Idea: Dictate A Novel to Siri and Write a Novel on your Phone

Write a Novel on your Phone by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

Write a Novel on your Phone by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

I gotta say, I’m quite intrigued by this. The other day a journalist named Rachel Syme wrote:

“So I interviewed a writer recently who only writes on her phone; she did two whole books this way. What’s more, she did one whole book by dictating the whole thing to Siri. And so I’ve been trying it…and it works.”

The writer she interviewed is Melissa Broder, and the interview was published in the New York Times last week. It includes this info:

In New York, she had always written poems and essays on her iPhone as she commuted on the subway, but she found this method difficult in Los Angeles’s car culture. So, she began to dictate a story to Siri in the car. “I don’t ever sit down at a desk and write a first draft,” she said. “I like to write in places where you’re not supposed to be writing because then there’s less pressure. So when I write now, I talk to Siri, and then my first round of edits is literally just trying to figure out what I said. Siri hears a lot of wrong stuff. Like, the other day she heard ‘That’s So Raven,’ and I didn’t say that. There are a lot of happy accidents.”

She began to speak out three paragraphs per day, and within nine months, she had finished the book.

Isn’t that super inspiring?


I admit, I’m a total wimp about working from my phone. I’m so spoiled about having a full keyboard and being able to type quickly, and I avoid writing on my phone as much as possible. I confess, I’ve even been known to type an Instagram caption on my laptop and email it to myself. Not kidding!

But reading about Melissa Broder has me rethinking things. I could really be better at taking advantage of the tech that is available to me now.

Which reminds me of a related tangent. On Tuesday night, I was interviewed in front of an audience of Mormon students who go to Berkeley, and one of the questions was about why so many Mormon women took to blogging early on. I’ve been asked that question a lot over the last 12 years and I think there are a ton of different reasons. Looking back, I think at least one of the reasons has to do with tech.

I was 31 when I started blogging. I’d just had my 5th baby. My Mormon peers were in similar young mom stages, but my New York (not Mormon) peers were just getting married or thinking about having their first child, and were in the middle of their careers. During that time, it was common for Mormon women to stay home with their kids. (They’re still encouraged to this, but I don’t think the pressure is nearly as high as it used to be.) Being home with the kids meant that they had a flexible schedule and could grab a few minutes here or there to sit at their computer — to read a blog post, or leave a comment, or write a paragraph, or to edit some photos of the kids.

Now remember, no one had iPhones then. In fact smart phones didn’t exist, and laptops weren’t a common thing yet. Basically, as far as internet access at home went, you just had one computer at your house and it was a desktop computer, and if you wanted to use it, you had to sit down for a minute at your desk.

Which meant people couldn’t do blogging-type work from their phone or on a commute. If you wanted to look up products to recommend, or edit photos, or compose a blog post, or reply to a comment, you basically had to be at a desktop computer. I suppose if you had a BlackBerry, you could do some emailing or take a work phone call, but nothing else, and again, nothing really blog related.

So I think early on, with the tech that was available then, having a flexible schedule made a big difference, and allowed people to get in early to the blogging game. You couldn’t start a blog from a full-time office job without risking getting in trouble and losing the job. But you could easily start one from home. (Am I explaining that clearly?)

Anyway, I was thinking of that and how much things have changed. Obviously, now you can do all kinds of work from your phone. Having a full-time job, while experimenting with a side gig, is totally doable. You can squeeze in five minutes here and five minutes there and you don’t have to be tied to a desk to make something happen.

How do you feel about making the most of your device and write a novel on your phone? Do you tend to wait till you’re at a full keyboard in order to do work? Or have you found good ways you can work from your phone?

Like I said, I’m not great at it. I often don’t have my phone near me while I’m working and I’ve never really embraced it as a true work tool.

Lately, I’ve become convinced that I need to use my phone more effectively. I remember when I first tried using a laptop and I hated it. I was used to the giant screen on my iMac and found the laptop so limiting. But then, I was traveling so much for work that I had to get used to the laptop, and now I’m much faster on the laptop than I am on my desktop computer. I imagine the same would be true if I embraced my phone. It feels so awkward to me to work from my phone, and I’m much slower, so of course I avoid it. But if I embraced the phone, and learned the shortcuts and workarounds, I’m sure I’d get really good at it. It also occurs to me that people who are really good at getting their businesses to grow on social media are people who make the most of their phone time, you know?

The other thing I found really compelling about Melissa Broder’s writing technique is that she makes good use of small amounts of time. She only dictated three paragraphs a day, working in small bursts and making big progress over the course of nine months. Working in small amounts of time is another thing I’ve resisted. I tend to push off work until I have a block of time set aside — like an hour or more.

