A Writer’s Greatest Tool: the Smartphone

A guest post by David Pierce from Digitizd

I’m a writer, and I don’t carry a notebook around with me. Heck, I don’t even carry a pen. Do people even use those anymore? Pens. So old school.

Instead, I just use my cell phone. In my life as a writer, there’s been no tool more useful or worth the investment than a smartphone. For such a small device, its benefits are enormous. For writers, the benefits might not be as obvious as they are for, say, money managers, but they‚Äôre no less fantastic. Since owning a smartphone (mostly meaning a phone with a functional Internet connection), I’ve become a far better writer, and in this case I’m convinced it’s the tool that made the man. Here’s why.

Remember Everything

The blessing and curse of a writer, or anyone creative, is the constant stream of ideas coming into, and then immediately out of, your head. Maybe you see something that you want to write about, or suddenly get a brilliant idea for how to kill your protagonist. No matter how good the idea, it’s astonishing how fast they disappear.

With a smartphone at the ready, you’ll never forget anything again. Whip out your phone and enter your thoughts into an application like Evernote or Simplenote, and you‚Äôll never forget what tickled your creativity. Unlike paper, which for me is as likely to get lost as not to, these apps stay synced to your phone, your computer, and the Web, meaning your ideas and inspiration are with you and accessible anytime you need them.

Write When it Strikes

Every once in a while I just get in a writing zone. Problem is, 95% of the time when I’m in the zone, I’m about a million miles away from my computer. While it might not be the fastest writing solution, my smartphone has proven a great way to crank out a couple hundred words when I’m feeling the juices flowing.

When you get an app like Dropbox or Sugarsync for your phone, you can even access your files on the go, writing and editing whenever you feel like it without having to carry a computer around. Having your files accessible everywhere means you’e free to be anywhere, because you can always get done what needs to get done in a pinch.

Read

One of the most often-quoted things about writing is that to become a better writer, you have to read. A lot. In a world where we’re constantly on the go, that’s harder than ever. If you pair your smartphone with applications like Instapaper or Read it Later, you can save yourself a personal ‘to read’ list.

With one click in your Web browser, you can save articles or stories to your smartphone, and they’e available to you wherever and whenever you get a minute‚or in line at the grocery, waiting for the doctor, or anywhere else. You’ll be amazed how much reading you can do in 5-minute spurts.

Get Instant Feedback

Social media’s all the rage these days, with Twitter and Facebook quickly becoming the de facto ways we communicate with each other. One of my favorite uses of these services is what I see comedians doing: testing material on their friends and followers. They come up with a joke, and tweet it. Immediately, people comment on the joke, critique it, and decide if it’s funny or not. Over time, the comedians shape the joke with the help of their fans, and the end result is a better joke that goes in their set.

For me as a writer, that would be huge! If I have a great blog post idea, or interesting thought about the world, instant feedback on whether it’s interesting, or true, or totally moronic, is an amazing resource. Twitter and Facebook, in particular, are available on most smartphones, and let you tap into that huge network of fans, critics, and colleagues.

Never Stop Learning

This might be just me, but I hate the ‘I wonder if’ questions. Not the big, deep questions we should all think about, but questions like “I wonder if the Giants won the Super Bowl in the 70? Thanks to my smartphone, I don’t have to wonder anymore. I have the Internet, the most incredible research tool in the history of the Universe, right at my fingertips.

For us as writers, whether we’re looking up mundane facts or boning up on Darwinist theory so we can debate it better, constantly learning is crucial to continuing to improve as a writer. In a way that was never before possible (short of carrying an encyclopedia on your back – and if you do that, I applaud you), we have access to information, research and knowledge at a moment’s notice. You’ll write smarter, sound smarter, know the answers to everything, and be a champion cheater at trivia.

We’re living in an incredible world, where you can record all your thoughts and ideas, read others‚ and answer any question you could possibly have, all in a matter of seconds. In the palm of your hand.

What about you? Are you a high-tech writer, or do you appreciate the good ol’ pen and paper?

Read more by David Pierce on Digitizd. Or grab his Twitter feed here.

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27 Responses to “A Writer’s Greatest Tool: the Smartphone”

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  1. oh no! I had reconciled myself to NOT having a smart phone, arguing that the great writers used pen and paper (moleskine says so), that pen and paper stimulate creativity in magical ways that electronics cannot, that Husband will shoot me if I spend money on a smart phone.

