Tools for Writers – Microsoft Office OneNote 2007

One of the biggest problems I have when writing is trying to keep everything organized. Admittedly, I’m a fairly advanced geek so solutions to my problems tend to involve software and even some custom programming.

Realizing that not everyone has the ability to write their own writing management software, I went looking for something that would suit my needs without requiring me to spend a huge pile of cash or write my own software.

What I found was Microsoft Office OneNote. You can either buy this separately or it comes as part of one of the Office 2007 bundles. Additionally, if your day job involves working in an office, you can probably get a copy from your office IT people. sells this software for $68.49 so it’s only a few bucks more than an Xbox game.

When I write, I typically have a bunch of different types of documents. I have actual drafts, which I always keep in Word documents. But then I’ve got my daily conversations with myself (see David Morrell’s fantastic book about writing for this technique), Research, Scenes, info on Characters, Places, cultures (when doing Fantasy), additional thoughts on Plots (cause and effect plots, not chronological lists of events). Finally, I have a dump bin for random stuff that will get organized later. The huge problem is that all of this is scattered across my hard drive and it is very hard to search through it and find something useful without opening 500 Word windows and bringing my poor computer to its knees.

Here’s a screenshot showing the top navigation strip in OneNote that I have set up for my “Writing” notebook:


The great thing about OneNote is that everything you enter is in the same application. You can do full formatting like Word, but it’s optimized for doing notes, comments, highlighting, bulleted lists, and other shorthand things to truly help keep you organized. Here’s a link to Microsoft’s OneNote site, and there are plenty of books available on OneNote.

Some of the features that truly make OneNote stand out in my mind are:

  • Ink support and handwriting recognition : if you’re using one of those HP touch monitors or a tablet PC, OneNote lets you hand-write your notes and it will convert them to text after
  • Dictation – just click the Microphone button and you can create a little VCR playback style control right in the middle of your notes. This way, even if you want to dictate a scene, you can mix the dictation right in with all your other typed notes for the scene.
  • Searching – everything is right where you need it and so organized that you often don’t need to search what what you need.
  • Easy backup – Just copy the top-level folder of your “Writing” notebook to a flash drive and you’re backed up. You do back up everything you write to multiple locations, don’t you? :)

I’m not a salesman and I’m not trying to get people to buy Microsoft products. However, OneNote has changed the way I organize my digital information and in this day and age, writer’s don’t spend too much time in front of a ribbon-and-hammer typewriter so I thought this tip might be helpful.

In the next blog post I’m going to talk about a tool that can keep you from losing that fleeting moment of inspiration no matter where you are or when you have it.

  • Marcus

    As someone who blogs about OneNote from time-to-time, you may be interested to know the we have created the ultimate online destination for OneNote fans called We have over 8,000 registered users who share tips and tricks, upload videos and notebooks and generally share their love for OneNote.

    I would like to find ways to cross promote with you – whether we exchange links or you do a guest blog on the site or whatever! Please contact me at to discuss.