Silence—a Hostile Work Environment?

I find it nearly impossible to write in total silence.

I was still in high school when I discovered I was most productive in environments that weren’t absolutely quiet. Back then, I would take a portable typewriter to the university snack bar to pound out prose. Years later, when I was writing my master’s thesis, I would park in a booth at Taco Bell with my laptop. A friend of mine was the manager there, so I’d buy a drink and he’d bring me free food.

For a while I thought I was just quirky—or even defective. Then I read David Mamet’s book, Writing in Restaurants, in which the award-winning playwright and screenwriter equates public writing with performance art. A writer in a restaurant is, in many ways, similar to the sidewalk chalk artist who draws both pictures and crowds. The act of public writing includes an unspoken obligation to your “audience.” I know from my own experience that the pressure to “perform” helps keep me on task … even if the pressure is all in my head.

When writing in public, Mamet says, “Joy and sorrow can be displayed and observed ‘unwittingly,’ the writer scowling naively and the diners wondering, What the hell is he doing? Then, again, the writer may be truly unobserved, which affects not a jot the scourge of popular opinion on his overactive mind.”

I wrote most of my first NaNoWriMo novel at a McDonalds in Draper, Utah, where the dining room technically closed at midnight but the staff didn’t mind if I hung around longer. For 99¢ (plus tax) I got unlimited Diet Coke, free WiFi and just enough background noise to get my creative juices flowing. I also got words of encouragement from the cashiers who rooted for me from behind the counter. When I hit 50,000 words and “won” at about 11:45 p.m. on November 30, the restaurant’s employees joined me in my victory dance. It felt like a standing ovation.

Recently, I came across an article that refined my thinking somewhat. The Harvard Business Review piece, “Why You Can Focus in a Coffee Shop but Not in Your Open Office,” reviewed new research on “open office” environments, where office walls doors and even cubicle partitions are dumped with the intent of creating a more collaborative, collegial atmosphere. Anyone who’s ever worked in an open office knows that the model tends to stifle productivity rather than fostering it. The key question is why.

One of the studies mentioned in the article, this one conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found that “the right level of background noise—not too loud and not total silence—may actually boost one’s creative thinking ability.” Obviously, the “right level” for one person might not be right for the next. But there is some pretty good research to give us general numbers. According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Research, “… [A] moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks…. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity.”

A separate study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggested it’s the lack of privacy as much as noise levels that can torpedo productivity in an open office setting.

Which makes perfect sense. While a moderately busy restaurant or coffee shop provides plenty of background chatter to drown out the silence, it also provides a level of relative anonymity you don’t get around your co-workers. Unless you live in a very small town, most people you encounter in public are strangers. When you write in a restaurant, you’re alone in a crowd.

Or as Mamet puts it, “In a restaurant one is both observed and unobserved.”

Obviously, sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop puts you in the crosshairs of the Chatty Cathys of the world. This can pose a real threat to productivity. “What are you writing?” “A novel! What’s it about?” “I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Let me spend the next 40 minutes telling you about it….” This happened to me a number of times until I learned the number one rule of writing in restaurants: don’t make eye contact.

This finding is borne out by a paper presented at the annual conference of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which found “that face-to-face interaction, [and] conversation … may disrupt the the creative process.” Interestingly, the creativity factors these authors tested for include “originality, elaboration, flexibility and fluency”—exactly what you want when you sit down to a writing session. You just have to find a way to keep the kibitzers at bay.

All of this goes to say that where you work—and especially where you write—may have a profound impact on how much and how well you produce. I get it; there are people who require complete silence to get their creative juices flowing. Others need music. The key, of course, is experimenting with different environments to find out what works best for you. If you’re having trouble getting your creative on at home, try trading the silence for some anonymous chatter.

Incidentally, if you find that you’re one of those people who thrives on background chatter, but you can’t always head to the nearest Starbucks to write, there’s a solution for that. Download the Coffitivity app (available for Android and Apple devices) and take your coffee-shop noise with you wherever you go.

You’ll just have to provide your own caffeine.

Silence - a hostile work environment

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

Upping the Word Count

I’m notorious for slow sprints… running and writing 😉 But recently I’ve learned—well, have been forced to learn—how to up my pace in my writing sprints. Thank you, Nano! 😉

I was at a pretty steady pace of 1000 words an hour, which is nothing to frown at, but I had no idea I could get better. Now I’m doubling that number, and here’s a few tips on how I did it.

