First published October 11, 2020 | Updated May 2, 2021
Welcome back to the Notion for Writing series, friends! I’ve had a blast walking you through how to use Notion to organize your writing life — and I hope the feeling is mutual! Today, we’ll cover how to create a writing dashboard in Notion. Without further ado, let’s jump right in!
What is a writing dashboard?
As its name suggests, a writing dashboard is a hub for all things writing. It’s your very own command center that links to all your other pages — kind of like the homepage of a website. It’s where your word count tracker, progress review pages, character sheets, research, and other pages live.
The beauty of a writing dashboard is that it’s ultra-personalized. You might choose to omit your character sheets and instead create a dashboard for other areas of your writing life. Think creative exercises, lists of affirmations, artist dates, journal entries, etc.
My top tip for creating a writing dashboard in Notion is to make it your own. Create something you’ll want to come back to, a place that facilitates work and inspires creativity. Add a colorful cover image, insightful quotes, or other design elements to make it visually appealing.
Alternatively, you can let me do it for you! My Notion writing dashboard template pack comes complete with everything you need to organize your projects and nurture your creativity.
Why do you need a writing dashboard in Notion?
When your work is scattered across multiple apps, notebooks, and folders, it can be easy to lose track of things.
Wouldn’t it be easier to store everything in one place?
That’s exactly what Notion allows you to do — and then some.
Let’s take a look at a few ways you can use a writing dashboard in Notion.
Keep all your notes, character sheets, writing exercises, and more in one place
Consider how many apps and tools you use to create and store:
- Your outlines
- Character sheets
- Scene cards
- Worldbuilding materials
- Writing affirmations
- Word count trackers
- Journal entries reflecting on your progress
- Creative exercises
- Useful articles and resources on the craft
Phew! That’s a lot of stuff — and that list barely scratches the surface.
If you’re the type who gets overwhelmed by using a million tools to create, store, and access all those resources, Notion is worth a try.
Notion combines the functionality of spreadsheets, word processors, task management apps, databases, and even more. You can embed webpages right in Notion, including World Anvil! (No more switching between a hundred tabs!)
Easily track your writing progress and review your goals
I’ve tried just about everything to track daily word counts.
Notion is easily the most intuitive word count tracking solution. And this is coming from someone who created and used a free word count tracking spreadsheet for over a year!
It’s more aesthetically pleasing than a spreadsheet. If you choose to create a writing dashboard in Notion, you’ll have everything else you need right at your fingertips. No more tab switching, no more waiting for other apps to open.
If your writing software already tracks your daily word counts, that’s great! But if you’re working on multiple projects, or if your software doesn’t track word counts, Notion is an excellent option.
Want to discover how to use Notion to track your word counts? Download my free word count tracker template and start experimenting!
Navigate seamlessly between pages
This use case is something fellow writer Joshua commented on in my Scrivener post. He mentioned that he’d recently started using Notion, like me. He prefers Notion’s easy-to-use navigation to Google Drive. As great as Drive is, everything gets stored in a separate file, and the search isn’t very intuitive.
I’m right there with Joshua. I made the painful, heartbreaking decision to ditch Scrivener last year and move over to Drive. But I completely agree that it’s cumbersome to navigate. Nesting tons of documents and photos in folders just isn’t the simplest solution.
Notion’s sidebar makes it easy to see all your pages in one simple, easy-to-navigate layout.
Plus, you can link back to pages and embed databases elsewhere in Notion. This makes it easy to see your notes and access your pages from other places.
Embed Google Drive files right in Notion
Speaking of Google Drive, you can connect your Google Drive account to Notion and embed pages right in the app. You won’t be able to edit any Doc files in Notion — which is kind of a bummer — but you can at least see your files if that’s helpful for you.
How to create a writing dashboard in Notion
Watch my video on how to create a writing dashboard in Notion, or read on for a text walkthrough.
Step 1: Create a new top-level page in Notion.
Step 2: Decide which pages you’d like to include in your writing dashboard.
Some example pages include:
- A daily word count tracker
- Monthly progress review pages
- Your favorite affirmations and motivational quotes
- A list of artist dates
- Your creativity contract
- Worldbuilding materials
- Detailed character sheets
(You’ll get all this and so much more when you purchase the Notion for Writing template pack! Launching April 27, 2021.)
Step 3: Create and format your pages.
Now all that’s left to do is set up your pages. Feel free to get creative — make it your own. Add colors, images, icons, and whatever else makes your little writerly heart happy.
Step 4: Set up relations to other databases to see all related items in one place
Let’s say you’ve created pages for:
- Story world
- Writing tasks
Those pages work best as databases. And they shouldn’t live in isolation from each other.
That’s where relations come in. Adding relation properties to all your databases lets you link everything together.
Say, for example, you’ve got a character who was born in the early 1900s. This character is only half-developed. You need to do some research on what their home life was like, or maybe the clothes they wore.
In your research database, you’ve added an item like, “fashion in the early 1900s.” With relations, you can link that research item to that character so you know exactly what you need to do to develop them fully.
Here’s what your relations might look like when they’re finished:
If you click that “empty” field, you can see all the items in the related database and click one to link it.
Here’s how to create relations in your Notion databases:
- Create a new database in Notion. (Either full-page or inline.)
