Originally published October 4, 2020 | Updated May 2, 2021
Welcome to the Notion for Writing series! Is your writing life scatted across dozens of notebooks, apps, and tools? Constantly losing track of things? Feeling frustrated that you can’t keep all your drafts, tasks, and notes in one place?
If you answered yes, rest assured we’re in the same boat, my friend.
I’m always looking for ways to improve my efficiency and approach to writing. I’ve tried just about every note-taking and task management out there. I’m fully aware that tools are just that — tools. They’re not a substitute for actually sitting down and doing the work. But they can certainly help you sit down and do the work!
I recently discovered Notion, a robust project management tool. It’s revolutionized my writing life — and I created this series in the hope that it does the same for yours! Let’s dive in to some applications of Notion for writing.
What is Notion and why do I need it for writing?
Notion is an all-inclusive workspace that combines the functionality of word processors, spreadsheets, task management tools, and more. Its clean, minimalist style makes it the perfect companion for writers looking to get organized. (It’s also an excellent [and free!] alternative to Scrivener.)
Draft your novel, short stories, and poems right in Notion. Add properties like checklists, due dates, and tags for a big-picture view of your project and progress.
Use database views like tables and lists to organize chapters, scenes, and more. Filter and sort views however you like — by status, due dates, and other properties. Set reminders to stay on track. Create scene cards and storyboards with gallery and kanban board views.
These are just a few ways you can use Notion for writing. The beauty of Notion is that you can customize it to work for your process.
Notion for personal use is totally free. It comes complete with the most features I’ve ever seen in a free productivity tool. I should know; I’ve tried just about all of them. Evernote, OneNote, Meistertask, Scrivener, Google Drive — you name it, I’ve test-driven it.
What you can expect from the Notion for Writing series
The Notion for Writing series will walk you through how to set up your own writing hub in Notion.
You have two options. Follow the tutorials to create your own customized pages and learn your way around Notion. Or save yourself some time with Notion writing templates already created for you!
In the Notion for writing tutorials, we’ll explore how you can use Notion to:
- set goals
- track word counts
- review your progress
- organize your worldbuilding
- and more!
By the end of the Notion for Writing series, your setup will include the following pages:
- Writing dashboard
- Project tracker
- Daily word count tracker
- Writing task tracker
- Monthly progress reflection
- Motivational affirmations
- Chapter list
- Setting board
- Character board
- Worldbuilding board
- Research storage and note-taking
- Creativity toolbox with exercises to inspire
- A content repository to store your writing resources
I’ll update this post with links to each blog post and template. Bookmark or pin this page so you don’t miss a post!
Let’s break down each of these pages in more detail.
How to use Notion for Writing
This is where all your other pages live. This is a fairly basic template that doesn’t include an actual project. As I continue to work on the Notion for Writing templates, I’ll come back and update this image.
If you like to make things pretty like I do, embed some images and add a splash of color. Or, keep things minimalist. Whatever your style.
Every element of your writing life, in one place
Get ultra organized with 35+ done-for-you Notion writing templates! Character sheets, scene cards, worldbuilding, word count tracking, motivational content — I’ve thought of everything so you don’t have to!
Track your word counts
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’ve got to produce around 1,670 words a day. Whether you’re a NaNo newbie or a veteran, that’s no mean feat!
Even if you’re not keen on NaNo, you’ve got word count goals to hit, too. Stay on task with a word count tracker.
Create a database in Notion and add separate entries for each writing session. Add relevant properties like dates, tags, and more to see your progress at a glance. Use the sum property to add up your word counts automatically. (This is a godsend for fellow writers like me who ain’t about that math life.)
Within your word count tracker, you can create views to see your word counts by week or month. Use filters to see your progress in whatever context suits your needs.
Notion is a more intuitive and aesthetically pleasing alternative to a word count tracking spreadsheet. Having used a word count tracking spreadsheet myself, I speak from experience!
Set goals and reflect
Monthly progress pages are the perfect place to reflect on your progress and set goals for the next month. These progress reviews give you space to challenge and uplift yourself.
You can even embed your word count tracker right into your monthly progress pages. Filter by dates for that month to see how you fared.
Let’s face it — we writers love to procrastinate. We’ll do just about anything to avoid sitting down to write. Or we’ll give ourselves outrageous rewards for even the slightest effort. (Ever written for 5 minutes and rewarded yourself with 30 minutes of social media scrolling? Me too.)
