How to Use an iPhone for Writing your Novel
I’m a commercially published author, so I’ve been through the process of writing a novel several times and know that inspiration can strike at any time. I’ve learnt that I need to write things down immediately before I forget them. Scraps of paper are fine for scribbled reminders, but transcribing the scribbles is painful and these days I have my iPhone with me practically all the time.
I’m working on a new novel, so decided to experiment with using my iPhone for writing, see how practical it is and pass my experiences on to you.
By the way: most of this advice should be applicable to Android and Windows phones too, but as I only have an iPhone I can only be certain it works for iPhone. As with my recommendations for novel writing software, I use everything in this article for real, and I’m getting no kickbacks for recommending anything.
Using an iPhone for writing: What’s the point?
It’s all about being able to write anywhere.
I travel a lot and sometimes I just don’t want to take my Macbook with me, so it’s great to have an even more portable option.
There are three ways of using an iPhone for writing: an external keyboard, voice dictation (Siri), and the on-screen keyboard. Let’s see what the strengths and weaknesses of each is.
Writing on the iPhone using an external keyboard
You need a couple of things to make this work:
- A stand
- A bluetooth keyboard
The stand I use is a Joby GripTight Micro. This has the advantage of folding down to almost nothing. You can see it folded up in the picture above (in the saucer of the coffee cup).
Once I fold the GripTight Micro out, it holds my iPhone at a good angle for work. Here’s how it looks when deployed:
The keyboard I use is the iRocks foldable Bluetooth keyboard. I found my iPhone recognised it immediately (of course you have to remember to turn Bluetooth on in the iPhone settings first).
When folded, the keyboard is a bit bigger than an iPhone 6, and it weighs about the same as the phone too. It folds out to about 90% of the size of a laptop keyboard. The keys have a ‘proper keyboard’ feel, though the space bar is a bit small.
Here’s how it looks when deployed:
I got my keyboard from Maplin here. There are other similar bluetooth keyboards available on Amazon and eBay. The advantage of the one I got was it had a UK keyboard layout – remember to check the keyboard layout suits you if you buy one from the internet.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The main advantage of an iPhone + keyboard combination is that it’s suitable for proper, ‘sit-down and get on with it’ writing. You can write thousands of words with this setup.
The combination is also about a quarter of the size and half the weight of a Macbook. An iPhone 6, bluetooth keyboard and stand weighs 1lb/450g. A 12″ Macbook weighs 2lb/900g and a Macbook Air is slightly heavier.
Taking into account that most people would be carrying the iPhone anyway, an iPhone + keyboard combination is a lot more portable than even the smallest, lightest Macbook, let alone bigger laptops.
The disadvantage is it requires forethought and setup. Though this combination is smaller and lighter than a Macbook, the keyboard isn’t really small enough to carry around in a pocket just in case, unless you have very big pockets. You also need to sit down at a table of some sort to write.
Another issue is that you still need to use the iPhone’s touchscreen occasionally, which is a little awkward. The iPhone doesn’t support a Bluetooth mouse or trackpad, so they’re not an option.
Overall though, this is a workable combination for first draft writing and worth considering when travelling light.
Writing on the iPhone using Siri
Strengths and Weaknesses
The main advantage of using Apple’s Siri voice dictation is it’s something you can do hands free. For example, you can dictate part of your novel while walking somewhere.
Voice dictation is activated from the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard by pressing the key with a microphone symbol on it – which is just to the left of the space bar.
You need to remember to say all your punctuation and formatting. This is initially annoying, but it gets easier with practice. Some voice commands to remember are:
- Punctuation: full stop, comma, exclamation mark etc. are all recognised.
- ‘New Paragraph’ and ‘New Line’ are both recognised.
- ‘Single quote’ and ‘Double quote’ – for dialogue.
Apple’s Siri voice recognition works, but it has drawbacks. For me at least, the accuracy is not 100% and I end up having to carefully check anything I dictate. In particular, Siri often doesn’t recognise the names of characters. Accuracy is better with a microphone and if I speak a little more precisely than normal.
I’ve also found that the voice dictation has a tendency to cut out, which can be annoying.
Obviously, talking to your phone is not always practical, particularly if you are self-conscious.
Siri voice dictation is probably best used when you are writing dialogue and know exactly what you want to say. If you’re ‘on a roll’ and can almost act out the scene, Siri really comes into its own.
Writing on the iPhone using the on-screen keyboard
Strengths and Weaknesses
The main advantage of the on-screen keyboard is that it’s the ultimate ‘write anywhere’ solution.
It’s not really possible to use either an external keyboard or Siri dictation when you are standing in a crowded train, for example, but you can always use the on-screen keyboard.
The drawback is the small size of the on-screen keyboard, which makes text entry relatively slow. And there’s the dreaded auto-correct, which can get pretty annoying and is better turned off for creative writing.
I found the on-screen keyboard most useful for basic editing. After dictating a passage using Siri, checking it over, adding missed punctuation and fixing spelling mistakes is where the on-screen keyboard is the best solution.
Writing on the iPhone: Software
To use the iPhone for writing you need a word processing app. I use Microsoft Word for iOS and iA Writer.
One important thing when using the iPhone for writing is storage and sharing work with your other devices. Word for iOS can save work to Microsoft’s OneDrive or to Dropbox.
I found Microsoft Word worked well on the iPhone, particularly in ‘reflow’ mode where it ignores print formatting and displays better for the screen. The ‘pinch to zoom’ functionality made it easy to get the text to the right size, which is particularly useful when using the iPhone + external keyboard combination.
If you use Microsoft Word elsewhere then using on the iPhone too is the simplest option. I recommend it particularly for use with the iPhone + external keyboard combination.
Microsoft Word for iOS is available here. You’ll need a subscription to Office365 for full functionality.
I use iA Writer on my Macbook for first draft writing. Because iA Writer assumes you are holding the phone it has a fixed font size that’s too small to work with the external keyboard setup. Ia Writer is good with Siri and the on-screen keyboard though. It has the advantage of simplicity with no options to fiddle with.
iA Writer uses Apple’s iDisk for storage. It is available here.
Other Useful iPhone Writing Apps
Other creative writing apps I use on my iPhone for writing are:
- Dropbox, for saving and synchronising documents, here
- Dictionary, which includes a thesaurus, here
- Wikipedia, useful for checking facts, here
- iBooks, for reading (you should have this if you are on the latest version of iOS)
- Kindle, for reading books, here
- To help me focus (see my article on the Pomodoro Technique ) I’ve found the Pomodoro Keeper app is good.
Give it a Try
Overall I think the iPhone has a place in the writer’s life. To sum up my advice:
- The iPhone + stand + external keyboard + Microsoft Word combination is ideal for first draft writing on trains, planes and in cafes.
- iPhone voice dictation is good for writing dialogue-heavy scenes hands free.
- The on-screen keyboard is usable for editing when the other options aren’t possible.
If you’d like to discuss any issues related to using the iPhone for writing please email me. Otherwise, feel free to share the article using the buttons below.