Tips And Apps for Using a Mobile Device to Produce Better Writing

General, thesaurus Off 164

Wow. I haven’t updated Market Misfit in about 3 weeks. My focus outside of the office has been wading in my science fiction novel, a project I’ve been developing for about two years now. I’m sticking with my New Years Resolution to produce a rough manuscript by end of the year, and tentatively I’m on track. Maybe I’m further along that I even realize.

I do promise to the “meat” of this blog post (go ahead and skip to the Apps part if you want) but since I haven’t posted in weeks, allow me to blurt a somewhat verbose explanation of what I’m up to these days.

My fiction-writing journey so far has been enriching; it has evolved from merely documenting creative things to actually writing something coherent and readable. My characters have awakened with some sort of literary consciousness, my own imaginary simulated lifeforms described on digital documents. My right brain chugs furiously, transforming calories into energy that keeps the neurons firing strong even in my sleep (even my dreams seem to get increasingly more surreal and fantastic the more I think and write fiction).

As all of these ideas mature into a story, the pieces assemble themselves as they’re falling like a busy game of Tetris. My made-up universe has become so vivid today that I am responding to most questions about it with the same certainty as if someone had just asked me what I had for lunch on Sunday. (It was BBQ’ed burgers and about 7 pints of homebrew beer, by the way.)

It’s an undertaking, no matter how dutiful, and one I am enjoying. This book will get finished and to all of the published writers out there, and a nod to all of those who have been so supportive of my writing so far: Respect. You know who you are!

Most of what I’m working now is dialogue and character development, so I spend a significant amount of time in ways I imagine your stereotypical psych patient does: pacing floors, scribbling on whiteboards and in notebooks, talking aloud to myself, acting out how I think my characters would act, and jotting notes of things I observe and read.

My idle mind wanders, and my story unfolds in my mind in the most convenient places, for instance, the line at the DMV, or the relative calm and privacy of a bathroom.

Since this happens on a regular basis, and I’m horrible at remembering the numerous details that flutter in and out of my mind at a moment’s notice, one tool that has become invaluable to me in this crazy thing called writing has been my mobile… thing. It’s not a “phone” anymore to me; that’s just one of its many uses. Its phone-like qualities have been usurped by a number of other really useful traits, so I proclaim we generalize it a bit and just vaguely call it a “device”.

So my mobile device, (I prefer the massive EVO 4G from Sprint), has been instrumental to my writing. Here are some cool ways that mobile devices can help you with the writing process and apps to keep the word juice flowing.

The Internet is the most useful distraction for writing the world has ever seen.

Vast amounts of information, collected and compiled throughout human history, have been digitized in some way. And all of this data is mostly incessant noise designed to get your attention.

As I write, I use Internet reference tools to gather correct spelling/grammar usage, synonyms, antonyms, “Word Mining” for lack of a better term, fact-check, and fact-gather.

Having access to these tools on my mobile phone makes it convenient enough to get quick answers to things without compelling me to click and read another article about what Steve Jobs had for dinner last night. And, the small touch screen isn’t nearly as engrossing as my PC monitor.

I simply turn the Internet off on my PC and regress it to a simple Word processor, and use my EVO for these references. This keeps my mind on the important stuff and focuses my attention on my writing.

Awesome App: Dropbox

DropboxPurpose: To store files in an easy, accessible cloud from both PCs and mobile devices by adding its own folder to your Windows desktop.

Benefit: You will never lose your stuff, you can access it from both PC and any Android mobile device, and you can pretty much store anything you want.

How I’m Using it: I usually write on either my Laptop and Desktop. The biggest annoyance of working on things in multiple places at once is a surefire way to overwrite something important, or in the least make your files out-of-date or confusing.

The worst nightmare of all is losing all of your content if any of those devices crash. (Yes, it has happened.)

With Dropbox my files are safe, yet I can access them on any PC or my Mobile phone. This enables me to carry my work with me wherever I go.

