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Why Notion Is the Best Free Organization App for Writers

Notion.so is both a web app plus a software app you can download. It’s a little difficult to summarise what it is in one neat sentence though because it has so many possibilities. In their words:


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Alexander Boswell

4 months ago | 7 min read
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And how you can use it for your writing

Disclaimer: This article is NOT affiliated with Notion. There are no affiliate links included.

What is Notion?

Notion.so is both a web app plus a software app you can download. It’s a little difficult to summarise what it is in one neat sentence though because it has so many possibilities. In their words:

“As a first step, we are blending much of your workflow into an all-in-one workspace. Want a task list? A product roadmap? A design repository? They are now all in one place. You can even customize your own workspace from dozens of LEGO-style building blocks.

Solve your problems your way, bounded only by your imagination.”

In a sense, it’s like an unlimited digital filing cabinet, yes — unlimited. Even on the free plan, you can have unlimited pages of typed-up information. It only gets sticky if you want to upload pictures and documents, at which point you have an upload cap unless you pay a tiered fee.

You might think it’s stupid, but I’ve yet to come across a real reason to upload pictures or documents to my databases. There’s so much you can do natively with their building block system and elegant text editing.

How do people use it?

With a piece of software that you can have unlimited typed information, as they say, you are only bounded by your imagination. I am continually finding new uses for it each time I go onto my Notion.

However, there are a few common ways people make use of it, such as:

  • Workplace processes and documentation (company Wiki)
  • Project tracking
  • Research note-taking
  • Product roadmaps
  • Blogging/Online journalling
  • Online resumes
  • Travel planning
  • Habit tracking
  • Reading lists

The possibilities are pretty crazy. However, you’re here because you’re interested in why Notion is the best app for writers.

Why writers should be using Notion

Notion is a pretty powerful tool; I use it for both my personal life as well as my professional life. As a writer, the main reason I use it is for its ability to move data entries across multiple databases (or “views”) without losing any of the properties.

That may sound like gobbledegook, but hear me out. If you’re familiar with Trello you’ll have an easier time understanding, if not — welcome to the club.

In Notion, you can organize data entries, such as article headline ideas or published pieces, into ‘cards’ or table entries. I’ll show you examples of what I mean in the next section. However, it’s not just a handy way of organizing your writer’s brain.

Notion also has spreadsheet-style calculations you can use to track all sorts of data (I use them for tracking word count, average read time as well as article count).

What this means is that you can use it as not just a form of organization, but also as a way of analyzing your work. What works? What doesn’t? How many pieces did you write this week? What articles get curated? Is there a trend?

All of this information can be readily available to you in Notion, what you put in is what you get.

Beyond all that, it’s also a beautifully minimal WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editor — much like Medium’s own editor. But enough of that, let’s talk about how I use it.

How to use Notion for organization

As I previously mentioned, you can input ‘cards’ into a page known as ‘board view’. I use this feature to track both my ideas as well as my in-progress articles.

This is what my’ writing pipeline’ looks like:

Screenshot Courtesy of Author

This is the view I use when I want to track the status of my articles. As you can see, the piece you’re reading now is currently ‘in-progress’, though I had a different title at first (always come up with a few headline ideas folks).

For my article ideas board, I use topics as the columns and then place headline ideas under each column. Every night, I’ll take a look at my ideas board and then right-click on the card, select move to, and then move it to ‘Writing Pipeline’.

It’s better to add the ‘not started’ tag and remove the topic tag before moving the card though, so then it appears appropriately in the board without further fidgeting.

While the board view is pretty handy to get a more exact overview of my priorities, when I want to look at more data, I switch to Table View:

Screenshot Courtesy of Author

Now we’re getting the juicy stuff. So, if you’re at all familiar with spreadsheets, the table view works the same way — you can add and take away columns, move rows around, sort them, filter them, you name it.

You’re not getting the full view of my table in this screenshot; I also have the curation tags (in the tags column alongside the status tags) as well as a link column for the article links.

