Make Time to Write, Part 2: Use Evernote to Write Anywhere

It’s not socially acceptable to tote a notebook wherever I go.

As much as I’d like to follow Nora Roberts’ admonition that a good writer can be “in a sewer with a notebook and a Ticonderoga” and still write well, it’s much more logical that you’ll find yourself without your notebook or your audio recorder or laptop when inspiration strikes. Or, when your appointed writing time of day rolls around, sometimes you can’t help that you’re stuck at the DMV trying to renew your expired registration.

Enter Evernote.


Evernote, in case you only have a passing acquaintance with this free app (there is a paid version too), is available on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows phone, and for Mac and Windows desktops. The beauty of Evernote is that you can make it as simple as you want, or expand its capabilities and write an entire novel using its service.

I’m not going to give a primer on the basics of using Evernote—there are many fantastic resources out there (like this one from Lifehacker), including the Evernote blog, that can help with that. But here’s how I use Evernote to write.

1. Capture ideas on the fly. Because my iPhone goes pretty much wherever I do, it takes no time at all for me to record my ideas. I use my basic “Shanan” notebook for capturing these random thoughts. For example, one note may simply say, “Working title: Home Sweet Home and Other Problems,” or “Francis Collins and vertical DNA cross section.” (The best part? You don’t have to hit “Save;” just close your note, and it’s there forever.) Because Evernote syncs with my laptop, when I’m no longer on the go, I can find these notes, sort them into my project notebooks, freewrite about them, or just delete them if they’re not helpful.

2. Take pictures within the a new Note, and write text below it effortlessly. If what I want to capture requires a visual prompt, I simply enable the camera inside the app. Once I snap the picture, it appears in my note, and my cursor appears beneath it. I swear it’s almost magic, and I use this feature for you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it things, such as an ad in a print magazine I found for “decorative” books with fine vellum covers – and no words inside. “They make a stylish addition to any home library,” the ad said.

3. Organize work sections. I recently wrote an essay in three parts, and each part was a separate Evernote Note within my project notebook. Because it’s so easy to move between the notes, and because my iPhone app syncs with Evernote on my laptop, I could modify one section of my work without reflowing other sections, or getting distracted by editing all the parts at once.

4. Composting. This is a concept I talk about a lot. While I think hand-written composting (the practice of writing down all the garbage in your mind and sifting through it later to mine the good stuff) is fantastic (I keep one notebook in my car, and another in my office just for this purpose) composting on Evernote (I use a designated private notebook for this purpose) is just as effective, and because Evernote has a search function, it’s a bit easier to find things you’ve written, or organize composted notes by topic, than it is in a spine-and-paper notebook.

5. Being productive wherever you are. Sometimes life is just too busy, or you’re not in the right headspace to “sit down and write.” If you’ve got a sizeable portion of your rough drafts or outlines, or even whole chapters, saved as notes, you can work in line at the pharmacy, in a doctor’s waiting room or wherever you happen to be, and it still feels like you’ve gotten real work done – because you have!