I’ve experimented with just about every piece of writing software out there I could find. If I could get it free or cheap, odds are, I used it. RoughDraft, Page Four, yWriter, Liquid Story Binder XE, Text Box Writer, Write Monkey, Dark Room and JDark Room, Q10, Momentum Writer, Word, OpenOffice Writer, WordPerfect, and a plethora of others – I’ve used ‘em and have loved ‘em all.
But honestly, only Liquid Story Binder XE, yWriter and Page Four were software packages you could say were designed with writers in mind. They’re able to piece together a novel how ever you, the writer, want to work with them. yWriter has discreet scenes you can edit and move around, and LSBXE has undergone changes to make it scene-oriented too. It also includes story sequencing, mind mapping abilities, music to set the mood for you, and more. Page Four is a series of notebooks with pages, and while that’s pretty amazing to work with, it’s a little cumbersome if you like to plan and then write, like I do.
I’m not an outliner. I tried that and it promptly got in my way. I need a looser guide to writing, and that is where today’s awesome software package comes in:
Before I begin, I have to say OneNote is not free software. Most of the software I review here is either free or cheap. But MSON isn’t either. It comes as part of a few of Microsoft’s Office suite packages, but those are not inexpensive. I paid a whopping $23 for mine, including the back-up DVD. Horrors! (That was exactly half the cost of LSBXE, btw, because of a special agreement my company has with MS.)
That being said, that’s what bit torrents are for, but hey, you do what you want.
If you’re a writer, though, and you’re NOT using OneNote to manage your book and even get it done, you’re not being as efficient as you can.
Let’s be honest – if you’re a pantser (that is, you write by the seat of your pants – that is, you sit down and start typing and hope you stay on the initial story idea you had when you sat down to type a story), the idea of organization and putting things in their place and research and outlining and milestones and all that sounds just like hell. You’re not interested in going down that road, and that’s fine. This post, believe it or not, isn’t a rant against the pants-seat writing method. I’ve plenty of other posts for that, so I’ll let this one be for those who try to plan their novels – at least a little bit – and need a way to keep things in a single location rather than scattered all over their hard drive or on little scraps of paper in various notebooks or on napkins and gum wrappers.
OneNote is a virtual notebook. Initially designed to be a collaboration tool, it’s an extremely flexible way of taking notes, organizing thoughts, collecting information from various sources, and organizing it all into a neat little package called a notebook.
You can divide the notebook into different sections with tabs which go horizontally across the interface (on OneNote 2010, at least). Each section can then be divided into individual pages which run vertically down the side of the tab’s interface. This is similar to Page Four’s idea, but in my opinion, is superior in execution; PF doesn’t have the tabbed interface of ON.
As with all new MS products, ON shares a unified look and feel with it’s tabbed interface. (Even Live Writer has the ribbon now!) The software is incredibly intuitive and allows you to cut, paste, edit, and move pages and tabs around effortlessly.
The uses for this sort of thing for writers is almost endless. You can have a few different tabs running across the top – character dossiers or outlines, story lines, plot twists, locations and timelines, whatever you need. Each of those can be subdivided into individual pages so each character has their own page, or each location can have a complete description you can refer to if need be. You want pictures? No problem. Grab them from your favorite source and stuff them onto your page without any problem. You can link to different pages too.
So, let’s say you have a favorite writing tips article you like on your favorite writing blog, and you want to have it as a ready-reference in your ON notebook. You can link to it, and just click the link to launch the web page in your default browser.
Would you rather capture the page instead, just in case it moves or changes before you get back to it? This is sort of common with news sites and feeds. You can go to the page in question and copy and paste it as-is into your notebook. Voila! Page captured.
Research for fiction or non-fiction can all be compiled into the same notebook where the text is written. When you’re ready to polish the prose, just copy and paste into Word (or your favorite word processor, but YMMV on how well-received the MS data is from ON in other word processors).
And this is only the beginning. You can do screen captures from your computer and put them into ON; you can attach files to it, email the page, send it to Word through the File tab on ON instead of having to copy and paste, and so much more.
It’s one of the most useful tools for writing I’ve ever found. And even if I didn’t have the Office Suite cheap like I do, I’d buy one which includes OneNote just for this purpose.
I can’t wait to further explore it.