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Using Google Keep during my writing process

I've been meaning to write
about this for some time, but just haven't made time for it. And since I've been
going through some manic and seasonal depressive episodes, making it hard to
stay focused and do ANYTHING of relevance, I figure I might as well just hyper
focus and do some writing. Why the hell not?

This latest novel I'm working on, I tried several new things
to help me press through it all the way to the end. It's taken me years to try
and figure out how to organize and structure myself to write a novel, and I'm
not sure I've ever been better equipped than now for the job. One of my tools,
which was a first, was using Google Keep during the writing process. I want to
talk a bit about how I used it.

(If you don't use Google Keep, or don't want to, or are weening off Google apps -- I respect that. I will explain the method Keep uses, how I used it, and point you to some similar apps with same feature set.)

I started with Keep.

I started at the beginning using Keep. I wanted it to be with me in the beginning and all the way through the writing journey. I wanted it to be my home for notes, character sketches, photo galleries for inspiration and even a crude outline in the beginning. I'll try to break these down.

A simple note.

Notes. Pretty simple, really. But whenever I had an idea, or a line of dialogue, or whatevs pop into my head -- I dropped it into a small note in Keep using the Label I had created for my book. This worked great as the phone app is perfect for this sort of documentation.

Character sketches.

Character sketches. When I was creating a new character, I found jotting down notes concerning that character was super important. I call these character sketches. A little bio paragraph, little snippets about the character, little snippets of dialogue that the character will deliver at some point to get a flavor for how they talk. I’d often include a gallery of pictures for inspiration on the character as well. Thankfully Keep allows you to attach a plethora of pictures to a note.

Cast of characters.

Cast list. I even used the to-do list feature for making a cast of characters list, so I could keep track of who was who and what names I was using. I sometimes forget what names I used for minor characters, if I don’t have a cheat sheet.

Gallery of images in a note.

Visual inspiration (think Pinterest). Sometimes I use Pinterest for finding good character and visual inspiration for locations and such. And sometimes just moods. I found that Keep works relatively nicely for making small pin-boards, if you will. On my character sketches, I would include one or more images for inspiration. Above is a gallery of photos for my Mercedes character and below is what it looks like when you scroll through the gallery of photos. It’s not as pretty as a Pinterest board, but it gets the job done and keeps all the photos in one place with notes and so on – which is a nice touch, and something you can’t do on Pinterest.

An image in full-screen. That's actress Rhona Mitra.


This was a new way for me to pull all of my thoughts and ideas together during the writing process. Since I was mostly writing without an outline at first, I created a to-do list style outline in Keep and would add chapters in as I went. Eventually, I had enough in my head to flesh out the rest of the outline and do an outline justice. I used Microsoft Excel for the outline, which just works really well and helps keep track of wordcount and everything nicely. But even in the beginning Google Keep was helping with tracking progress of my story. I must say, I was not sure I’d like using Google Keep in the beginning, but I committed to it and said I would just deal with it and write about it later. And here I am. Is it perfect? No. It has its flaws.

For example, it’s a scroll fest. Notes just pile on top of each other with the only thing separating notes is 3 categories (Pinned notes, Others, and Archived). And they scroll in that order, too. So archived stuff is at the bottom, pinned at the top, and everything else in the middle. In the past, years ago, you could drag around and organize the notes the way you wanted on top of those 3 categorizations. But they removed the ability to drag and organize notes the way you want at some point. The colors can be categorized however you want in your head, or if you don’t want to remember just make a color key note and pin it up top.

The other thing I miss in Google Keep is the lack of any text formatting. There is zero rich text formatting or markdown. With some simple rich text editing, the character sketches could be better fleshed out and organized. They would feel more like documents, and less like a dump of paragraphs.

Exporting or backing up Keep notes is likely a clustertruck. I wouldn't have thought much about this had it not been for what I've been going through with Google+ in its closure. Google Takeout exports Keep notes to HTML. Which means, it's probably gonna be a hot mess of HTML pages or something. Maybe I'll test it and report back on that in a future post. I suppose an alternative to this would be to individually share each note from a phone to another app of choice -- I shutter a the thought. I put this in color for emphasize.

I’ll leave you with one more screenshot, this one shows off how links are treated in Keep. They do have a minor preview, which is nice and makes them easily clickable.

Alternatives to Google Keep:

  • Zoho Notes (the best similar alternative, has rich text editing too!).
  • Microsoft OneNote (designed more like a 5-section notebook, has many features Keep doesn't, even works for drafting -- one of the best note taking apps ever!).