Upping the Word Count.png

No distractions

Write straight through. No toggling between tabs—in fact, keep open only the manuscript. I even shut down my “research” while I draft, and use all caps or weird combinations of letters to search for later. Before, it would take me two or three sprints to reach the flow. (The flow is that zone every writer can find themselves in where the story takes them away, and the world around them becomes the book their writing.)

Now that flow is found within minutes 😉

Summarize your chapters

Before you sit down with your keyboard, sit down with a pen and paper. Write absolute nonsense about what you want to happen within the upcoming chapter. I know you pantsers are screaming at me right now 😉 but trust me, this allows your muse to keep talking at the end of each paragraph. There will be no awkward pauses in thought, and you might find yourself writing something unexpected.

Write the entire chapter

Instead of going until a certain time, write until you’re done. This also helps during revisions so nothing feels disconnected. If you don’t have chapters during your drafts, write the scene in its entirety. Take a five/ten minute break, then write the next one. Sometimes you’ll be done within the hour, sometimes less, sometimes more. But you’ll feel ten times better knowing that you didn’t drop off in the middle of a scene or chapter.

Set aside the time

We all have lives outside of writing, believe me, I know. This next one may take some trial and error, but find the time of day when you won’t be interrupted. Like for me, right now, it’s a bad time because the husband and children have all come in at least five times to ask me where something is or to wipe their butt 😉 (Not the hubby on that one!) But I find my zone at certain times on certain days, which took some figuring out.

For example, Mondays I know I have from 10-11 to write in the morning, and then from 8-10:30 that night. Tuesdays I have 10-11 in the morning and that’s it. Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8-bedtime, and Fri-Sun forget about it!

Because I know that time is precious I make the most of it.

I promise this works if you follow it. I’m able to write 1500-2500 words in an hour-long sprint when I’m this focused and when I take the five minutes beforehand to prepare. Which means writing 50K in a month not only seemed possible, it seemed inevitable 😀

Good luck out there!

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Cassie Mae is the author of a dozen or so books. Some of which became popular for their quirky titles, characters, and stories. She likes writing about nerds, geeks, the awkward, the fluffy, the short, the shy, the loud, the fun.

Author photo 2017.jpg

Since publishing her bestselling debut, Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend, she’s published several titles with Penguin Random House and founded CookieLynn Publishing Services. She is represented by Sharon Pelletier at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. She has a favorite of all her book babies, but no, she won’t tell you what it is. (Mainly because it changes depending on the day.)

Along with writing, Cassie likes to binge watch Once Upon A Time and The Flash. She can quote Harry Potter lines quick as a whip. And she likes kissing her hubby, but only if his facial hair is trimmed. She also likes cheesecake to a very obsessive degree.

You can stalk, talk, or send pictures of Luke Bryan to her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cassiemaeauthor

Speak Your Mind: A Real-Time Dictation Experiment

This . . . is going to be an interesting post to write. I need you, Reader, to bear witness to a little experiment.

Here’s the background: I’ve been playing around with Dragon Dictation for my iPhone lately, mostly to record quick ideas that I come up with while I’m in the car and can’t safely type. I’ve found that it picks up on my speech very well. So today, with this year’s upcoming NaNoWriMo in mind, I decided to go ahead and purchase the Home version for my PC Laptop. It’s a bit of a splurge, but I feel like it will be worth it to keep my writing flow going. I could just go ahead and keep using the mobile version, but the problem, I’ve found, is that the mobile version will randomly stop recording (maybe because I’ve paused for too long? I’m not sure), and I won’t realize it until I pull my phone out of my pocket to see where I’m at. The PC version isn’t supposed to do that. So far, I’m finding this is true. The mic hasn’t turned off unless I’ve told it to.

