Managing Your Writing in Plain Text with Simplenote

For most of what I do, I prefer simple software that does plain text. That also goes for the software I write with, in case you’re wondering.

Over the years, I’ve used a number of note taking and productivity tools. While I'm an enthusiastic user of Standard Notes, I often recommend Simplenote, too. Why? It covers all the basics that a good notetaking tool should, and without the overhead or complexity of similar applications.

You can use Simplenote for more than taking notes. You can also use it to manage your writing. Here’s a look at one way to do that.

Working with Ideas for Blog Posts and Articles

That’s the main (writing) job I did with Simplenote. Here's how I worked with those ideas in the days that Simplenote was my go-to notetaking application:

I plan and write ahead. I have topics for articles and blog posts at least three months into the future. I brainstorm ideas by the calendar quarter. When I use the application, I listed those ideas in Simplenote.

The heading of a note told me what ideas and year I was working with, along with the quarter I was working towards — for example, Blog Post Topics (Q2 2020).

The topics themselves are in a nested bullet list that lists:

When I’ve finished writing, I appended [DONE] to each entry.

Here’s an example:

A list of things to write in Simplenote


Simplenote is also useful for outlining a blog post, an article, a book, or even a presentation. When I used Simplenote in this way, each outline was a long bullet list.

The main list items were either headings in what I was writing or points that I wanted to cover. I also nested bullets under those points, to include additional information or sub headings.

Here’s an example:

An outline in Simplenote

Tagging and Pinning Notes

There are folks who pooh-pooh Simplenote because it lacks features that they think are essential. One of the features that Simplenote lacks is the ability to organize notes. Simplenote lists notes in the order in which you create them — newest first.

If you have a lot of notes, it can take a while to scroll through your list to find a specific note. While Simplenote has a search engine, you can also use tags to organize notes.

In case you’re not familiar with tags, they’re keywords that you assign to notes. In Simplenote, you enter them at the bottom of a note. You can add multiple tags to a note, as you can see here:

Tags in Simplenote

To filter your list of notes, click the Tags link in the top-left corner of the Simplenote window. Then, click the tag you want to filter by.

A list of tags in Simplenote

Other Useful Features

One feature of Simplenote that I liked using is the ability to pin notes. By pinning notes, you put them at the top of your list. To do that, click the Info icon at the top right of a note. In the window that opens, click Pinned to Top.

Pinning a note in Simplenote

Simplenote is a plain text tool. Which means that while notes are usable, they can also be visually unattractive and they lack formatting.

Fortunately, Simplenote supports Markdown. Using Markdown, you can format text and add working hyperlinks. The former is good to make the notes easier to read and visually appealing. The latter if I need to jump to some related information (or wherever a link leads).

To enable Markdown for a note, click the Info icon at the top of a note. In the window that opens, click Markdown.

Enabling Markdown formatting in Simplenote

Simplenote is a quick and easy way to manage your writing. And with its desktop, iOS and Android mobile apps, you can manage your writing just about anywhere.