    But your post makes it seem so reasonable, so necessary ;-)

  2. Jamie says:

    As a writer on a budget and on the go, I use most of the Google Apps that are available for free online — docs, mail, calendar, voice, etc. Google has created really nice mobile applications for the “Top Three” (Android, Blackberry, and iPhone) as well as support for some of the lesser used smart phones. The mobile sync is, well, awesome! This is just my personal opinion of course. If you’re already using any of the free apps from Google, the mobile functions are a really great tool for a writer on the go. http://www.google.com/mobile/

  3. Corey says:

    I agree with Jamie. As much as I love pen and paper, I always know my phone is with me. I have a moleskine that spends more time sitting at on a desk I’m not sitting at. Google Tasks has been my go to for several weeks now. Full of ideas (and not one real task). It’s great for remembering that awesome idea I had that I forgot about 10 minutes later. With mobile document access and apps for most blogging platforms, a post can be 90% done before even touching a computer (although, sore thumbs can be a downer…)

  4. I am a writer and though I do always have a notepad and pen with me, I have to agree with the incredible usefulness of my iPhone for my writing. In addition to the apps noted in the article, there are also voice recording apps. If your pen is lost or what have you, you can dictate thoughts. Not only that, but author friends of mine will from time to time send me their MS — long before publication, and I can upload to Stanza and read their work on my phone, wherever I am.

  5. Terry Odell says:

    I got a smart phone (but not an iPhone) for the camera, because I’ve got a terrible memory for details, and writing descriptions is a struggle. But as far as everything else — too much trouble with the teeny tiny keyboard, and then I can never remember which menu function will bring me back to my notes.

    I suppose I could take more time to learn. I do everything else on my computer — can’t read my own writing (and where’s cut and paste on a pen?)

  6. I’m an old fashioned pen and paper kind of dude. And yeah, I take my pen and paper with me, always. I never miss a beat.

    That said… I know someone who takes with him an audio recording device. These can be really, really small and instead of having to type anything — you can just say it. Then later, you can transcribe it. Now that, I gotta be honest, intrigues me.

    But as of now, I’m just a bit old fashioned.

  7. Ciawy says:

    Ditto about the smartphone. I have Awesome Notes app on my phone. Whenever I have a bugging idea, I just click, type, save then send it to my email.

  8. Bart says:

    Evernote and Dropbox are indeed amazing apps and both for free. Dropbox especially is a must have for anyone owning a desktop and a laptop. Syncing has never been easier. Did I tell you it’s free.
    Evernote is at least as good, but I haven’t found a flow so far in which I really make use of it. I should, though!

  9. michael says:

    I don’t think Dropbox or Sugarsync allow you to write or edit on your smartphone. Am I missing something?

  10. Andy says:

    Quite often I will be out and about when an idea strikes. What I do is use the recording app on my phone as a dictaphone, rather than stopping to jot the idea down and to save embarrasment I hold the phone like I am having a conversation when making these recordings, lol.

  11. Hilary says:

    Hi Mary and David .. thanks for this – very useful information. I have an iphone and don’t use it sufficiently – but will be doing so in the future – and must start to practise now. Thanks very useful tips .. Hilary

  12. Chuck Frey says:

    I totally agree with this strategy and use it all the time to capture ideas on the fly. My tools of choice these days are Jott, a phone-to-email conversion tool (you call a number, speak your idea into the phone; Jott translates it and e-mails it to you), and an app called EverNote on my iPhone.

  13. Amber E says:

    I’ve found over the years that my writing has a different message, depending on the method. Keyboard writing is more useful for my stream of consciousness and esoteric writing, however, pen to paper is best for more reminiscing and sharing feelings – i.e. organized writing. I’m excited to learn how much different my new smartphone will capture my thoughts as opposed to my current Moleskine notebooks! Great post!

  14. Eric C says:

    Initially I disagreed with this post’s title, but I have to say, you convinced me. good post. Now I need to get one.

    Still not sure it is the greatest, but i’d say good.

  15. LaLa says:

    I totally agree with this post and then some.

    My BlackBerry stays with me at all times. On it, I can update my WordPress blog (which I’ve often done from bed in the middle of the night, lol), keep a running list of article ideas, keep both written and voice notes, begin rough drafts (either in my notes or just email the text to myself), set reminders and alerts so that I never forget an important task, keep track of my to do list, email clients (and reply to their emails immediately), keep up with forums, read my RSS feeds, check CraigsList for new gigs, access my PayPal account and so much more. I even use it to listen to music with my headphones when I’m in a noisy setting and need to block distractions so that I can work. I’m telling you, it is the most awesome tool ever. It sits next to me when I’m working on my computer and, often, I read and reply to emails on it even though my laptop is right in front of me. It’s just that convenient!