Anyway, I mentioned an experiment. This is it. This post that you’re reading right now . . . is the experiment. I’m using Dragon on my laptop for the first time while “writing” this, and I will now tell you, in real time, what’s working for me and what’s not. I know. Meta.

speakyourmind

So here’s the first thing I’m noticing: remembering to add in punctuation as I speak is really slowing me down. It’s tripping up the flow of my thoughts. In fact, remembering to say “comma,” “period,” and “new line” means my dictation is actually much slower than my typing. This may change as I get used to it, but . . . hmm . . . how about I try something else? How about I just ignore all punctuation, and speak, not as if I’m dictating, but as if I’m casually talking to another person in the room? I can go back and edit in the punctuation and paragraph breaks afterward. (Obviously, most of the punctuation that you’re seeing right now has been added post stream-of-consciousness word vomit.)

The main purpose of writing via dictation for me is to get my thoughts out of my head and onto the screen. Sometimes (not all the time) I have trouble doing that while typing, as if somewhere along the journey between my neural pathways and the muscles in my fingers, my thoughts run out of gas and have to pull over—a bit ironic seeing that I’m writing this post for a blog called Thinking Through Our Fingers.

This occasional brain-to-page disconnect is why editing and revising is so much more pleasant for me than drafting. Once I have my thoughts down, I have something tangible to work with. It’s easier to replace and move around words that are already there.

A way that I’ve sometimes been able to get past this is to switch back and forth between typing and handwriting. And now I have dictation as a third option. And that makes me think of another way in which I will surely be using dictation to assist me with my writing—dictating handwritten pages into my word processor will be so much faster (and easier on my joints) than typing it in.

And here’s something else I’m enjoying about dictating this post. I can get up and move around. I’m not tied to my keyboard. Sometimes pacing and other forms of movement can help get my thoughts flowing, and I know this is true for a lot of other people as well. I may, (dare I even think it?) even find myself dictating my novel while exercising, or doing the dishes, or knitting, or even soaking in the tub. Yes! While taking a bath! With my laptop out of harm’s way, if I speak loudly enough for the mic to pick up my voice, I’m sure it could work. This also means I have no more excuses not to write. Hmm . . . maybe that isn’t such a bonus after all (says the chronic procrastinator.)

Now let’s pause for an update. Remember how in the beginning of this post, I observed that having to dictate punctuation was slowing me down, so I decided to stop? It has now been about five minutes, and I’ve written about 600 words. That would normally take me a half an hour on a REALLY good day—and hour or more on a bad one. Granted, here’s a screenshot of those words:

dragonunedited.JPG

Ugh. It’s one huge run-on-sentence, stream-of-consciousness paragraph. The editing may take me at least three times as long as the initial dictation took. Not only will I need to add in punctuation and paragraph breaks, but it looks like I’ll also need to remove or rewrite garbled sentences that I swear sounded much better out loud than they look on the page. But as I said earlier, I’m fine with that. I’m just thrilled to have so many words down so quickly; so many words to work with that would never have made it onto the page before.

Overall, I’d say that for me, this experiment has been a success. I am going to dictate the heck out of my NaNoWriMo novel. It’s going to be so great. I’m am so very, very excited. I may change my tune in December when I’m faced with gargantuan revisions, but for now, I think this is going to work.

Do you use dictation for writing? If so, please tell us in the comments what you think of it, and if you have any good tips!

(Note: I forgot to keep track of how long it actually took me to edit this, but I’d say it was probably around fifteen minutes, for those of you who are interested.)

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Does What We Use to Write Influence How We Write? (iPad vs. AlphaSmart)

I write differently depending on what I use to write. I figured out along the way that I use Scrivener most effectively for revisions but not drafting. When I dictate what I want to write, I primarily write dialogue or direct thoughts (sort of like a deep POV). I’ve always viewed longhand writing as a romantic possibility, but sadly, it isn’t an option for me due to a lingering case of carpal tunnel syndrome. This aspect of the writing process has always been interesting to me, akin to a recent study showing that use of digital media vs. paper influences the way we think.

A month ago, my laptop was pronounced (incorrectly) as dead, as a paperweight, as a piece of scrap. The end of the story however is a happy one: my laptop is fully functional again, and my fingers are lovingly tapping away at the keys as I type this post. However, during that month where we were separated, I had to figure out what to use to write. I have two other writing devices, though: my iPad and my AlphaSmart Neo. These devices are great for portable writing, and having no laptop for four weeks gave me the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each. In the end, I found a clear winner in terms of productivity, and so today, I offer my comparison of these two writing devices.

