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On Writing Novels on Smartphones

13238326804_bde07eb1be_hAs National Novel Writing Month approaches, I’m sure many writers are still trying to figure out how they’ll find the time to finish such a long work. While I’m not sure this would work for everyone, one possible solution came across my desk this morning,

Blackberry started a new media campaign yesterday which focuses on authors who had tapped entire novels into their BB smartphone. While this might sound like a good plan to get free advertising, they do raise a good point.

It’s a point which writing experts like Kevin J Anderson have also made: the truly dedicated author tries to find time, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there on a commute, to write their novel.

Geordie Greig, for example, wrote his first novel while working insane hours at a full time job: editing the London Evening Standard. I can’t imagine how he pulled it off, but according to BB he says that:

For two years, I typed away at my book, Breakfast with Lucian, solely using my BlackBerry smartphone. It allowed me to be flexible in my writing schedule as my world shrunk to a three centimetres square screen. I tried to cram a lifetime of Lucian’s extraordinary charisma and impact (Lucian had at least 15 children and became one of the greatest painters of the 20th century) into that tiny space. This was possibly the first biography ever written on this small, black, compact writing machine which worked for me in bed, at sea, on trains, planes and automobiles, as I tried to bank time and space and thought for my book.

What’s more, he’s not the only author to pull this off. Last year profiled a local author who had written a 1,500 page novel on his HTC smartphone during his daily commute:

Peter King has turned his daily commute into office time – by writing a novel on his smartphone. Rather than wasting the two daily 45-minute journeys on buses and the Hutt Valley train line, he applied himself to writing Changels Genesis. On a good day, when the words flowed, he found he could get 1200 words down in the trip from his home in Normandale to work. "When you’ve got a youngster, you just have to write in those times, because you don’t have a choice," the father of four said.

Writing during a commute would seem to be the more common example of smartphone noveling. That is how Peter Brett wrote his first novel:

It’s no wonder Brooklyn author Peter Brett's first novel is a dark, demonic fantasy – he wrote it on the F train. Brett, 36, tapped out most of "The Warded Man," which hit U.S. bookshelves last month, on his smartphone on daily trips from the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop near his Kensington home to his job in Times Square. "I started out just trying to take notes. I’d sit on the subway, I’d get a good idea and I’d jot something down," said Brett, who works in medical publishing.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much this will help an author who is trying to finish a novel in a single calendar month; most of the authors I found who had written a novel on a smartphone took several years to finish it. Of course, that long delay reflects less on a slow writing style than the simple fact that these authors were so constrained in terms of time that they almost didn’t have time to write the novel at all.

But they still made the time. And as one of the aspiring novelists on the NaNoWriMo forums said, "even if you get a couple of hundred words done on it, that’s a couple of hundred fewer to do later on, so go for it".

Do you think you could write a novel on a smartphone?

image  by Janitors

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Syn October 15, 2014 um 1:04 pm

You can also dictate into the phone if you don’t want to tap away on those tiny screens.

Nate Hoffelder October 16, 2014 um 4:41 pm

That is actually what I would expect more people to do. Talking to a phone seems like more of a natural activity than typing on it.

Kiga October 15, 2014 um 6:17 pm

Maybe not on a phone but the Pandora/Pyra would be perfect for that.
The upcoming Pyra succcesor of the Pandora:
A 3D prinyted prototype (don’t pay attention to the color):
Some guys wrote novels or full software on the Pandora.

Nate Hoffelder October 15, 2014 um 6:23 pm

That reminds me of certain HP handhelds, most notably the Palmtop PC 200LX:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Kiga October 15, 2014 um 8:52 pm

Indeed,a lot of guys in the community own several of that kind of umpc, but umpc with keyboard are rare nowadays (if Pyra isn’t the last (and the best ever given his active huge community)). Plus Pandora was at first intended to be a console for emulating so it have also great game controllers.

Scott Parker October 15, 2014 um 10:12 pm

Actually, I started doing this on my iPod when I got a newer one. Love it. I actually finished the draft yesterday on the iPod. It’s all first draft stuff, but it’s constantly moving the manuscript forward.

I wrote about it on my group blog, Do Some Damage:

Will Entrekin October 16, 2014 um 8:10 am

Great series. I think iOS’s third-party keyboards really help when it comes to longer writing. After trying out a few I’ve been using SwiftKey on my iPhone and TouchPal on my iPad (iPad’s SwiftKey doesn’t yet support swipe gestures. Swype was good, too). I liked Pages on my Mac, but, like you, I like Google Drive’s accessibility across devices and platforms.

I don’t think I’ve encountered the 10,000-word limit you mentioned for Google Docs. Or maybe using Docs is slightly different from using Drive?

Nate Hoffelder October 16, 2014 um 4:42 pm

That’s a nice set of blog posts. Thanks for sharing!

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