One(Note) Love

love

Ah, love. It’s what makes the world go round. If you have ever been in love – I mean really, truly in love – you know what I mean. The birds sing a little sweeter, colors shine a bit more brightly, and you feel more…everything! Well, guess what? I am head over heels in love with Microsoft OneNote. I have been talking about OneNote since my first post, and today I am pleased to deep dive into why I love it – and why I am certain it loves me back. For some of the more experienced writers out there, this may be old hat or rudimentary, but for the rest of us, I got your back.

Remember when I said that OneNote is a TrapperKeeper for adults? Well, I stand by that statement, but OneNote is so much more than that. When you open OneNote, you can create a new notebook, and you can have as many notebooks as your little heart desires. Remember: OneNote is for anybody, so you can use this to create a grocery list, plan a vacation, organize gardening ideas, track your Tinder dates, WHATEVER you want to do. Within each notebook, you can make new tabs to organize your work, and each tab can contain as many pages as you need. Here’s a basic look:

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You can see that there are tabs containing the outline, takeaways and tips, worksheets, research and more. There are also tabs that you can’t see here for other work but you get the gist. To the right of the main tab are the various pages I mentioned, where you can get more detailed or keep other information. This is basically a blank slate – you can make it whatever you want it to be and customize your notebook to work for you. In other words, you’re the boss, Tony Danza, and your wish is OneNote’s command. No more trying to squeeze your size 8 writing process into a size 6 designer shoe at a sample sale.

CONJUNCTION JUNCTION, WHAT’S YOUR FUNCTION

So let’s talk about functionality. There is a box in the top right of OneNote where you can select icons to go into your notebook. Here, you can add to-do’s, contact information, ideas, sources and links, important items, etc. This is fantastic because if you are researching and adding items as you go, you can quickly organize and plan information to circle back to and elaborate on later.

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Here’s an action shot of to-do’s at work. I am a big fan of SkillShare (we will talk about that later) and made a list of classes I want to take. So, for the classes related to writing, I added a tab to my notebook to make sure I get to all of them:

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SAVED BY THE BELL

One of the best things about OneNote is that it automatically saves your work across all of your devices. That’s right, you can have OneNote on your computer, smartphone, AND tablet, and whichever you are working off of, OneNote immediately saves your edits and additions on all platforms. Easy-peasy.

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLATE OF DOOM

There are TONS of template options for OneNote – but right now, they are only for Windows users. I have a Mac, so I am S.O.L. However, Windows friends: you lucky ducks can learn how to use templates here. This is the worst thing you will ever hear me say about OneNote, and I am already ashamed of myself.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

There are some really fantastic tools out there for OneNote. Personal fave? The Clipping Tool. This is fab because it lets you clip whatever you find out there right into your notebook. You can clip a full page, region of a page, or article and select where you want it to appear, down to the page and tab of your notebook. This page shows you exactly how it’s done.

You can also easily embed video and audio, or insert files, graphs and charts into your notebooks.

OneNote also offers a multitude of apps and plugins, because, of course it does. There is even a handy-dandy plugin for WordPress that can publish your OneNote pages directly into your WordPress posts!

I am very aware that I have not even come close to covering all of the things OneNote can do for you, and I also understand that I am not good at ‘teaching’, especially in a blog post. But, I wanted to try to spread the word at least a little bit and hope that the links provided may be useful to someone. Our friends at Microsoft are out there – they have a great blog and Twitter account that keep it funky fresh with updates and tips.

Do you use OneNote and have any advice or tips? If not, what system do you rely on to stay organized?

As always, thanks for reading!

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Angels in the Outline

mind map

Who remembers the 1994 Disney remake of Angels in the Outfield? In the movie, a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt says a prayer to help the California Angels, the worst team in the history of baseball, win the pennant. And wouldn’t you know it, bam, some angels show up and guide the team to victory. As a new writer, I can’t help but wish I could do the same – say a little prayer, have some angels show up, and let them create my outline. Just give me that little push to start that will send me soaring down the road to get this mother going! Since that is not going to happen, I went ahead and started working on my outline myself and I am here to share some details and hope that maybe, just maybe, someone, somewhere, reads this blog and sends me advice. A modern version of my very own virtual angel!

DO NOT PASS GO. DO NOT COLLECT $200.