Did each of these writing tools ultimately affect how I wrote? You bet it did.

First, my tablet. I have an iPad and iPad mini, the latter of which is shown below with its keyboard*. Incidentally, some of the pros and cons to on-the-go writing with a tablet are similar to if you use your laptop for portable writing.

*This is the setup that I have for my iPad mini with a Logitech keyboard.
I was going to take an actual picture of it, but my kids are using it.

iPad Pros:
Very compact (especially the iPad mini). I can slip my tablet quite easily into my purse and even with the case, it is very portable and doesn’t take up a lot of room.

Easy to revise and edit. This could be a pro or a con. I use the Pages app on my iPad (the iPad-friendly equivalent to Word), so it’s easy to scroll through and revise/edit. Now, I happen to be in the drafting phase, and this is not so great for me, because sometimes I wind up revising instead of what I should be doing, which is laying down new words.

Night-writing. If you’re like me, writing can (and sometimes needs to) occur at all hours, depending on when inspiration and energy strikes. However, recent research shows that staring at bright screens can mess up your sleep patterns. I discovered this handy trick not too long ago where you can invert colors on your screen by going to Settings –> General –> Accessibility –> Invert Colors. The first time I figured this out, it was magical. No more eye strain from staring at a white screen in the dark whilst sharing a hotel room with sleeping children, or at 4 a.m. when your brain wakes you up and demands a bit of dialogue be written. (This is not just an iPad specific thing. I do this on my laptop as well under System Preferences).

iPad Cons: 
Charging. I’m usually good about remembering to pack my charger, but I’ve found myself in an occasional pinch when I’m writing and get a low battery alert, and suddenly my writing quest has morphed into a quest for an electrical outlet. No bueno. (Note: My portable keyboard only requires a charge every month or so, and that’s with fairly regular use.)

Not distraction-free. I’m prone to distraction. It’s my Achilles’ Heel. I realize that this is purely on me, but this winds up being the biggest con for the iPad. However, I have been able to mostly get around this by removing apps from my iPad that provide distractions aplenty (i.e., every single social media app is gone from my iPad). However, it’s still too easy to hop onto it to zip off that quick email, or get onto a browser in the name of book research, and suddenly twenty minutes or *cough* more have gone by.

My kids want the iPad. Self-explanatory.

Now for the AlphaSmart. If you’ve never heard of this wonderful device, that’s because they are fairly old school. The AlphaSmart is a portable word processor that is used for one thing only: typing. There are several models out there, and I’ll explain where I got mine below.

This is actually my AlphaSmart Neo 2, with my bony hand shown so you can get an idea of scale.

AlphaSmart Pros:
– Battery powered with auto-backup for files. The AlphaSmart uses two AA batteries, and battery life is long. I’ve hardly even made a dent in my battery life in the several months since I got mine, and other writers report average life with typical use to be about a year or so. All of your keystrokes are automatically saved to the AlphaSmart’s RAM, even if you take out the batteries (or let them die). I’m a bit paranoid about my iPad files, saving them to Dropbox and Google Docs after each major writing session. Why? Because I’ve lost quite a bit of progress before when the app crashed. I never have to worry about this with the AlphaSmart.

Distraction-free. There are a few extra features on the AlphaSmart such as a calculator, and a word counter, and some typing applets, but they are not Facebook or Twitter. I don’t find the calculator distracting at all (I didn’t know it was there until a friend told me about it), I check my word count after each session, and I don’t even mess with the typing applets because I don’t know what they are. When I use my AlphaSmart, I type, type some more, and keep typing.

– Full-sized keyboardThe feel of the AlphaSmart is really nice. It’s very ergonomic and while the device is slightly bulkier than an iPad (see below), that con is offset by the benefit of a full-sized keyboard.

Inexpensive. I purchased mine for $25. Whoa. That’s less than what I paid for my carpal tunnel arm brace.

– My kids aren’t that interested in it. Self-explanatory.

AlphaSmart Cons: 
– Bulkier. This, of course, is a relative thing. Because of the full-sized keyboard, my AlphaSmart is a bit larger than my iPad mini. It’s not flat like a tablet either, but it is still very portable, weighing in at a little under two pounds. (Yes, I actually weighed it on the scale I use to weigh my guinea pig.)

