So I’ve been blogging on Modern Diarist since July (maybe not as much as I’d like), and in that time I’ve learned critical information about what kind of tools help me practice my craft. Writing tools are everywhere, and there are even more tools that have been advertised to writers as “writing tools.” I’ve used a bunch of them, and I like a handful of them, but my favorite writing tool by far is Notion.
What’s funny is that Notion isn’t really a writing tool.
Notion is a productivity tool that combines file management with file editing. Users can create “pages” that either stand alone, nest within each other, or are organized into databases. These databases allow you to create pages with customizable meta properties, e.g. stage of completion, due date, project name, tags, etc. Generally, each page can represent whatever you want it to represent—a task, a blog, an event, a customer, a project, or all of the above. Notion’s primary strength (and its primary difficulty) is its flexibility. Aside from pages and databases, there’s no set way to use Notion. Each use case really depends on the needs of the user.
Today, I want to talk about why and how I use Notion specifically for blogging. As much as I like Evernote and still use Scrivener, Notion is my go-to for short-form writing because it’s both a writing platform and a planning platform, and it allows me to shift between planning and drafting seamlessly.
#1: Notion Is a Great Writing Platform
Writing isn’t just sitting down and spinning sentences until you have a blog. Good writing takes a fair bit of preparation. What are you trying to say? How are you trying to say it? What information will you need to include—and just as importantly, which information will you need to exclude? Notion is a powerful tool for both idea generation and drafting, which makes it a valuable writing tool.
The gap between generating ideas and drafting is well known to any professional or amateur writer. Screenplay writers and authors will plan their stories down to every last beat, but the actual writing of the thing can still be torturous work. Outlining itself can be torturous; wrangling and taming the dozens of ideas and phrases and images in your head and giving it order, structure, is impossibly disappointing sometimes. The better you become at understanding structure, the better you learn that the order of your ideas is as powerful as the content of your ideas.
Crafting Ideas Into Finished Pieces
What makes Notion so powerful is that you can jump between idea generation and drafting without pausing. For instance, I outlined this very blog using the toggle item command.
Nesting toggle items within the outline lets me break my content down into sections. Have an idea for a section? Add it to the list. Sometimes a toggle requires an action, so I’ll turn that particular toggle into a to-do item.
Once I’ve written a list of sections and ideas, I can re-order them and structure them into an outline that presents the central idea with maximum clarity and impact.
Finally, once I create an outline that makes sense to me, I can start drafting. I can write each section within each toggle (knowing I can move them into a single piece later). The outline not only guides the writing of the blog, but it becomes the blog as I work through it. If I continue to have ideas or realize there’s research I need to do, I’ll add to-do’s inside the content as I go, letting me continue uninterrupted.
“But how will you remember to go back and complete those to-do’s?” Because Notion comes with a reminder function. Type “@” and add a date and time, like “Tuesday at 3PM,” then click on the date. It will give you the option to send you a reminder to complete the to-do before your deadline or scheduled publish date.
Makes Rich Media Easy to Use Without Distraction
Each Notion page works as a repository of information without getting in your way. Let’s say you have some research you want to implement into your blog; you can create a page within your blog that has all of your files, PDFs, links, and videos, allowing all your information to be one click away.
Let’s say you want to embed a video or image into your blog. This is equally easy—simply use the slash command and type “embed,” and paste the link to the video.
Writing is about compiling, ordering, and explaining information in the most accessible way possible. If you’re writing a personal blog, it’s no different than writing an article for a trade publication: your job is to create a piece of writing that contains as much information as you can fit without making it feel like it contains too much information.
#2: Notion Is a Great Blog Planning & Content Calendar Platform
Blogging is not just writing. Running a blog, especially one with regular posts, requires planning multiple pieces and series at once. Generating topics, brainstorming those topics into full-fledged outlines, and then assigning each of those outlines to a specific date. Managing a blog, especially a blog with a theme, requires heavy use of a task manager and a calendar.
Which is why my favorite Notion function is its calendar view. Every page/task you create in Notion can be assigned a date. Once you’ve assigned different tasks to dates, you can create a Calendar view that allows you to see each of your tasks laid out week-by-week. It’s a great way to generate a content calendar quickly, and it visualizes the landscape ahead of you for the next month or more in an intuitive format.
As someone who spends a lot of my days creating content calendars for clients, the Calendar function is a great way to create a date-based set of tasks to take you through a campaign. You can plan social media posts, generate blog topics for the next several weeks or months, and keep track of which pieces are coming up on the horizon.
My second-favorite Notion function is the Board view. Just like how each task or page can be assigned a date, each can also be assigned a stage of completion, i.e. Not Started, First Draft, Scheduled, Published, etc. If you’re familiar with Trello, you know how fun and useful a kanban board can be for multi-part projects.
Blogs, articles, or short stories aren’t finished in a single sitting. In many cases, a blog requires an outlining step, a research step, a first draft, a step for gathering visual assets, then final publishing. You might have blogs in multiple phases stretched across three weeks’ worth of content. Notion’s Board view allows you to see your entire project laid out by progress, giving you an idea of how the whole thing is moving forward. It helps you make vital decisions about what you should tackle first—especially if you have a day job and have only an hour or two to yourself.
Which brings us to my final reason Notion is the best tool for bloggers.
#3: Notion Lets Planning & Writing Happen in the Same Place
Here’s where Notion shines. For writers, the time spent organizing ourselves between different apps and notebooks (planners, calendars, to-do lists, documents, file folders, etc.) is time not spent writing. Even worse, the hang time between different apps splits our focus, robs us of the “flow” state all high performers aim for.
To-do lists and calendars act as work proxies. An event or a task stands for an important piece of work—it represents what we ought to be doing and when we ought to be doing it. The best planning apps close the gap between the proxy for work (“write an article by 8 am tomorrow”) and the work itself (the writing of the article).
Notion doesn’t just close this gap—it eliminates it entirely. The event/task becomes the work itself. When I open my calendar, I’m not opening a reminder of the blog; I’m opening the blog. This is a huge advantage over Evernote (which has reminders, but lacks the versatility of Notion) and Scrivener (which is ultimately a word processor and not a task manager). The writing and the management of my blog becomes one seamless, intuitive process. I can plan and execute in a single step and in a single space.
If you’re convinced by no other functionality or feature, be convinced by this: Notion blurs the line between managing a blog and writing a blog entry. It tightens the connection between big picture vision and daily execution. For writers with any kind of ambition, that’s priceless.
Visit the Notion site—it’s free to try, and you can get a great deal of use out of it before needing the storage afforded by a paid account. Be sure to check back here for more blogs about how I use Notion on a daily basis and why Notion makes me a better, more prepared writer.