The Beauty of OneNote

I’m not writing this post to instruct you on all the helpful ways you can use Microsoft’s OneNote (free download!) to organize, research, and plot your novel. That has been done before, and certainly better, in places like this and this. My purpose is to share with you how OneNote helped me discover the story I wanted to write.

Picture it: late 2015. I’ve got a contract to fulfill with my current publisher, and they want Firebird #2 ASAP thanks to the success of book 1. Sure, I said. I’ll knock out a first draft for NaNoWriMo (which I did). However… I had been wandering back into reading vampire fiction recently, and it had been damn near twenty years since I’d written a story with a legitimate vampire in it–Those of My Kind features blood-drinking half-demons and a jiang-shi but no actual vampires. Deeply inspired by Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, I decided to write a vampire novella.


Then it became a novel. I plotted extensively. I had a three-ring binder full of character charts and world-building. I wrote an outline and over 100 pages.

I scrapped it.

I started a new draft (and if you’re counting, we’re up to number four). A hundred pages in again, and I scrapped it. I wanted to write a vampire paranormal romance SO BADLY. Why wasn’t it turning out the way I wanted?

I had begun a Pinterest board for this book, as I had done for Alex of Firebird and for general inspiration in the horror and fantasy genres, all of which you can check out here. OneNote had come pre-installed on my laptop, where it had sat dormant for two years. I decided to install it on my PC specifically to try getting my head around what the hell I was trying to do with this hot mess of an idea. Having done my undergrad degree in studio art, I remain a very visually-oriented creator. Pinterest is great for this, but with OneNote I could have my pictures, notes, outline, etc. all in one place.

I started with pictures. I made a page for each major character and gathered items from my Pinterest board to fill those pages. I grabbed beautiful, relevant quotes and collaged them with the pictures. Three pages of pictures and quotes pertaining to the three main characters, and another page for the relationship between the protagonist and antihero. I’d been trying for epic and somewhat humorous in the previous four unsuccessful attempts; what was taking shape right before my eyes was instead a tragic love story between two supernatural yet very broken creatures.

For me, this was almost a form of free writing except using only visual elements to collect my ideas. It was a completely different experience than anything I’d done before in the planning stages, and in getting lost in those images and quotes, I discovered my plot. Maybe you’re already using OneNote or Evernote, and this process is nothing new to you. But if you’re not, and you find yourself getting stuck on a project, I recommend giving it a try. You never know what you’re going to find.

Published by Jennifer Loring

Jennifer Loring’s short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Tales from the Lake vols. 1 and 4, Nightscript IV, Dim Shores Presents Volume 2, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Not All Monsters and Arterial Bloom, among many others. She holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction with a concentration in horror fiction and is currently working toward a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies - Humanities & Culture, focusing on queer possibility in fairy tales. Jenn lives in Philadelphia, PA, where she and her husband are owned by a turtle and two basset hounds.

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