The Dropbox “cloud” is free to set up (or paid, if you want more than 2 gigs of storage), and is very simple: On your PC, it creates a folder you can drag and drop files into. On your mobile device, you can save data to the same folder, open any valid document types, etc.

You can also share documents with other people by making folders in your Dropbox account “Public” and inviting them to share it with you.

Sign up for Dropbox free here. (Which by the way, the referral helps me out as well!)

Awesome App 2: Catch

Catch Notes for AndroidI recently discovered Catch Notes through a fellow storywriter. Catch is mobile note-taking on steroids. Not to mention, it is also free. And freakin’ awesome.

Purpose: Taking notes, be it text, image, or voice recording.

Benefit: Collection and organization of pretty much anything you can think of, when you think of it.

How I’m Using It: At any time, I can touch the Catch icon on my screen and write text, snap a photo, or collect voice notes. When I’m done, I can add searchable hash tags to keep track of these ideas and what I was thinking about at the time. There are so many elements to storywriting, this helps keep these thoughts organized. Depending on what my notes are, I may use search-able hash tags like #charactername #philosophy #conversation, #act3, etc. so if I search for that topic I’ll find all of my notes I’ve placed for it.

**UPDATE**: Catch Notes has sadly since went the way of the dinosaur and the dodo. Try Evernote instead.

Awesome App 3:

Dictionary and ThesaurusPurpose: Even the kids who don’t “read good” know what a Dictionary or a Thesaurus is.

Benefit: It’s on your phone, which doesn’t weigh 2.3 pounds. Oh, and you can search.

How I’m Using It: Pretty much as you would ever use a dictionary or thesaurus. As I write, sometimes I’m not sure of the spelling or usage of a word. Or, I want a word that explains a little more precisely what I’m trying to convey. As I write, I’ll do quick spot-checks on these words and phrases.

Oh, and this app is free.

Awesome App 4: Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha for AndroidPurpose: Instant calculations of factual data in many, many, many categories.

Benefit: Make your writing more realistic with facts, measurements, and data.

How I’m Using It: I’m writing a science fiction book, so yeah, it’s fantasy fiction, which means my characters can say whatever they please. My favorite fantasy fiction is embedded with useful trivia and facts, things that are grounded in reality and have some hidden truths within, no matter how trivial, and as long as they’re interesting and help move the story along.

The sci-fi universe I’ve constructed in my mind parallels our own in many respects. We’re not flying around in space or traveling in time, but we do have a lot of kick-ass technology. Because my story is told with a timeline of progression, I still need some sense of grounding in reality to create the atmosphere I want.

There are situations like this in my book, where I want to have realistic measurements or calculations of things. You can use it online for free, but for a buck or two, this mobile app is well worth it.

Illustrating Concepts to Be Descriptive

One method I’ve been using lately to develop the details of my story settings and technology is by making (rather crude) illustrations of them.

Drawing forces me to consider the details about the physical appearance of things. By drawing out their shapes, I am forced to consider the minute details that I may have never other considered. My book isn’t illustrated, but this activity is far from a waste of time. Visually seeing it makes it more real to me, and with that knowledge I can in turn make my writing far more realistic and descriptive.

I will draw in a sketchbook or even on a napkin if that is all I have. But I most prefer drawing on the gigantic whiteboard wall in my bedroom. I will sometimes pull out a D marker and go crazy, making drawings, diagrams, charts, pictures, etc…. to try to visualize my concepts. When I run out of space, I take a series of quick snapshot with my Mobile phone, save it to Catch. Rinse and repeat.

Do you use your mobile device as a reference and/or notetaking tool? Do you have any other cool uses? Please add them to your comments below!

About the author / 


Adam is an enigma, folded gently into dough, wrapped inside of cellophane, and hidden on the top shelf where he peers at passersby. He lives in Portland, OR with his wife and two dogs.

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