In nearly any recent discussion about writing tools, Evernote will inevitably come up. So it’s worth discussing the plusses and minuses of Evernote, and why you still might want to use Tinderbox, particularly in the context of novelish worldbuilding.

This posting is a work-in-progress. Please share your thoughts and experiences with Evernote and Tinderbox in the comment section, and I will update the information as we go.

UPDATE July 1st 2016: Just got this lovely message from the Evernote Corporation:

In 30 days, you will be able to sync your notes to a maximum of 2 devices using Evernote Basic.

I had it on my phone & laptop, plus my work laptop, my old laptop the kids use, and on my Kindle, just in case I needed to jot down a note while I was reading. Not any more!

So here’s a classic example of the danger of not controlling your own data. If you don’t, somebody else does, and they can change the rules whenever they feel like it.

Evernote is great for:

  • Jotting down quick notes on your phone or tablet
  • Archiving mailing list messages
  • Long-term archival of notes (and receipts, etc.) sorted by tags
  • Searching over text from images (OCR)
  • Clipping materials and research from the web
  • With companion apps, it can function as a document scanner (Scannable) or allow free-from annotations (Skitch) useful for paperless workflows

Evernote is not so good for:

  • Arranging and organizing your thoughts
  • Seeing structure in your notes “at a glance”
  • Outlining, or more generally organizing notes more than one level deep
  • “Mind mapping” as one would with sticky notes on a wall or index cards
  • Timelines
  • Tracking relationships between notes, and navigating to related notes (hyperlinking)
  • Recording any kind of structured data
  • Taking your data with you
  • Publishing your notes
  • Reliable long-term storage

It’s really not an either/or situation. Evernote is an immensely useful tool, and it gets recommended by nearly everyone. Deservedly so: the folks who make it have done an excellent job delivering compelling features.

If you’re waiting in line at the grocery store and have a killer idea you want to jot down, it’s hard to beat the convenience of Evernote running on your phone. Evernote Corporation is doing an amazing job making paperless workflows actually work.

If there is a weak point in Evernote, it’s that it is more database-like than is convenient for projects that are exceptionally messy–like say tracking all the characters and their interrelationships across a storyline.

As we will soon discuss, Tinderbox has many features that set it above anything else for purposes of a complex project like tracking continuity over hundreds of thousands of words of story. You don’t have to look through very many writing books to find one that recommends going old-school and using physical sticky-notes or index cards to help organize big ideas. (Scrivener has taken up a sizable chunk of the index-card market…we’ll talk about this great software soon.)

One reason Evernote seems to work so well is that creative types using it are capable of mentally keeping track of links between different topics. “Of course, Greck the Destroyer is a minor character in The Chronicles of Downstream VI,” an intrepid author might think, when looking at a note centered on either Greck or Downstream VI. But when this information is not captured in electronic format, it adds to a kind of mental fog. Personal productivity gurus have realized this for a while: getting things out of your head into a reliable system of record frees up your mind to focus on the creative problems. In fact, this is exactly what we did in the previous chapter by making a TODO list in Tinderbox.

The same logic applies to relationships between notes. Having a way to get these relationship out of your head and into a system of record is one of the key activities of writing. In future chapter, we’ll delve into more examples and details of how this works.

But for now, Evernote is great; let’s move forward with Tinderbox.

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