What are your thoughts? Could you write a book in 3 paragraphs a day, with or without Siri’s help? Does that appeal to you at all? Is my resistance to working on my phone an age thing? Or maybe it’s just that inertia thing that happens when you need to start a new habit or master a new skill/tool? Are you intrigued or inspired by the fact that Melissa Broder wrote three books on her phone? And how do you feel about working in small bursts of time? I’d love to hear.

19 thoughts on “Idea: Dictate A Novel to Siri and Write a Novel on your Phone”

  1. I love this idea. It makes it so easy to get your thoughts down while you also get all those everyday mum chores done. I also find that I have most of my ideas while I am moving and active…but then forget them. This solves that problem too. I am not sure I am ready for writing a book, but I will definitely be trying this for posts and other writing. Thank you.

  2. I also strongly dislike working on my phone! For me, it stems from wanting to fill those odd moments with things besides work (either my actual job or my blog, which is a hobby!) or social media. I’d rather fill them with reading a book, doing something around my house, going outside, etc. Related, I strongly dislike answering or reading email on my phone — I have a good system down on my desktop and feel like I always miss things and have to double up on work (read an email again, etc.) if I look at it on my phone!

  3. I used to teach night sessions at a fast-paced vocational school and my students were mostly non-traditional — adults with kids and spouses and full-time jobs. One of their student success texts talked about how important it was for them to use “wait time” to study because their lives were so busy, meaning they always needed to have their flash cards or notes with them and during any pockets of time that came up — waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the pasta water to boil, etc. — they should whip out their materials and study for whatever amount of time it ended up being.

    Teaching that concept made me start being more deliberate about using my pockets of time and I found it really helpful for those minor tasks that never seem to get done (I love me some admin days and much prefer to tackle things in big blocks of time but there are seasons of life where those blocks never come!)

    On another note, I’m now a curriculum designer and easing my way back into work from maternity leave. I work from home part time but am still nursing the wee one a LOT so I often have to do work on my phone because I only have one hand free! As grateful as I am for the ability, I MUCH prefer my laptop. To me, laptop means work mode and phone means social mode. It’s been a struggle to adjust.

  4. I had a blog back in the day, my sister encouraged me to start one and because all of my children were in Jr. High or High School, it seemed everyone was on a computer I may as well be also. The blog came and went, but it was a fun thing for me to do, and frankly it helped me feel younger doing something no one else my age seemed remotely interested in, lol!

    I used to work on a desktop, and still prefer my laptop over all other devices – I am just not as effective or ‘quick’? on my phone. My daughter does literally everything on her phone, I am so impressed! I am also impressed with my husband who manages to work off his phone or ipad, bills to movie searches, and read the NYT front to back on it!

    Because I don’t use Seri, I need to ask a question: I understand how one could dictate to ‘her’, how does one get the transcript? (This is making me keenly aware that I am someone for whom ‘Alexa Silver’ might be an option! LOL! Watch this if you are unaware of the ‘Silver’ option: ) Thanks!

  5. I do not like working in small spurts. I am an artist and art teacher, but, since becoming a mom (I have three high-energy little boys!) I struggle with finding time to do my artwork. I always have a few hours after they go to bed, but I’m usually wanting to just CHILL and DECOMPRESS from the sheer noise and stress of the day. After I’ve relaxed for an hour or two, I think, “Ok, I should start working!” but, as soon as I realize that I really only have an hour, I just think, “Ne’er mind.” haha. In college, as an art student, I BINGE worked! I’d work for an entire Saturday, or I’d start and finish my project overnight, then turn it in the next day. I liked working in the quiet of my apartment after all my roomates were asleep. I could FOCUS! (A.D.D. runs in my family!) I loved those productive hours. I didn’t want to stop once I was in the flow! But, as a mom, you can’t just pass out the next day and take a 4 hour nap, like I used to do once I got home from classes after pulling an all-nighter. Your kids need you awake! Also, you have to start and stop your projects and I lose my excitement and passion and flow! It’s tricky! I finally finished 10 pieces and just *TODAY* took them to get scanned and printed for an art fair this Saturday! But it took MONTHS to get them done, because of my continual procrastinating till I had some perfect large chunk of uninterrupted time. I have to make peace with the fact that I just don’t have that right now! And make the best of the smaller chunks I do have! :) Thank you for talking about this–this comment has been therapeutic for me. I am hearing my own words, and now I want to commit to myself that I will not let my excuse of wanting “binge work time” to keep me from my professional goals and dreams! :) I’m going to adapt.