    This past Sunday, as I was in the passenger’s seat with my husband on our way to a Superbowl party, a magazine editor emailed me. I was able to immediately reply to him. He emailed again and, again, I replied. He then asked for my number (my emails state that they’re sent from my BB, so he knew I was on my phone), I sent it to him and he immediately called me to finalize the details of our business. Had I not had my BB, I wouldn’t have gotten his email until I got back on my computer (which I wasn’t planning to do until Monday). We would have played email tag for a day or two and the details wouldn’t have been finalized until mid-week, if at all. Oh, I forgot to add that our conversation was about last minute work due this Friday!

    Great post! And now I’m heading over to Google to check out the mobile apps that Jamie spoke of. I expect by the end of the day I’ll be able to do even more on my BB. LOL

  16. I agree that having a smartphone has really helped me to remember ideas that seem to just stream by. I usually have some of my best ideas in the middle of the night, after waking up from a deep sleep. Don’t ask me why. I just wake up, and suddenly there it is. Having my Iphone next to the bed keeps me from having to get up, grab a pen and paper to write the ideas down. Even if I kept a pen and paper next to the bed, I’d still have to get up to turn on the light. In that sense my Iphone has been indispensable. Just went through this last night.

    It’s also great to be able to google just about anything no matter where I am. Whenever I need some fact, directions, and ideas when inspired while on the go, finding what I need is a few clicks away.

    Although I do love old school methods, and still enjoy writing with pen and paper, we should embrace technology and the distinct advantages it offers. The points you make are all valid

  17. Raam Dev says:

    Your last point about being able to instantly answer the “I wonder” questions is right on the mark. In addition to instantly filling my random curiosities, I can also look up the definitions for words I haven’t heard of as soon as I hear them.

    I’ve also gotten into “the zone” many times while away from the computer and pumped out 500 words or more while waiting in line for something. When I have ideas for future posts, I jot them down in my phone with a few keywords to remind myself what to write about.

  18. Ritergal says:

    I can see the value of smart phones.Lust is setting in. However, they are quite difficult for me to see, and would be a serious strain on my budget. I’m also a bit taken aback by the fact that especially among the under 50 generation, so many people seem to be having Near or Second Life experiences, with 80% of their focus on their phones. How much NOW are they experiencing.

    I already live in cyberspace, one way or another, when I’m home. How much more of me do I want to slip through the portal? How virtual do I want to get?

    For now, it’s the wee moleskine that goes everywhere. Its size is comparable to a smart phone, and it doesn’t interrupt meetings.

  19. mk akan says:

    smart phones are great,,but ehhh ..i cant do without my pen and paper ..i guess am old skool..great post

  20. I just about always carry my journal with me. But when I’m walking or driving, it is a comfort to know I can grab my Iphone and speak a great idea into the voice recorder. Or make a note!

  21. I am a huge fan of pen and paper. That way, my thoughts flow better and I can concentrate better. Also, I am never dependent on the battery dieing or breaking my laptop.

    I can always buy a pen and a paper and create whenever I feel like it. I think people are becoming to dependent on technology, which, in my opinion, can be a huge hindrance to creativity and growth.

    When I write, I combine both modern and out dated technology. However, I noticed that if I am struggling with a topic, pen and paper always saves the day.

    Best,
    Tomas

  22. Omar says:

    I like pen and paper. A smartphone is good. Its good for late at night when you don’t want to turn on the light. There’s something about using a pen and paper when writing down ideas. It’s more personal and I tend to remember things better when I write.

  23. Playstead says:

    Great post, I totally agree. Evernote has saved my bacon a million times, and is such a great program. One key is to make sure you get the right smartphone — for YOU. Get thoughts from your friends and then find out for yourself. It won’t do you any good if the device isn’t comfortable and easy for you to use.

  24. Susan says:

    The concept is great, but I really find it frustrating to write due to the small keys. I have a Blackberry. Maybe some of the other phones make it easier!

  25. My husband recently asked me if I really needed my smart phone. I said absolutely. I couldn’t agree with your post more! Linda

  26. Mike Perry says:

    There’s a discussion of this topic on a writer’s forum:

    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=6776

    TaskPaper for the Mac has long been an excellent writer’s tool, since it combines outlining, note taking and project to-do lists in one handy, well-designed package. Last week, the developer just came out with an iPhone/iPod touch version of TaskPaper with an excellent UI.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/taskpaper/id354540092?mt=8

    The iPhone and Mac versions autosync their documents via WiFi or cellular. Take a note on the go, and it’s waiting for you on your Mac when you get home. Edit it there, and the iPhone version gets the changes. It’s the best application pair I’ve seen for taking notes as a writer.

  27. Fransisca says:

    I’ll buy 1.Can Ever Note be installed in BB?