– No to night-writing. The screen for the AlphaSmart is not backlit and therefore not conducive to night-writing. That is, unless you have a book light or wear a head lamp.

– Transferring files required. The AlphaSmart allows you to set up a total of 8 files, each file set up to hold approximately 10K words (I’m using each file for a different chapter that I’m drafting). When you’re done writing, you do need to transfer your files to a computer. There is supposed to be some way to transfer it using an infrared (IR) signal, but I don’t have the IR app for my laptop. Instead, the AlphaSmart comes with a USB cord that attaches to your laptop, and when you connect the two and hit a magical “send” button on the AlphaSmart, it will transfer what you’ve written to a file on your laptop. It does this by emulating all of the keystrokes in the AlphaSmart file you choose, so this can take up to several minutes (Out of all of the AlphaSmart features, my kids find watching this emulation process the most entertaining. I’m okay with this.)

Third-party seller required. i.e., eBay. I originally learned about the AlphaSmart from another writer, and she had posted all of the things she liked about it (mostly the fact that it got her away from Facebook). She indicated she got it from eBay; this is because the AlphaSmart was discontinued in 2013**. I’d been riding the Struggle Bus with my WIP for some time and the idea of a distraction-free writing device to finish this draft appealed to me. Within minutes, I found several that were priced between $20-30 from eBay sellers with high ratings. (Yes, you always want to check seller ratings and feedback before purchasing.) I selected one from a top-rated seller that was listed with a “Buy-It-Now” option (because I hate waiting for auctions to end) that came with a guarantee and free returns, and within a few days, I was typing away.

**The company that made the AlphaSmart has online guides and technical information for all of their AlphaSmart models at http://www.renaissance.com (enter keywords in the search field to find what you’re looking for).

Winner, winner, chicken dinner?

I mentioned above that there was a winner in terms of which device served me better this past month. The AlphaSmart was what I used almost exclusively. With it, I drafted completely new scenes, very rough ones that will ultimately require a few rounds of revision once I transfer them into my file on my laptop. But drafting was my goal, and I’m happy with my progress thanks to this little word processor.

The one time this month that I shifted over to my iPad mini was when I had to travel to Denver with my family for a wedding; I threw it in my purse along with the plethora of snacks I carried for the kids. I wrote a bit during the flights and at night in the hotel room, and while I did get some writing done, it was all revision and fine-tuning.

Now… I just have to figure out what to do now that I have my laptop back. 🙂

What do you use to write? Does it influence how you write? I would love to hear from you below!

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She writes on whatever she can get her hands on.
You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.

Mindful Writing: A Lesson from the Art of Mindful Learning

As part of my academic life, I recently attended a wonderful presentation about “Mindful Learning.” My initial expectation was that this would be another talk about how to teach, primarily centered on pedagogy and research methods. But as the speaker began his discussion, I was delighted. What he spoke about had great significance to teaching, but also on how to live your life. And yes, on how to write.

In writing, mindfulness is key.

If you’re interested in a full discourse on mindful learning, the presenter gave us some great resources about the topic, including the highly recommended book called Mindful Learning by Drs. Craig Hassed and Richard Chambers. As a sampling, here are three of the bigger points that I took away from his presentation on mindful learning:

Mindful learning is a way to increase attention to and engagement with our surroundings.  Maybe it’s simply by paying attention to the scenery during your drive into work or to the feel of the steam on your face when you take that first sip of tea in the morning. By using our full senses to engage with our surroundings, we immerse ourselves in the experience, and those experiences become much more memorable.

Mindful learning can greatly reduce stress by blocking out stimuli that competes for our attention. In today’s socialized structure, our attentions are drawn to many competing activities that draw from our focus. Developing personal strategies for managing those stimuli and potential sources of distraction is essential.

Mindful learning is a way to get past surface understanding and ultimately achieve deep understanding. True mindfulness means going beyond what you “need to know.” Being able to make connections and apply what you know to real-world situations requires experience, exposure, and practice. Above all, keep practicing!

As the presenter went on, he asked us whether anyone could think of ways in which we already apply mindfulness in our lives. Ooh, Me Me! I immediately thought of all of the connections to writing, but I did not actually raise my hand and jump up and down in my seat, as I wanted to sit and reflect upon these things some more. I did approach the presenter after his talk to share my thoughts, and he enthusiastically agreed that writing allows for an excellent chance to be mindful.