    1. I just commented but wanted to specifically say YOU CAN DO IT! I absolutely know how hard it is to try to do creative work in small chunks (though as a writer, my tools are not as difficult to manage as a visual artist’s). I also used to be very creative at night and now only produce much at night if I am under deadline or absolutely in the groove of my work. If you can figure out a way to make small chunks work logistically, it can be great. One tip is to use a timer. For me, getting started is always the hardest part, and setting the timer is the way I cue “ok here I go.” Often if I am feeling a lot of resistance, I set the timer for 15 minutes, and by the time it goes off, I want to keep going. Good luck, and big congrats on finishing the 10 pieces for the art fair!

  6. I didn’t do it on my phone, but I did write most of the first draft of a novel in 15 minutes a day (along with longer chunks on retreats). It was the only way I could do it as mom to two little ones, with a husband who travels for work, and very limited childcare.

    I wrote a blog post about it called “What Can You Do in 15 Minutes a Day?”

    Said novel is now being revised, and I now generally work for longer stretches (closer to an hour a day many days). But 15 minutes a day is still my baseline, and I go back to that when I can’t fit more in. It keeps the project alive in my mind and keeps up the momentum, which is critical for such a long-term project!

    1. I love this, thanks for the inspiration! I always think that I won’t be able to achieve anything in 15 minutes, but what if I’ve been wrong for years and years…? :)

  7. I don’t think it’s necessarily an age thing- I’m only 24 and I prefer working on a computer. I can definitely type faster and more accurately when using a computer (though I’m a decently fast texter on my phone as well). I think autocorrect also annoys me on the phone (but I also didn’t like when I made it so things wouldn’t autocorrect). Sometimes, I’ll open my laptop just to respond to a facebook message because I’m tired of typing on my phone! I think part of it is also a size thing- I can’t see as many words at once on my phone, which makes it harder to see what I’m writing as a whole.

  8. Forget the phone/laptop question; I still prefer to hand write any initial writing work! I touch type proficiently, but ideas still flow better with a pen and paper. I like to edit on printed copies too, to hand write notes and see all my pages in front of me at once without scrolling through screens. I like to work old school!

  9. Another comment mentioned setting a timer for 15 minutes and seeing that at the end you’d like to continue. I am similar. After my three kiddos are down for the night and the kitchen and house put back together for the next day, I always want to just chill. But whenever I can, I practice with the goal of playing just a bit of music and often I find I want to keep going for an hour or sometimes two! Some days I stop and decompress and realize that that is equally important.

  10. I’m only 33, but I always prefer to complete tasks at a laptop or desktop computer than on my phone. Rather it’s booking travel, reading emails, or browsing blogs, I just don’t enjoy the hunch-and-squint of using my phone. When I’m out in the world, I want to be aware of my surroundings, even if that means I’m “wasting” time on the bus on my commute. I worry about losing the ability to be still, to be bored, to just BE rather than trying to squeeze more productivity into my day. The fragmentation is off-putting.

  11. Once I internalized the “Hey Siri, take a note” command, it was off to the races. I still have to enunciate like a Broadway singer, but it helps me brain dump all day long, especially when I’m driving. I try to review the notes before I go to bed and make sense of it all.

    Also, my laptop broke almost two years ago and I lean on my phone HARD now. It’s a lot easier than it was even two years ago, because more and more sites have a mobile view. With an unlimited data plan on my phone, I’m not even planning to replace my laptop soon.

  12. I love this. I’m the kind of person who just has to write things down when they come to me, no matter where I am. Siri is my best friend in the car, and I’ve written some stuff my best stuff through dictation :)

  13. What an interesting post! I have written a novel in 1600 words a day (twice during NaNaWriMo), so I know I could write a book in 3 paragraphs a day and love that idea. I think I could also easily write it using the “Notes” feature on my iPhone, but I would not be able to speak it to Siri. I get totally tongue tied when I try to speak what I want to write, and it ends up being gibberish and halting and would drive me nuts. This is why I’m a writer not a speaker! :)

  14. I use my phone a LOT and I really like how much I can get done on it. I agree, the computer is still the best for ease of use and for speed, but the phone is such a great tool. I do journaling and photo keeping and family history and soooooo much shopping. But I LOVE the idea of attacking big goals in micro bits of time. I’m going to think on this for a while.

  15. I am writing this comment by dictating it into my phone! Seriously, this is how I wrote most of my talks when I was traveling a lot for my book tour. I seem to be most creative while I’m walking, so I would dictate ideas into my phone while I was walking my dog.

  16. Caveat: phones can be really useful for things like that, but the dark side is that it can get addictive. I got into the habit of checking my phone all the time while I was walking. Ironically, that torpedoed my creative thinking. I was just as distracted while walking as I was while checking my phone anywhere else. So I’ve had to put some pretty strict boundaries around my phone use. I find that my attention has suffered the more I use my phone for different things.

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