I’m a big believer in affirmations and motivational content.
Need a kick in the ass to sit down and write? Battling self-doubt and imposter syndrome? Worried that your story doesn’t matter?
Keep a list of writing affirmations that get you fired up and help you bounce back from those self-deprecating beliefs.
It could be as easy as copying and pasting your favorite quotes into a Notion page. I like to make my affirmations pretty by embedding images of lists and quotes.
Exercises to fuel your creativity
Some of my favorite exercises in creativity comes from Julia Cameron’s iconic book, The Artist’s Way. These include:
Having these and other activities available in Notion makes them easy to reach when self-doubt strikes during a writing session.
I’ll go ahead and say it: Notion might not be the best place to build a fictional world from scratch. But if you want to keep everything together, Notion can help you do that.
Chances are you’ve done some of the hard work on paper. Or in an app like World Anvil.
There are two ways you can migrate that into Notion. If you’re working on paper, take high-res photos. Download a free scanning app on your phone and snap photos of maps, character sheets, and other worldbuilding materials. Upload those to Notion so you can access them even when you’re away from your notebook.
Alternatively, you can embed World Anvil right into Notion. The embed is interactive and works just like a webpage — no more switching between tabs! I tested it myself. You may need to sign in, but once you’ve done that, you can edit your world in World Anvil right from Notion.
Pros and cons of using Notion for writing
Let’s get one thing straight: I’ve never been one to promote something just for the sake of it. I want you to know the full functionalities and limitations of using Notion for writing. So let’s dive into the pros and cons.
Pros of using Notion for writing
Here’s a quick list of the pros. Keep reading for more details on each.
- Intuitive drag-and-drop interface
- All-in-one tool
- Better task management
- Better word count tracking
Intuitive drag-and-drop block styling
Moving text around in a word processor can be cumbersome. This is especially true for large blocks of text. In Notion, you can drag and drop multiple blocks. You can also create and resize columns easily.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got writing aids scattered everywhere. Index cards. Photos. Mindmaps. Notes hastily scribbled in a pocket notebook. That’s not including the drafts and snippets gathering dust in Google Drive folders or in a writing app.
Notion lets you store everything in one place. The sidebar is similar to Scrivener’s binder. You can also embed Google Drive folders right into your Notion pages. Although you can’t edit Drive files in Notion, it’s a great way to keep everything together.
Notion has replaced 3 of my previous go-to apps:
- OneNote — note-taking/brainstorming
- MeisterTask — task management
- Google Sheets — word count tracking
Better task management
Writing a novel or collection is a huge undertaking. It involves so much more than just writing. Creating character sheets. Drawing up a timeline. Researching extensively. Editing.
With so many plates spinning, it can be so easy to lose track of minor tasks.
One of the best ways to use Notion for writing is to create a task database. Add checkbox properties and due dates to create a schedule. Set up a calendar for a big-picture view.
Adding due dates and reminders for writing tasks is an excellent way to hold yourself accountable and stay on track. This is especially helpful for writers participating in NaNoWriMo or working to a deadline.
Better word count tracking
Last year, I created a free word count tracking spreadsheet complete with charts and all sorts of formulas. At the time, I thought it was the shit. (Granted, it’s still a useful tool for people who prefer working in spreadsheets.)
Notion is better for word count tracking for so many reasons. For starters, it’s not a spreadsheet. Let’s be honest — spreadsheets aren’t the prettiest. Notion is far more aesthetically pleasing and intuitive to use.
Adding up word counts is far easier too. It takes 2 clicks. No knowledge of Excel formula syntax required.
Filters and sorting allows you to view your entries in context on one page. Meanwhile, a spreadsheet contains about 14 tabs for each month, plus an annual overview and a goal tracking section.
Cons of using Notion for writing
Just like we did with the pros, we’ll cover a quick list of cons and then dive into each one.
- Not always the best option for formatting
- Notifications don’t always show up on mobile (personal experience)
Not always the best option for formatting
At the time of writing, Notion has no center-align option. This is a slight pet peeve for me, but not a dealbreaker.
Don’t expect to use Notion to format your work for publication, either. Notion works best as a drafting tool. However, you can export files into PDF, HTML, and Markdown formats easily.
Notifications don’t always show up on mobile (personal experience)
That’s pretty much it. I say this is personal experience because it could just be my phone. Notion isn’t the only app I don’t receive notifications for. So take this one for what you will.