text straight into a note … and format the text, just like a mini Word Processor. You can create bulleted lists, tables, even lists with checkboxes, which can act as checklists.

What Evernote Does

Searching

As well as storing stuff, Evernote makes that stuff easy to find.

The Search feature of Evernote is very powerful, so much so that some users put almost everything into a single notebook and just rely on the search to find whatever it is they’re looking for. (Personally, I’d forget what’s there so I wouldn’t even know to search for it!) Evernote doesn’t just search the titles and text in your notes, it will also index the contents of PDF files, handwritten notes, and even text within images. So, you can take a photo of a whiteboard, or that note you wrote on a scrap of paper, and add it to a note, which will then become searchable.

Evernote also has it’s own search language, so you can, if you want to, create some pretty complex searches. You can also Save those searches to make reusing them a simple as clicking a shortcut. For example, I have a search shortcut that finds every note that has an unchecked checkbox in it, which, in effect means it finds “todo” items that are not yet done.

Tagging

Every note can have one or more Tags (or none at all). Tags are completely flexible to use however you want to use them. Some people use them instead of Notebooks because Tags can be in a hierarchy with multiple levels. I don’t use Tags very often but I do sometimes tag articles that I’ve saved in Evernote but haven’t yet read with an “unread” tag, so I can easily find those unread notes. You could use Tags to mark notes about certain places, people, topics, and so on. The possibilities are truly endless.

Sorting

Evernote also allows you to sort your notes within a Notebook, a Stack, or your entire account. You can sort based on the date the notes were created or last updated, the title, the tags, the size, and so on. I find the date and title sorts the most useful, though I’ve also used Tag sorting to great effect.

I also make sure my titles are optimized for sorting purposes … but I’ll discuss that more another time.

Reminding

One of the (relatively) newer but most requested features of Evernote is the ability to add Reminders to notes. You can add either an undated reminder, which, in effect, simply causes the note to appear at the top of certain listings, or you can add a date. This is great for Notes that need to be attended to on or before a certain date, etc. and can even be used to create a ToDo list. There are also apps available that enable you to integrate your Evernote reminders with 3rd party calendars, such as Outlook.


In future posts I’ll look at all of the different ways you can get stuff into Evernote and how to use it to manage your writing projects and research.

About Ian Feavearyear 8 Articles
Ian was born and bred in the rural county of Suffolk, England but feels very much at home in the mountains of California. He is married to the Inspire Board President, Robynne, and is currently working on his first non-fiction book. Ian is Inspire's Blog and Social Media Director, webmaster, and general tech go-to person. Ian is a law school valedictorian with a Juris Doctor from Concord Law School and a paralegal certificate from Humboldt State University.

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