Using Microsoft OneNote for Novels

Those trying to write a novel know the struggle. I guess we all go through the phase of deciding the right tool to write (formatting to be publishing ready is a whole new story), and I went through mine.

I eventually landed on Microsoft OneNote as my editor of choice during the writing phase. In this article, I will first walk you through

  • how I came to the choice I made

  • how I use OneNote effectively

  • what I use before publishing

For my first book, The Atlantis Papyrus , I decided to go with the following concoction — Word, Scattered Notes, Excel

OneNote - Basic.png

Initial Writing Configuration

I struggled with a number of things in this approach as my novel progressed

  • Word is hard to use especially in draft stages when you’re moving chapters around, want to re-sequence sections, want to add various annotations/chapter level notes without messing up the actual pages

  • Research was scattered around and I had multiple windows, tools open

  • You waste time on non-productive things like fixing formatting because it bugs you, rather than writing

I’m lying a bit — the above wasn’t even my first option. The true first option was I tried using Microsoft Visual Studio Code with each chapter a text file. Yes, yes, I know, can you believe that!

Then, I switched to option two, after purchasing Scrivener which is meant to be a great tool for writing novels. Somehow, I ended up with this.

OneNote - Scrivener.png

Switching to Scrivener and OneNote

So the experience got mixed — the writing portion felt harder (I know many people vouch for Scrivener, I just couldn’t get used to it) but I managed to fix my research portion by adopting OneNote.

As I began to use OneNote I began to wonder why not do everything in OneNote? Would writing feel odd?

For my second novel draft I switched to OneNote and changed my configuration in the following way

Final Configuration with OneNote

This final configuration turned out to be surprisingly productive in the following ways.

  • All my writing and research in one place — no more switching around

  • OneNote automatically syncs with OneDrive, so my writing is available immediately on my desktop, iPhone, iPad, browsers… made it so much easier to do work on the fly

  • I do other things beyond just writing, and some of that is in OneNote — so everything is in one place

  • I can move chapters around, which is hugely helpful in draft stages

  • Can draw! I tend to sketch to help in my writing

  • Yes, we can get word counts in OneNote, just use a macro add-in (I’ll show below)

So here’s how my OneNote writing is organized

My next book, The Wrath of God, is organized as a notebook by itself.

Within it are two sections

  1. Meta — this is where I put all my research

  2. Body — chapters of the book

First, let’s talk Meta. You can see all the “pages” on the right side where I capture my research and thinking. The beauty of OneNote is I can draw on the pages, and some of my work requires plotting via images, and I put that in the Imagery page. Great examples of this are the visuals of the geography of my setting and battle tactics.

OneNote - Organization.png

Organizing the Meta

Next, the Body, and this is how it looks

OneNote - Body.png

Organizing the Novel Body

I have a page called Chapter Template which I copy if I want, for each chapter. The template is configured with the font, table structure, and anything else I want for each chapter.

Then, each chapter is a page. The cool thing is I can move chapters around easily, and all my research is a click away.

There’s a great OneNote add-in called OneTastic which has macros for various tasks, of which word count is one, and I use that to keep track of chapter lengths.

Now, the disadvantages

  • Writing on a OneNote page is not… as elegant as writing on word. See for yourself! But if you’re focused on writing, hopefully the tool does not distract you.

On the left is writing on Word, and on the right, OneNote

On the left is writing on Word, and on the right, OneNote

  • With the right template, you can go quickly from the Word document to Kindle Publishing. With OneNote, you would need to pull all those chapters into a word document first. But this is negligible — you will spend months writing, and it only takes a few hours to transfer it to a word template


There’s no conclusion — this isn’t a recommendation. This is how I’ve organized my writing and it works nicely. If it helps you, great! If not, find a method to your writing madness. Good luck!

Update: Jan 2019. Since this article, I have switched over to Ulysses for Mac, which I found to be very productive for my writing. You can follow my Five part posts on my use of Ulysses, starting with Part I.