We know there are a fair few writing purists out there, so we’ll lead with a disclaimer. Writers have completed their work by hand for thousands of years—with chisels and stone tablets, quills and parchment, or pens and Moleskine notebooks. (We don’t get kickbacks from Moleskine, by the way. We just love their notebooks.)
While writing by hand is an ultra-portable approach beloved by writers the world over, requiring no battery power or expensive electronics, we figure you’re probably familiar with the concept already. Besides, there are times when your hand just moves too slowly, or your fingers want to quit before your brain does.
For authors looking to leverage the power of technology to help you write on the go—faster, longer, and finger cramp-free—this post is for you.
This is the hardware and software we find ourselves reaching for most when we want (or need) to get the words in while we’re out walking, on an airplane, in line at the grocery store, commuting to work, or other places where our laptops and writing desks aren’t readily available,
Tablets and Mobile Writing Apps
iPads, e-readers, and even smartphones with large screens are almost as good as laptops for writing these days. Cloud-based writing software and apps make it possible to sync up seamlessly with work you’ve started on a laptop, or pick up your mobile writing session when you’re back at your desk.
Here are a few extras we’ve found critical to the experience of writing on a tablet.
These are usually Bluetooth-enabled, so you don’t need to carry another cord with you. They’re super lightweight and sometimes even fold or roll up for ultimate portability. Sturdier versions often also function as a stand for your tablet or smartphone. We love these keyboards because they save us from typing with our thumbs—or trying to use a QWERTY keyboard on a screen without accidentally tapping stuff we don’t mean to. Logitech makes some great ones, but you can find lots of different versions.
Word processor apps
Mobile apps for Word processing software started out pretty bare-bones in comparison to their desktop counterparts in terms of functionality, but now they’re a near match. If you’ve already got a project started in a Word processor at home, mobile versions allow you to log in from another device and pick up right where you left off—so long as files are saved to the Cloud.
Our top three favorites are:
- Scrivener: Scrivener is one of the most popular pieces of software out there for writers, and for good reason. It offers robust functionality (probably more than more authors really need), like productivity management and native ebook formatting. However, Scrivener does require a Cloud-based go-between like Dropbox and does not offer an app for Android devices.
- Google Docs: Google Docs is probably the most user-friendly Cloud-based Word processor out there. It’s free to use and only comes in a Cloud-based version, so you don’t need to worry about an inability to access locally-saved files. It also makes collaboration easy with editors or co-authors. That said, Google Docs can get sluggish if your files are on the large side, so consider a hierarchical folder structure with smaller files if you go with Google.
- Microsoft Word: Microsoft makes mobile versions of their most popular Office software, including Word, for both Andoird and iOS. The thing to keep an eye on is where you save your files at home. If you save to your hard drive, you won’t be able to pull them up on the go.
Cloud-based note apps
Some apps that aren’t specifically Word processors, like Evernote or Apple Notes, work great for writing on the go. You can write in these apps directly, or use them to collect research, notes, photos, and other odds and ends that go along with your book.
Both Evernote and Apple Notes offer hierarchical folder structure, file sharing for collaboration, the ability to add PDFs and photos, and tagging to help you keep track of your work.
And, because they’re cloud-based, you don’t need to worry about saving anything locally and being unable to access it from anywhere.
Tablet screen covers
If you just can’t quit writing by hand, but don’t want the bulk of a paper notebook, Paperlike and similar products provide the feel of paper without the need for a notebook. Write as much as you need to on your tablet, without sacrificing the feeling of paper under your hand. (All the lefties we know love the absence of smeared ink, too.)
Got writer’s block? Dictation software could just be the answer. After all, it’s much easier to get going when that blank page isn’t staring you in the face. And if you’re like me and go professional-grade with your procrastination, dictation eliminates a lot of excuses. Do you suddenly feel the need to clean your house when faced with a writing deadline? Great! You can do that and dictate while you clean. Or go for a hike. Or commute to/from work.
Dictation works wonders for lots of authors because it often feels easier to talk out an idea than to commit it to writing. Talking feels like less pressure; after all, you’re just talking through an idea, you aren’t officially putting words on the page. By the time you go back through your dictation to edit, you’ll already have the hard part—the first draft—out of the way.
Dictation devices and software have gotten pretty good, and they’re only getting better. Here are our favorite devices—and software—to transform your spoken words into text.
- Dragon: Dragon is one of the most popular transcription tools for authors. It’s also one of the most expensive. We’d recommend doing a bit of research before spending the money to see if Dragon is right for you. Some people find the free versions below more accurate, while others swear by Dragon. If you’re new to dictation, we recommend trying out a free tool first, before committing to a paid one.
- Otter.ai: Otter.ai allows live transcription of real-time streaming and integrates with other tools like Zoom, so it’s fantastic if you want to transcribe a conversation with a co-author. You can also import audio files from elsewhere, so don’t need a live internet connection to use it. Another neat feature is that Otter learns over time. It will start to recognize your cadence and word choice. You can get 600 minutes of transcription free each month before getting bumped up to a paid tier.
- Google Docs Voice Typing: Google’s voice-to-text tool is the most user-friendly we’ve found. You don’t need to download an app or buy a specific device to use it—all you need is the Chrome browser and a Google account. From Google Docs, go to the Tools menu and select “Voice Typing.” Then talk away! Google’s AI software will take it from there.
- Apple Dictation: If you’re an Apple user, Apple Dictation is probably embedded into your iOS. If you’ve ever tapped that microphone button to dictate a text, you’ve used Apple Dictation. But it works in other apps, too! To dictate offline, just toggle on the “enhanced dictation” feature.
- Microphones: Hands-free, noise-canceling microphones are best. But you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy version from Bose—cheap alternatives abound. We’ve had good luck with the handheld Olympus, and even your basic earbuds can still get you good results. That said, the better the mic, the better the dictation text will be.
That covers our favorite writing tools while we’re on the go. What are yours? If we missed something, let us know in the comments!