They say variety is the spice of life. Well, whoever “they” are, they never tried to write an outline. Freedom of choice is a beautiful thing – when you are trying to decide if you should have red or white wine with dinner. My dilemma in drafting an outline is this: where do you even begin? There are so many methods to choose from – the traditional list form, mindmapping, the Snowflake Method, storyboards, software like Scrivener, the list goes on and on. And on. Hell, some folks don’t even use outlines; these mavericks believe in organic writing and their stories reveal themselves along the way. Lucky them!

BACK IN THE DAY

I remember back in fourth grade (hi, Mrs. Wilson!) we were given an outline writing assignment. We could choose any topic we wanted, and had to draft a simple, basic hierarchical outline. I still remember the duality of emotions I felt – I was so excited to write about my favorite subject (dolphins!), but I was also profoundly nervous. I had so much to say and so many ideas, but my little brain couldn’t calm down enough to find a starting point. I clearly recall sitting in the classroom, pencil in hand, thinking the 9-year old version of “What fresh hell is this?”. A few decades later, I have yet to conquer the outline. I am a big picture thinker, but it’s true that the devil is in the details. It is challenging for me to start small and spiral out, to identify the granular crux of my story and develop those ideas to weave an interesting and informative “bigger picture”.

The outline is essentially the tree trunk of your story, the core that supports your branches. If you imagine your writing as a ship at sea, the outline is the anchor that will keep you from drifting off into the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen or heard from again. Sounds simple enough, and sometimes, simple is better. Which brings me to my next point.

K.I.S.S.

Whenever my Uncle Bill was confronted with a problem he needed to solve, he used to say “K.I.S.S.” – Keep It Simple, Stupid. After a few several failed attempts at some of the more…let’s say “advanced” outlining methods, I remembered Uncle Bill’s old adage and had a lightbulb moment. I am not a visual learner or thinker, so I said “Bye, Felicia” to mindmapping. The Snowflake Method makes sense, but was too convoluted for this little old brain of mine. See ya later, storyboarding.  Organic writing, ya gots ta go. What worked best for me was K.I.S.S.ing my way to a simple yet functional outline by leveraging software that I have used my whole life – Microsoft Word, Excel, and OneNote!

HELLO, OLD FRIENDS!

Microsoft isn’t as sexy as some of the newer or avant-garde tools of the trade. But when you are really down and out – say you are sick and need some soup, or are going through a break-up and want to Netflix and chill – you don’t call that sexy, new person in your life. No, you lean on the tried and true, always there for you friend that has seen you at your worst but still thinks you’re the best. Enter Excel.

Excel is about as K.I.S.S. as you can get. I guess it would help to tell you here that this book is kind of a creative non-fiction self-help book. At least, that is what I think it is. It’s not really self-help, more of a guide book to a subject I am well-versed in. Hell, I don’t know what it is exactly. It’s a book, people!

So, back to the outline. I created a basic spreadsheet with multiple tabs. The first tab is for the outline itself. I used the columns as anchor spaces. The first column is for the chapters and titles, but I was flexible – if I didn’t have title names yet, I left them blank. The point was to get a basic beginning and ending point for the book but to have all of the mile markers that lead us to the end in place. Kind of like a nerdier MapQuest.

The next column was for content. What are the chapters about? Just a quick, down and dirty explanation of what I intend to write about in each section or chapter.

The third column was for takeaways. What should the reader interpret from what they just read? In this column, I made sure to note what strike points I want to emphasize so that I can elaborate on them in greater detail later.

The last column on the outline tab is a ‘to-do’ list for me. This book will include some examples and worksheets, so this is where I noted any material I need to gather as well as worksheet concepts.

The next tab is for the “Story Board”. The columns here are for a brief description of each narrative and the thrust for that specific anecdote. These columns anchor where the story will be placed in the book, the major points of the story, and sample material if any.

The third tab is for Character Development. The people in this book are real, so fleshing them out was a little easier than if I were creating them from imagination. There are so many nuances that make people who they are – gender, accents, how they carry themselves, tall or short, heavy or thin, race, age, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t just describing someone; I wanted to capture them in word form and show them to the reader as if I were reacquainting them with a long-lost friend. This tab is to track all of the little details that make the people in the story unique, help showcase their personality and essence. Later, I can refer back to these descriptors to cultivate the people on the pages.

Outline Template

This post was MUCH longer than intended, but an outline demands more attention than you’d think. If Excel is the yin in my outline arsenal, OneNote is the yang. Next time, we’ll get into all that. But before you go, remember how I said I was hoping that a virtual angel would help deliver me from outline hell? If you’re out there, I would love to hear from you in the comments!

As always, thank you for reading!