Phone Writing

Today is the 14th and final day of 1000 Words of Summer, and I am proud to say that I have written 1000+ words each day. (Well, I don’t have them yet today — but I will!)

One of my friends was like, “Literally — how?” She knows I am a slow writer and that 200 words is usually a good day for me.

The short answer: a lot of phone writing.

For all the process people like me, here’s the literal how.

There are two main apps I use to write on the phone. 

1. The Scrivener iOS app. 

Some background: I use Scrivener for desktop for all of my writing, from novels and short stories to essays and interviews.

  • Each novel manuscript is its own Scrivener project, where every chapter or scene is its own file. 

  • I’ve got a separate Scrivener project for short fiction, where each story is its own file and the files are color coded: blue means published, green means on submission, yellow means it’s a full draft but needs revision, and white means it’s a work in progress. I use the lightbulb icon for story ideas, which each have their own file in case I feel like experimenting on the idea. 

  • Nonfiction has its own Scrivener project, again where each piece is its own file and everything is color-coded.

  • The exception is one long nonfiction project I’ve been working on for a couple of years — that has its own Scrivener project, like the novel manuscripts. 

All of the projects I’ve created on my laptop can also be accessed via the Scrivener iOS app, although the syncing is a little bit tricky. Scrivener requires third-party cloud storage (I use Dropbox) to keep the desktop app and iOS app in sync, which means each time I finish writing on the desktop, I need to save and sync to mobile and vice versa. If you forget this step and let the two Scriveners become out of sync, you wind up with “conflict” files and this is annoying to clean up. 

That said, it’s totally worth the little bit of hassle to have my projects available to me wherever I am, even if I’m just in the kitchen or checking the mail. To be able to capture a line the moment it strikes is key to staying in the writer mind all day. I sometimes feel like the writer mind is actually a part of my brain, all the way in the back, that I must keep physically open, and knowing that these projects live on my phone (and therefore, essentially, on my person) helps. 

2. The Bear iOS app. 

It was Tony Tulathimutte who convinced me to download Bear, although I don’t think he uses this particular app. He does use some sort of “notes” app and he recommended using one when I participated in his CRIT workshop in 2019. This is basically a thought log, a place to collect all the random ideas and thoughts that occur during the day. 

I like Bear better than the standard iOS Notes app because it makes it easy to tag notes using hashtags. I have a hashtag for each of my projects, one for story titles, one for character names, and one for just random thoughts. It’s a no-frills app that is easy to use and nice to look at, and the free version doesn’t have ads or constantly beg you to upgrade, which makes it perfect because it doesn’t interrupt my flow. If I have idea but I’m in the middle of something else, I just jot it down and move on. 

I have an analog notebook, too, but I don’t write fiction there. I mostly use it to work out ideas or document things that are happening in my life.

I have always written fiction on a computer. This can feel like a curse — every time I’m in a workshop and the teacher gives a prompt, I just stare at a blank page for five minutes, unable to come up with a grocery list, let alone a story — but it’s how my brain works and I gave up fighting it long ago.

For first drafts, the phone is almost a better tool than the computer — it’s a little computer I can take with me wherever I go, and yet I find it more freeing than writing on my laptop. Sitting down at my desk is formal; I’d better write some good words! Banging out a scene between Brooklyn and Manhattan on the Q train is informal. More fun, less pressure. In the way I might dash off an email or a text message, I can dash off a scene. And if I’m just going for word count, just trying to get the story out of my head and onto the page, then that’s the energy I need.