What I Learned Writing an Entire Novel on My Phone

What I Learned From Writing a Novel on My Phone

The year was 2017. It was cold and dark outside. I was thumbs-deep in my latest novel and minutes away from typing the end. I popped my head up from my phone to address the awful disruption before me.

“That’ll be $136.52,” said the cashier.

I shoved my card in the thing, looked at my feet, and said “thanks.” I slunked away. The phone returned to its worn spot in my pocket and I was on my way to the next stolen moment.

I’m an indie author. I’m my own publishing company. The entire process is on my shoulders, so my time is sacred. I had the hardest time finding moments to write.

That was the year I made an experiment that changed the way I write forever

Now, this wasn’t some novella, or short story. This was a full-length thriller — 70,000-plus words of paper and brawn. 40-plus chapters, and 376 pages of serious thumb typing.

Sounds pretty abysmal, right?

I won’t try to sway your opinion one direction. I’ll share my experience and you can decide if mobile writing is for you. There are pluses and minuses to be sure. In the end, it’s another tool which all writers carry in their pockets and it might help you the way it helped me.

I will say that I’d still be working on the novel had I chose to write it non-mobile. I’ve got a full-time career, I’m a dad, and husband. Couple that with all the family and extra-curricular list of activities, and it doesn’t leave much room for long writing sessions in private.

The drawbacks of mobile writing:

  1. It’s slower than typing on a keyboard. Save for the slowest of typists, thumb typing is far slower than typing the old fashioned way.
  2. You get yanked in and out of your train of thought. This can be very hard on your creativity. When you move in and out of your story, it’s hard on your subconscious to get back to work.
  3. You’re rude in public. You’ll wait at lights too long, get called multiple times in waiting rooms, have cashiers and counter-workers look at you with disgust, and you’ll be a horrible guest at dinner parties.
  4. It’s a hard way to write if you require a lot of notes. Multiple windows are frustrating on phones. Clicking back and forth has it’s obvious negatives.

The benefits of mobile writing:

  1. Your mind is most-creative in motion. Traditional ways of writing are sedentary. When you move you get more ideas faster. With your phone in your hand you can quickly get the words out at the time of the thought.
  2. There are hundreds of small moments per day you can steal for writing time. This is time you can’t normally use with a laptop, because — well, laptop.
  3. More with less. The small writing moments force you to use your writing time more-efficiently.
  4. You can hit your daily word count without guilt. You can get three-four hours of writing done in a mobile day without taking time away from your family. It’s much harder to do with a laptop. When you’re a new writer it’s hard for your loved ones to understand what you’re doing, because you don’t have a finished book they can hold.

My Process

I’m a hybrid plotter/pantser — a plantser? A plotter is a writer who plans the novel out before she sits down to write. Some serious plotters create outlines so detailed the writing process is more about fleshing-out each bullet point.

A pantser is a writer who sits and starts writing. She may have an idea in her head, with a couple big landmarks to hit, but beyond those, the panster is as in the dark about her book as you are the day you buy it.

I use a framework. I have a set number of chapters and I know the theme of each. I have no idea who will be there, or what happens, but the framework helps me avoid dropping a major fight scene in a place where the hero is supposed to be out looking for help.

I write the end first (see below).

I use a robust writing app that allows you to work across platforms. My work is saved to the cloud as I type and it’s synced across all my devices. No more saving my manuscript to a flash drive and dropping the flash drive in the toilet.

I upload the framework to my phone. The app has a word counter and it even shows a progress bar as I move towards my daily goals. I choose my moment’s writing assignment based on the time allotted. If I’ve only got a couple minutes in line, I’ll use that time to revise a passage I wrote earlier. If I’ve got fifteen minutes in a waiting room (or in the bathroom) I’ll use that time to write as fast as I can.

I found when I wrote as fast as I could, my subconscious went to work. The conscious mind wasn’t engaged to slow me down. I played the narrative in my mind and my thumbs did their best to take notes. It felt less like creating and more like court reporting.

As I re-read and revised these scenes I was amazed by the things that came out of me. I was better under pressure.

Another benefit I discovered was the editing process. I edited the work as I wrote, leapfrogging the previous day’s work into the next, re-writing as I went. Once I got the the end, the book was a complete first draft. Nothing left but compiling the book in on documents and a few, minor tweaks before publishing.

I wrote a LONG piece on the exact process I use for mobile-writing. You can view that here:

How long did it take me?

I wrote the entire novel in about forty days — just over a month. I used a laptop for the final edits, cover design, and formatting. However, if you really want to be a maverick, you can run the entire publishing process on your phone, from cover design, to formatting, to uploading it to resellers. I can have books printed via my phone.

The mobile writing method is not ideal, but it offers a tremendous amount of opportunity to writers who may find themselves pressed for time.

If you want to write your first novel (or your twentieth), and you find yourself with little time to write, the mobile method may be for you too.

August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.

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