Phone Writing Romanticism

Writing on my phone for the first time and discovering the romanticism of it all.

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

I’ve never written anything on my phone. Paper has its place, computers are king, and typewriters, well, how much of a wannabe Hemingway are you? The written word is writing in the end, right? Regardless of medium. I guess I’ve never tried writing on my phone because it seems like the least romantic of them all. It hardly feels like a craft; more like an endless text message that has strayed beyond an unenforceable character limit. Nobody enjoys a long text, especially those awful group ones. Writing on my phone and publishing to the masses is a more acceptable version perhaps. Had I not told you of the tools, you would have had no idea how this house was constructed anyways.

Rare is the writer who pens their first draft on paper. Robert Caro, the LBJ biographer, still writes his first drafts by hand (thousands of pages). Can you imagine the pain from your writer’s arm? How many people truly write this way today? It may be antiquated like the physical books that still fight for relevance, but an author’s connection to the words are undeniable.

Writing is intimate when the pen (or pencil) hits the page, gliding along in a smooth uninterrupted rhythm, with no worry of frozen screens, autocorrects, red underlines, or glitches. The only obstacle is yourself. Your mind. The feeling of the paper on your fingers invites you to enter a world where it’s just you and the page. Together you dig for the story like archeologists, as Stephen King described in On Writing. You inevitably discover new things about yourself along the way. The intimate connection you build with the page allows your mind to expand. There are minimal restraints — no mouse, cursor, or keyboard. If you make a mistake, cross it out and keep moving. You truly are your only obstacle.

Of course, technology enhances efficiency. The utilitarian way of writing is through a computer processor, whether a desktop or laptop. Letters fire from the power of your fingers as they smash the keyboard. “Punch the keys for God’s sake!”, as Sean Connery’s character demanded in Finding Forrester. Another gem from that movie is the advice that you must “write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!” There is no easier way to accomplish this feat than to type on a keyboard. The speed and efficiency at which your fingers can capture your mind’s thoughts is astounding if you stop and think about it. And there’s romance too — the sounds of the keyboard, the feeling of the keys as they plunge to their depths, and the end result of black letters streaming across the blank white canvas on your screen. Many can find harmony from typing, just as writers did on the typewriters of old.

So why would typing on a phone be any different? Well, first and foremost, the keys are much smaller. They are on a screen, and unless you have one of those massive phones that could double as an iPad, good luck not screwing up at least once every ten words. Unlike a keyboard or piece of paper, a screen is not very inviting. If you are like most people, you spend at least 2 hours a day on it anyways, so it’s not like you’re escaping into a reclusive land of artistry.

Yet it feels so strangely romantic. And best of all, you can write anywhere. Literally, anywhere. I can break my phone out on the subway, waiting in line at the store, sitting in a bar (as I’m doing now), or really in any other forum of everyday life. Everyone else is on their phones as it is, so why not join the masses and create some art in the process? I can still punch the keys on the screen, watch my thoughts appear on my blank Notes canvas in real time, and the convenience of it all is second to none. Not to mention the fact it syncs to my other devices over the cloud so I can continue writing anywhere, anytime.

I am admittedly one of those writers who takes my computer to coffeeshops regularly, and I enjoy the process while surrounded by strangers and nonstop activity. Maybe it’s a New York City thing. Writing on your phone during everyday life takes it to a new level though, especially on the subway. People whir and whiz past you, cruising about their day at a frenetic pace. I despise the phone-walkers and try my best not to be one of them, but when you’re waiting or passing time, writing on your phone far surpasses the mindless alternatives of Facebook, Instagram, and the like.

Many authors have adopted the phone as their medium of choice as well. Harmony Korine supposedly wrote The Beach Bum entirely on his iPhone. August Birch described writing an entire novel in 40 days on his phone, and went even deeper in a separate article on his phone-writing process. Graeme Shimmin extolled the convenience of mobile writing.

Although not everything is easy. If you’re using Notes on an iPhone, it’s incredibly difficult to add hyperlinks, which makes blogging especially tough. The instructions here directed me to Safari and back again, so maybe I will write my first draft on a different app next time (WordPress, Medium, etc.). And forget trying to bounce between multiple windows on your phone — it’s a real pain in the ass.

Through all its joys and faults though, phone writing romanticism is real. I can just picture myself in the not-so-distant future fighting to capture those precious seconds before the subway doors open, punching my thumb wildly as I try to squeeze in a few more words. The small moments of the day previously spent idle now elevating in significance. My brain hopping from one thought to the next, with creative explosions spreading across my screen in real-time. No vignette of the day missing its moment ever again. The phone has morphed into my mobile quill and parchment. What happens next is between me, my screen, and I.