- In the top right-hand corner of the database, select “Properties”, then “Add a property”.
- Choose “Relation”.
- Search for the database you’d like to relate to.
Ideas for your writing dashboard in Notion
Need some inspo for creating a functional writing dashboard in Notion? I’ve got you covered!
A sneak peek of the Characters template, part of the Notion for Writing Premium Template Pack! Launching April 27, 2021
Notion’s gallery view makes it an excellent alternative to storyboard software.
If you set up a template for your characters with all the relevant attributes, traits, and character development questions, you can create new characters with one click!
I recommend setting up a database for your characters, preferably a gallery view. Then, create a template similar to the one above.
A sneak peek of the Worldbuilding template, part of the Notion for Writing Premium Template Pack! Launching April 27, 2021
If you’re creating a story world from scratch, Notion is an awesome place to do it.
I like the gallery view for worldbuilding because it keeps everything nice and tidy. Of course, you’re free to set yours up however you like.
Create a “New world” template that includes worldbuilding questions and space to refine your world. Check out the questions I’ve added to the magic page pictured above:
You can use Notion to track and organize and plan to your heart’s content. But you can also add motivational content to your writing dashboard that nurtures your creativity and helps you defeat writer’s block when it rears its ugly head.
My Notion writing dashboard includes several pages as part of the “Creativity Toolbox”, including:
- A list of artist dates
- A letter to your inner critic
- The artist’s prayer
- Creativity contract
Tips for personalizing your Notion writing dashboard
Now that you’ve built a robust system to organize every element of your writing life, it’s time to make it pretty! Here are a few tips for making your Notion writing dashboard a visually appealing space you’ll want to spend a lot of time in.
Tip #1: Add icons from flaticon.com to your pages
See that little icon in the top-left corner in the above screenshots? Notion allows you to set icons, which makes it easier to locate pages when you’re in the sidebar.
You can use emojis if you want, but I recommend copying and pasting the links of free icons from flaticon.com. I don’t believe this goes against their licensing, since you’re embedding the icons in your own private Notion dashboard and not posting them publicly.
Because the icons on flaticon are protected by a license, I can’t feature them in the templates I sell. But I do use them as icons in my own private Notion pages. I find they’re much prettier than the standard emoji set.
Here’s how to do it:
- Search for free icons on flaticon.com (Premium icons will have a watermark and a crown symbol)
- Click the icon to open it
- Right-click the image and select “Copy image address”
- Navigate to the Notion page you’d like to apply the icon to
- Click “Add icon” in the top left corner of the page (If it already has an icon, click the icon)
- In the pop-up, click “Link”, then paste your link and click “Submit”
- Voila! Enjoy your pretty icon!
Tip #2: Add your favorite writing resources to a content repository in Notion and link to it in your writing dashboard
What in the heck is a content repository? I covered that in another post, so I’ll be brief here.
You probably have a ton of articles and books to read, podcasts to listen to, and videos to watch on the craft. Notion lets you store all those in one place. Create filtered views by resource type, category, author — whatever you want. You can also set reminders to go back and engage with the content you’ve stored.
You might like to create a linked database in your writing dashboard to easily see which resources you want to engage with. The possibilities are truly endless.
Tip #3: Make your dashboard pretty with covers, columns, and embedded images
You might like to keep things simple and clean — Notion is the ultimate minimalist solution. Or you might like to go all-out and add images you like and columns with colored backgrounds.
Here’s an example from my own dashboard:
This isn’t actually my writing dashboard — it’s my master self-care dashboard. I’ve included it here to show you how you can embed images and create a space that you want to visit regularly.
Can I draft my novel in Notion?
I don’t see why not! I draft all my blog posts in Notion. But would I draft a novel in Notion? Maybe — admittedly, I haven’t tried it. If you’re considering it, though, you should be aware of some limitations.
Don’t expect to export your project from Notion into a perfectly formatted manuscript. While Notion is a functional, more aesthetically pleasing alternative to a word processor, it’s not a full-fledged word processor or novel writing program.
That said, you can export individual pages into PDFs, HTML, and Markdown formats on the free version for personal use. But that process is obviously a little cumbersome for a novel. You can only export full projects with all subpages included on the Enterprise plan.
Notion also doesn’t have a “true” offline mode. You can still edit a page in offline mode, and your changes will sync once you go back online again. I’ve tested it on one page for a short time, and the sync seems to work okay on my laptop. But it might not be the best choice if you’re working on multiple pages across devices.
I’m not sure how many pages Notion will sync offline changes to. There’s a lot of uncertainty around this, and it’s a common complaint among Notion users.
Do I think Notion is a robust enough solution to draft long works? Yes — but I also advise using caution if you plan to try it. Notion syncs all changes automatically, so as long as you’re online, you should be okay.
How to create a writing dashboard in Notion: wrapping up
Personalization and automation are key to creating a writing dashboard that suits your needs.
Fortunately, personalization and automation are Notion’s strong suits.
Feeling overwhelmed about setting up your own writing dashboard? As much as I love playing around in Notion, I know that setting up a new system takes a lot of work.
That’s why I’ve done the hard work for you! Snag the Notion for Writing template pack when it drops later this month, or request a customized set of templates.
Happy Notioning, friends!