My thoughts about mindfulness and writing.

Mindful writing is a way to increase awareness and engagement with your storyWriting mindfully means allowing yourself to sink deeply into a character’s mind so that you truly understand their needs, hopes, fears, and motivations. To do your characters justice, you must tap into their voices and tell their story in a way that makes your reader care. I’ve personally found that meditation exercises or engaging in a directed visualization exercise for writers can help access various aspects of my story, whether it be for world-building, characterization, dialogue, or plotting. 

Mindful writing can greatly reduce pressure by blocking out stimuli that competes for our attention.   Mindfulness requires focus. What’s that, you say? Avoiding distraction is impossible due to the many demands which may or may not involve writing with children underfoot or writing while on-the-go? Take baby steps, my friends. Maybe blocking out stimuli may start turning off your Wi-fi or stepping away from social media. Or if that’s too frightening of a prospect, limiting yourself to a time period at the end of the day to catch up on your social networks. Or making sure you have your headphones to connect to your characters via a writing playlist. Or escaping to a cabin in the mountains. (Hey, anything is possible, right? Writing retreats are wonderful. Here’s a post on how to plan a dreamy one.)

Mindful writing is a way to get past surface understanding and ultimately achieve deep understanding with your craft. Gaining a deeper understanding of the writing process means seeking new ways to immerse yourself in the craft. A good critique group can teach you how to critically and constructively evaluate writing (and I have learned much about writing by reading the stories produced by my talented group). Reading just the right book about craft can light the fire under you if you happen to be low in motivation or inspiration. Attending writing conferences can expose you to new techniques, experiences, and opportunities to interact with other writers. ABOVE ALL, KEEP WRITING!

What are the ways that you have been mindful with your writing?
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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.

Top 5 Favorite Writing Apps For Your Phone

Wait, what? Why would someone ever choose to write on his or her phone, do you say? I used to ask myself the same question. I used to think I would never ever write on my phone.

But then I found myself in situations when I was frustrated because I couldn’t get those ideas down. Phones are portable. They go pretty much wherever you go. Phones are inconspicuous, if you care about that sort of thing, because everyone around you is already playing Candy Crush on their phones. For me, typing into a phone is usually faster than writing longhand in a notebook and safer than scrawling the note on a napkin.

So I may have eaten my words a bit (pun intended). Using my phone to jot down an idea, a bit of dialogue, or a full scene or *gasp* MORE became practical during doctor’s visits, intermissions of my son’s choir concert, while waiting in a long line, or waiting the fifteen minutes for the dinosaur of my office’s copy machine to finish a print job. I have heard that a phone may become useful even in the bathroom, though I admit to nothing. I have a friend who drafted an entire book on her phone while sitting up during the wee hours of the morning with a child with chronic night-waking issues.

Having said that, it goes without saying that it is much more preferable to sit in a nice comfy chair in front of your writing desk or on a chaise lounge in the mountains with a laptop and do all of your writing with a magnificent view. But as busy people who are also writers., we can’t always be so lucky.

Today I’m going to share with you my can’t-do-without apps for writing on my phone. A few things about these first:

  • I am an iPhone addict user, so the following are iPhone apps. Most of these have the same or comparable apps on other platforms. These are ones that I actually use and have kept using, and I have a lot of apps that I have tried and deleted off my phone for the sake of saving space. So yes, these are my keepers.
  • There are many apps like Dropbox, Google Docs, Writing Journal, etc. that are excellent for facilitating the writing process and transfer of documents, but this post is specifically for apps that help you actually get those words written/revised.
  • These opinions are 100% my own and are not sponsored by any of the creators of the apps or the App Store or anyone associated with Apple, though if anyone would like to send me some free apps for all of the nice things I’m about to say, I wouldn’t say no. 

Here they are, in no particular order.

Evernote

What I love: My critique partner Tasha and I both use this app regularly, and we both love how Evernote allows you to easily organize your notes, annotate, do full searches within notes, and attach reminders on notes. We also love how Evernote automatically syncs between devices. It’s also easy to share documents for the purposes of collaboration. It’s password-protected so you can keep your documents safe (which is only a pitfall if you’re like me and always forget your password). This is a full-capacity app that does have a free version so you can test it out and see if you like it.