Crucially, what made me switch my allegiance from Google Sheets and Trello to Notion is the ability to filter the tags — if I want to see which pieces were curated in Self, for example, all I’d need to do is click ‘filter’, select ‘Tags’ and then select ‘Self’. Then all the pieces not tagged as ‘Self’ will go away until I remove the filter.

I think you can do this in Sheets, but it would require either a real complicated sort/filter formula or using a column for each tag — neither of which are as easy or intuitive as this Notion table.

You might have noticed a little page icon on the last two pieces — that’s because each ‘card’ is also classified as a page of its own. When you don’t add any information, the title stays blank, but I’ve recently started using the space to outline my pieces before I start writing.

Also, while I don’t use the feature very often, having a column with dates (such as published dates above) you can generate a ‘Calendar View’ like such:

Screenshot Courtesy of Author

I can imagine this feature would be most useful to those working to deadlines or are using a content calendar system. But it also tells me how many pieces I’m publishing and when.

Tracking freelance client data/projects

While I’m currently freelance client-less while I build my portfolio and website, I am preparing for the eventuality.

On the left-hand side of the screen, you can see a page labelled ‘Freelance Clients’. This is where I will be using the Table View to keep a log of client contact details, tag them with project types/status as well as invoice/follow-up dates.

Fiction/Novel writing

Suppose you don’t write articles and blog posts, perhaps you’re looking for a way to organize your fiction writing. If you’ve heard of or use Scrivener, you’ll like Notion.

While it is entirely possible to write a book itself in Notion, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it — because I haven’t tried. However, if you would like an all-in-one place to organize things like:

  • Setting details
  • Character profiles
  • Plot (repurpose the product roadmap template anyone?)
  • Research
  • Mood/aesthetics board

Notion is an excellent free substitute for this purpose to Scrivener.

Goal setting and tracking

I also use Notion to set my goals and track my progress. You can see in the above screenshots I have a page called ‘Progress’, where I keep an eye on my follower count, money earned and eventually my email subscribers (currently working on that).

For goal setting though, I have a simple page with to-do lists on them categorized by the area of life the goals are in, i.e. freelance writing, education, bucket list stuff etc.

I could be a lot more creative here and have status tags and sub-lists, but sometimes less is more. I do keep my writing goals vs life-related goals separate though.

Journaling

I also briefly wanted to touch on journaling. I know I’m a lover and advocate of using a physical bullet journal, you can say a lot for the benefits of using an online journal too.

The main benefit is you’re able to categorize your entries and have a more precise overview. Say, for example, you like to do a ‘daily reflection’, where you use simple bullet points for setting intentions, practising gratitude and a simple to-do list. You could tag this type of entry as ‘daily reflection’.

But say you also want to practice free-form writing or long-form journaling? You can do that in the same place and tag it appropriately.

If you happen to write in a structured way using topics, you can do that too and tag your chosen subjects. This way, when you’re looking for entries on a particular topic or the type of entry; you can sort, filter and find.

In the end, what would look like an utter mess in a paper journal can be beautifully organized in Notion.

Final thoughts

Notion has a great deal of potential for you as a writer to organize your thoughts, ideas, written work, client base and more. Honestly, the potential is enormous.

It has allowed me to pour in all the information I used to keep in Trello, Google Docs and Google Sheets into one convenient (and did I mention, free) space.

The only catch is if you’re a fan of uploading pictures and documents, you’re probably going to want to opt for the personal pro subscription at $4 a month for unlimited file uploads (as well as unlimited guests and API integration coming soon if that’s in your radar).

Hopefully, this article has given you some inspiration for how you can keep your writing (and life) better organized. You can even have a go at coming up with ideas I haven’t thought of yet — I can imagine there are many.

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Alexander Boswell

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Alexander Boswell is a Business Ph.D candidate specialising in Consumer Behaviour and uses this knowledge as a freelance writer in the Content Marketing and B2B SaaS space. Find him on Twitter @alexbboswell or his website alexanderbboswell.com


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