On Breaking out of Boxes with an iPhone

I’m doing an experiment . . .

Typically, I only work on one piece of fiction at a time. I eat, breath, and sleep it, taking my characters around with me throughout the day and wondering what they’d do if they were in my shoes, even if my shoes are busy doing utterly mundane things – washing clothes, buying groceries, walking out to get the mail. I begin to develop a sort of soundtrack for the project, too, and end up listening to nothing but that album, artist, or playlist for weeks or months at a time (often, I’m sure, annoying the hell out of houseguests and passengers in my car). I live it, basically. I dive headfirst into the world I’m trying to create.

I stick to one project, in part, to avoid losing the thread of things. I always carry a great deal of a story around in my head, constantly adding, editing, and tweaking, and worry that if I go and get myself carried away with other characters and other situations, I’ll come back to that original story and find a whole bunch of it missing.

But sometimes, midway through a story or a novel, I get an idea. A good one. One I’m almost certain (you can never be plain old certain) has legs. Nice long ones that will take me all the way to that faraway finish line: THE END.

My former practice was to jot these ideas down in a notebook. I’d scribble out a quick synopsis and promise myself to come back to it later. And sometimes I would come back to it – and sometimes just as soon as I finished the draft or revision of that first piece. Other times I’d forget about that particular scribble, only coming across it months or even years later (or, I fear, never).

The other day, though, one of those ideas struck, and there wasn’t a scrap of paper or a writing implement in sight. (All right, fine: I was in bed, being super-lazy.) So I reached for my phone and wrote myself one of those little notes. And then kept on writing . . . and writing . . . until I’d finished what just might be a first chapter.

Here’s a random snippet:


Later on, when I sat down at my desk (i.e., the dining room table) and opened up my laptop, I easily settled into work on the other project, the one I’ve been working on for weeks now. There was none of that interference. The characters of one story didn’t pop up in another. They didn’t start thinking, talking, or acting like each other. If anything, I came back to that original project feeling even more thoroughly, and productively, involved.

Why? I think it’s got a lot to do with just how different it felt to write in bed on a cell phone.

Writers can be pretty superstitious about their process. I know I am. I almost always sit in the same spot, drink from the same coffee cup, and, as I mentioned above, listen to the same music (don’t even get me started on fonts and margins – I’m a total nutcase). But breaking out of that box has allowed me to try something new, and has, I think, injected some new life into my work.

So I’ve kept it going. I’ve established some rules, though:

1. I can only work on this new project on my phone, no matter how badly I’m itching to e-mail it to myself, to cut-and-paste it into a Word document and just start typing away (with all ten fingers, too, instead of just my clumsy thumbs).

2. I can only work on this new project in unusual (for me) places – lying in bed, for instance, or waiting for a pot of water to boil, or standing on an epically long line, or sitting on hold listening to crappy Muzak.

It’s been fun.


Full of new challenges.

Like I’ll be thumbing out a sentence when I hear a sizzle and, looking up, find that the pot of water isn’t just boiling, but boiling over, hot bubbles pouring out onto the stove and then cascading over the edge and onto the floor. Which gets the dog barking. Which, in turn, gets the cat mewling. Not to mention the fact that dinner’s now in jeopardy…

Of course, I’m not always on my phone. Plenty of the time, I keep my phone tucked in my pocket. Instead of tapping away at that next chapter, I look around and listen. That’s how I get a lot of my ideas, after all.

I’ll let you know, anyway, how the phone-composing goes. So far, I’m enjoying what my thumbs are coming up with. There’s been a fender-bender, a few lies told, some secrets kept, and – you guessed it – a lot of tacos. That’s all I can say.

Now go upset your own routine, too. Kick down the sides of whatever boxes you’ve built around yourself.

Don’t destroy the thing, though – you’re probably going to have to get back into it to get some work done.

Thanks for reading! Come back soon.

2 thoughts on “On Breaking out of Boxes with an iPhone

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