When I first got Microsoft Office 2010, I looked over the list of programs included, mentally gauging how useful they might be to me. I stopped at OneNote, which I’d never seen before. I learned that OneNote was a project planning program – a place to put all sorts of disparate things that sort of go together, including pictures and links from the web. I shook my head and moved on. What sort of use would that be?
Then I started writing the Pipe Woman Chronicles – a five-book series.
By the time I started working on book two, Fissured, I couldn’t remember the last name of the bad guy in book one, Seized. I also couldn’t remember what color eyes I had given my main character, whether she owned a condo or rented an apartment, and numerous other details. It had only been a few months between books, but I’m old, okay?
I realized that I needed somewhere to keep track of all the characters in each of the books. I also needed a place to keep track of the credit information for the stock photos I was using for the covers, and a rough timeline, and so on. Ideally, all of that would be in one place, like a notebook. Except electronic, so I wouldn’t have to try to read my own handwriting. And then I remembered I had OneNote.
Granted, there are lots of software programs out there designed to help authors with developing the backstage stuff – character profiles, book and chapter outlines, and so on – that’s necessary to make a novel work. But I needed something different for my series: something that would allow me a place for developing the overall narrative arc, as well as the story in each book. I’m finding OneNote pretty useful in that regard.
Each OneNote folder is called a notebook. In each notebook, tabs run across the top of the window; you can double-click on the tab to change its name. There’s also a list of tabs along the left side of the screen. Along the right side is a column with a “new page” drop-down box at the top; that’s how you add pages to each tab.
My notebook for the Pipe Woman Chronicles has six tabs: one for each of the five books, and one for the series as a whole. I’ve been using the individual book tabs as a sort of corkboard. Each one has a table listing the names of the characters who make their first appearance in that book, their physical descriptions, and their roles in the story. I’ve also pasted in the cover photo for each book, and I’ve put my musings on the titles there. For book three, Tapped, I wrote a short scene out of sequence; so that I wouldn’t forget to use it, I put a link to the file on the book’s OneNote tab. As a bonus, I discovered when collecting quotes from the web for use in book four, Gravid, that when you paste in something from the web, OneNote automatically adds a link to where you found the material.
My General tab includes several pages – a calendar for the whole book, a graphic of the timeline I created in Visio, the copyright information for the stock photos I’m using on the covers, and an outline for the contest I ran on my blog for the release of Tapped last month.
One of the things I like about OneNote is that I’m not constrained when it comes to layout. If you want to add something, you just click and start typing, or click and paste, and the program opens a box for you. The boxes automatically resize themselves to fit the material in them, or you can resize them manually. You can click-and-drag to reposition them the same way you move a text box or graphic in any other Office program; unlike other Office programs, though, these boxes are transparent, so you can overlap them without losing anything.
As I said, there are a lot of planning programs out there. But if you have Microsoft Office 2010, you’ve already got OneNote. It’s worth trying to see if you can make it work for you.