What I don’t always love: Honestly, there isn’t much I don’t like about this app. Because it has more features, it obviously took me longer to learn about the features. Sometimes I tinker a little too much and want a distraction-free writing zone, and so I use one of the other apps below.

Hanx Writer

What I love: Speaking of distraction-free writing, this app (created by Tom Hanks) is perfect for this! Quite simply put, using it is a lot of FUN. When you open it, it gives you the view of an old-fashioned typewriter with a blank piece of paper, and you just start hammering away at the keys — it gives you the option of on-screen keys that are part of the typewriter, or you can use a bluetooth keyboard. As you type, you’ll hear the sound of the typewriter keys, and I’ve found that something about the ambience that this creates makes it ideal for ridding myself of distractions. I use this app to fast-draft scenes or dialogue when I don’t have a lot of time or when there are lots of things going on around me (playground noise, restaurant noise, my son’s karate class), and I’m always surprised and pleased at how many words I can pound out on this little typewriter.
What I don’t always love: There’s not a lot of options for editing, aside from deleting and retyping, but again, I use this for fast-drafting in small increments of time. The biggest downside to this app that I’ve found is that it doesn’t sync, and when you do share via email, Dropbox, or other options, it shares as a PDF instead of text. My easy fix is to “Select all” and then paste it into an email to send to myself (or a Google Doc if you have that app as well). 

Dragon Dictation 

What I love: Dragon Dictation is, as its name specifies, for dictation of notes. It’s no frills — you simply push the record button and start talking. Compared to other dictation apps or even the iPhone built-in microphone option, I’ve found the translation ability of this app to be excellent. I’ve found it perfect for drafting out dialogue, especially when I’m on a long drive sans kids, though I’ve done it with the kids in the car too (the latter merely requires more editing of the kids’ contributions).

What I don’t always love: There can’t be a lot of background conversation or it will pick up those words as well. The app isn’t YOU, so the app will sometimes not know what word you mean (but again, it’s a lot better than any of the other dictation apps I’ve tried). Character’s names in particular tend to get butchered (but not always), and it doesn’t learn from correction. Accordingly, there will be a bit more clean-up than with other apps. There is no auto-sync feature, but you can email yourself what you have dictated. Great for times you need hands-free writing for whatever reason. Maybe for when you’re in the shower?…. (ooh, I should try that!).

Penultimate

What I love: Sometimes I just need to actually scribble something down. Or maybe sketch out a map to help me with world-building. Or make a flowchart. Penultimate is a notebook app that lets you write in it like you would with pen and paper. You can have several different notebooks, choose the type of “paper” you want and color pen you want, and scribble to your heart’s content. And yes, you could carry a notebook and pen around with you after all, but again, these apps are all about portability.  I’m proud to be a die-hard pantser writer, but I sometimes need to work out elements of my plot and literally connect the dots between characters or plot points, and Penultimate is great for that. The utility of this app will depend on how much you like to use notebooks for writing.
What I don’t always love: Penmanship has never been my strong suit, and I honestly don’t use this app as much on my phone as I do on my iPad because it’s harder to write on a smaller screen. I have a stylus to make the penning easier, though it does work with your finger. 

neu.Annotate PDF

What I love: This app allows you to scribble annotations right on your PDF files. You can use it somewhat like Penultimate, but it’s an awesome way to get some revising/writing done. When I reach that stage, I save my document as a PDF, open it in this app, and make quick annotations as I read. You have the options of using a highlighter or a variety of pens of different colors. It’s super easy to export or email the annotated files with this app too. (Also great for critique partners and beta readers, FYI).

What I don’t always love: Same as for Penultimate. I use my stylus, and it offsets the cons of trying to “pen” on your phone’s screen.

One more thing: There are always updates on these apps, and sometimes I don’t like a particular update for a specific reason. I always recommending reading the app’s “current version” reviews before updating to see what how people like the latest changes and/or what’s been improved.

Those are my favorite five! Thanks for stopping by our blog and letting me nerd out on my favorite apps 🙂
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What about you? Do you ever write on your phone? If so, please share your favorite apps!

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors of the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT. She writes on her iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.