Microsoft OneNote: A Snappy Writer’s e-Notebook

Need a quick place to organize research, plot thoughts, notes on characters and setting? Try MS OneNote. What? Surely I can’t be suggesting a bloated Microsoft application to replace the beloved writer’s notebook. Yet it is true.

I’ll confess when OneNote was first included in one of my MSOffice packages some years ago, I didn’t even start it up. I assumed, based on legitimate past experience with Microsoft it would be a combination of a massive overkill for the stated purpose and an insidious scheme to integrate Microsoft still further into my computing life. Somewhere along the line, I decided to actually try it and I was amazed, not by its flash and fancy features but by its streamlined, elegant simplicity. The tool is a near perfect evolution of paper-notebook to e-notebook.

Somehow, Microsoft let a team of developers do the right thing and what they created was lightweight yet powerful. It has minimal formating but just enough to let you do what you need for a notebook (basic font control, basic tables). It adds easy import of pictures and text with the option to create a link to the source- perfect for research. You can define your own tags and easily mark text for either to-do lists or for searches later. You can even make an Outlook task directly from OneNote or put an email message directly into OneNote if you use MS Outlook.

Because it is so lightweight it starts quickly and it is lightning fast, something a note taking tool must be. You can organize by notebook, page and sub-page. Finally, there is no “save file” paradigm. What you create is automatically saved to a repository on your machine or on your network, meaning no lost work. And a networked repository is seamlessly integrated into local storage so working offline is painless.

Here are some of the writing tasks I use it for:

  • Research: quickly gathering notes and pictures from across the web and preserving the link to my source.
  • Jotting down notes for character names, first-lines of novels, etc.
  • Maintaining a story outline or synopsis (although initial capture may be in MSWord)
  • Short Story Ideas
  • Notes on grammar, the writing craft, etc.
  • To-do lists for manuscript re-writes
Lay vs. Lie

I also use it for home for vacation and day-trip ideas, notes of my raid disk crashes, paper and computer game notes, and much else. At work I interface with customers on technical matters and it is invaluable for taking search-able notes, creating Outlook tasks as I go (highlight the text, select the due-date, done), and creating quick meeting minutes. When I introduced it to my marketing department the entire group switched over to it in just a few weeks.

I’ve included a few of my pages from current and past writing projects to give you an idea of how it can be used.

Give it a look. It’s $68 stand-alone on Amazon or you can get it as part of a larger MSOffice suite. There are some other e-notebook products like Evernote but I have not tried them. And I don’t use OneNote’s capture-from-stylus for handwriting and the like so if you want that be sure to check other options and reviews.