How to set up a foolproof note-taking system for writers and other nerds (Part 3) | Cult of Mac

How to set up a foolproof note-taking system for writers and other nerds (Part 3)


Welcome to the final part of our series about note-taking for writers (or anyone else). Today we’re going to look at getting clippings and bookmarks into Evernote, to be stored and accessible alongside your scanned, paper-based notes (Part 1) and your text notes grabbed on your iPhone or Mac (Part 2).

We’ll use a few apps and services to get this done – EverClip, Mr Reader, IFTTT and Pinboard are the main ones.

As ever, you could just do much of this using Evernote and its web clipper, but this only works in Safari and Chrome on the desktop. In 2014! Clearly that’s no good. Let’s see how we can do it better.

Say you’re reading and you find the perfect inspiration for your story on a web page, or in an RSS feed, or in a link in a Twitter post. You really want to save it for later, preferably in a place you’ll actually find when you need it. Because I am using Evernote for all my other story-related notes, it makes sense to put the clippings there too, if only so that Evernote’s “related notes” feature can surface interesting and relevant notes from other channels as I browse.

I collect all my web clippings using the amazing Pinboard service, which is supported just about anywhere the Internet is supported. It’s an “anti-social” bookmarking service that lets you save and tag (and archive) bookmarks. Importantly, it also integrates with Internet automation tool IFTTT.


I use Pinboard becasue I don’t really trust Evernote. Exporting your notes from Evernote is opaque at best, so I like to keep things elsewhere and then pipe them in. And because Pinboard is designed for streamlined bookmarking, it’s fast and easy.

The service uses tags to help you group and find bookmarks for later. And – crucially for our purposes here – it has a description field where you can clip a summary of the article you’re saving. As you’ll see, this summary will form our note, along with a link back to the original page. A quick tip: Because this summary will be indexed by Evernote for search, you should pick it well.

Mr Reader

My example uses Mr Reader, the iPad RSS reader, for a few reasons. First, it’s the main way I browse my news feeds, which is where I tend to find the best stuff. Second, it’s awesome. And third, it has top-notch Pinboard integration.

To use it, you set up your account as above. Because we want Mr Reader to show us the dialog box so we can add tags, it’s important to leave the “Activate” option unchecked. Also, you’ll want to keep the bookmarks public so they can be processed by IFTTT in the next stage.

To use it, just highlight the text you want to clip and pick “More Actions” from the popover, and then tap “Pinboard.” The highlighted text is clipped into the “Notes” section of your bookmark, and you can add as many tags as you like. Unlike in Evernote and nvALT, I tag bookmarks prolifically, tapping in anything I might use to search in future years when I’m looking for this bookmark. Don’t worry – these will be filtered out before we get to Evernote. You should make sure to add a custom tag. As ever in this series, I use the tag “StoryBook.”

Now, the bookmark is saved and tagged and stored with a nice summary paragraph. You could leave things there and use one of many great Pinboard apps to browse them. But are we happy to leave it there? No, we are not.


Next, we use IFTTT (If This Then That) to take our newly minted bookmarks and save them to Evernote. If you don’t already have an IFTTT account, you’ll need to sign up, then connect your Pinboard and Evernote accounts to it. Go ahead. We’ll wait. Just don’t take too long.

Done? Good.

Now, make a new IFTTT recipe similar to this one:

This takes any new Pinboard bookmark tagged with the tag “storybook” and passes it to Evernote. It uses the title of the original page as the title for the note and populates the body of that note with the URL of the original page, the paragraph of text you clipped as a summary, and the tags you added to the Pinboard bookmark. Those tags are just words in the note, to help Evernote searches later.

Finally, the recipe adds “pinboard” and “storybook” as actual Evernote tags. These are used to organize things in Evernote. (If you read Parts 1 and 2 of this series, you’ll know that all my story-related Evernotes carry the “storybook” tag to keep things together no matter where they came from.

And that’s that. Now, whenever you save a Pinboard bookmark tagged “storybook” (or whatever tag you chose as a trigger) then it’ll get saved as a neat note into your Evernote. And it’ll work from anywhere that can save to Pinboard. Safari (via bookmarklet), Twitter (depending on your Twitter app) and even from places like Instapaper, Pocket and Flipboard.


But what if you want to clip just a paragraph of text to your notes? Or a single picture? Or maybe you want to snip several sections from one page and combine them with a quote and a picture from another. That’s where EverClip comes in. It’s an app designed exclusively for clipping to Evernote, and it does a great job of it.

EverClip runs in the background on your iPad or iPhone and monitors the clipboard. It times out after three minutes of non-use (a relaunch resets the timer), and while it’s running it’ll grab anything that you copy to the clipboard using the standard iOS copy command. This can be one or more pictures from your Camera Roll, photos in Web pages, links, clippings of text – anything that can be copied and pasted.

Switch to the app and you’ll see all of these clips laid out like paper notes on a wooden board. They can be sent to Evernote individually, or you can hit the little pen icon at top left and then tap any or all of the thumbnails (the order you select them in counts) to gather them into one long note.

Each clipping in that note gets its own URL underneath, referring back to the original page, and you can change the title and add tags before sending it off to Evernote. You can also set a default notebook and tags in the settings:

EverClip is actually a fantastic way to round up little snippets from the web, whatever you need them for. And if it’s not running in the background when you need to clip something, you can copy the text or picture you need and then launch the app. It will then grab anything on your clipboard, and you’re off.


There are clearly lots of ways to take notes these days, and these three articles are just my current way of doing it. My process might seem complicated but once you’re set up, the filing of your notes is all but automatic, no matter how or where you take them. And – with the exception of the scanned paper notebook pages – everything lives independently in services that offer easy export of your data (Pinboard for bookmarks, plain text files for other notes), and Evernote is nothing if not a great place to organize and browse your notes.

Now, when you need inspiration, you can grab your iPad, fire up Evernote and open the “storybook” tag. Evernote’s various views make browsing easy, and as everything is also available on your iPhone, your Mac and anywhere else Evernote runs, you’re good wherever you are. Best of all, your paper-based notes will also be ingested and searchable, which is magical indeed.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this series or about taking notes in general, hit me up on Twitter.

You might also like Part 1 of this series, on tagging and ingesting paper notes into Evernote, and Part 2, on taking text notes on your iPhone and syncing them into Evernote.


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