Fiction writers have traditionally used journals to capture ideas for their books. Inspiration can strike anywhere. Having an easily accessible journal in a bag or briefcase gives them the ability to quickly jot down notes about a character or scene right in the moment.

Non-fiction writers use journals, too, but we also use swipe files. A swipe file is simply a tool to collect ideas and inspiration about your writing project. It can be a physical file folder or an online app.

I used a paper file in my first attempt at creating a swipe file. If I read a magazine article I wanted to use as research, I’d tear it out of the magazine and add it to the folder. I’d write down an inspirational quote and add it to the file. When I had an idea about my topic, I’d write it on a piece of paper and add it to the file.

This worked great when I was at home, but what about the article I read in the doctor’s office? He wouldn’t think so kindly of me tearing a page out the magazine to add to my swipe file! Then there were the random scraps of paper with notes on them thrown into my purse and the Word documents which always seemed to be on my laptop when I was working on my desktop and vice versa. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you wrote something down and not being able to find it!

When I discovered Evernote, it solved all of my swipe file problems. I use Evernote for lots of things but here I want to focus on how I use it as a swipe file. It has two big advantages over a paper file:

  1. I can sync it to all of my devices and always have the latest copy at my fingertips
  2. I can organize everything with notebooks and tags to easily locate a particular note

The free version of Evernote might be all you need. I upgraded to the Plus version at $34.99 per year because I wanted additional space and I need to sync more than two devices. You also want to make sure you grab the Evernote web clipper and add it to your browser. This makes clipping super simple!

When I start an non-fiction writing project, I create a new notebook in Evernote. As I come across things on the web, I use the web clipper to capture either the web address of the article or I can highlight an important section and clip it. I use tags related to the project such as ‘research’, ‘title ideas’, or ‘quotes’. When I’m looking for all the notes I clipped for research, I can simply click on the tag and it will bring up all the notes with that tag. I can add notes in any order and retrieve easily.

Now when I sit down for a writing session, I pull up my Evernote notebook. I can browse through it chronologically, or search for a particular phrase. My productivity has greatly increased because I’m not spending the first few minutes of my writing session looking for my notes.

Do you use Evernote or some other app for your swipe file? Let me know in the comments.

Linda Griffin
Linda Griffin

Linda Griffin is the author of the book, Maximum Occupancy: How Smart Innkeepers put heads in beds in every season and the founder of She is currently working on her second book, Book Smarts: The ninety day guide to writing and self-publishing for busy professionals.

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