I got my BlackBerry phone just before Thanksgiving, and I have to admit, I’m mighty thankful for it.
One of the major reasons I got the phone was because I knew could use it in my freelance writing. And I haven’t been disappointed. Writers can become “smarter” writers by using a smart phone—not better writers, or wiser ones, mind you, but more intelligent in their use of time and resources by taking advantage of the integrated technology packages that these little mini-computers offer.
If you’re considering buying a smart phone, like a BlackBerry or an iPhone, here are 10 ways you can use it in your nonfiction writing work:
- Record in-person or speakerphone interviews (on a land line) in lieu of an audio recorder. I record podcast interviews using my computer and a sophisticated digital audio recorder, but I want a back-up file. Using the voice notes feature on my phone allows me to record a file of respectable audio quality. I have been listening to that file on the light rail as I travel to my day job to create a log of the podcast, which speeds up the editing process.
- Fact-check statements on the fly at live events. Phones with Internet access have been around for a while, but the larger screens of smart phones make it a little less eye-destroying to research a speaker’s statements while taking notes at a live event.
- Take “reference” photos for descriptive writing with the phone’s still camera. Yes, you should make written notes of the things you want to include to set the scene in a journalistic narrative, but it’s possible to take photos fairly inconspicuously of people, locations and events that you want to describe accurately. Take care if you’re at an event or location that prohibits photo-taking, though.
- Use the on-board video camera to record answers to interview questions, create reference footage for descriptive writing (see #3), or produce live “on the scene” reports (or b-roll) for web media integration. More and more phones allow you to upload directly to a site like YouTube, or you can e-mail some smaller video files. Most phones still have prohibitively short maximum file length limits (mine is 15-30 seconds, I think), but with planning, you can get meaningful footage and edit the segments together to create a video that is useful to your writing, or is a credible product OF your writing-directing skill.
- Use a combo of photos/video to “storyboard” a multimedia story package. More and more nonfiction writers, particularly those working in journalism venues, are expected to be multimedia producers as well. Practicing developing these rich-media stories, or even initiating projects once research on an assignment has begun, may very well help boost your ability to find work in the future.
- Read PDF, PowerPoint, Word or Excel docs on the train on the way to an interview, or in the car before walking into your source’s office. My phone came with Documents To Go apps pre-loaded, although if I want to edit and save changes on documents, I’ll have to upgrade to a paid bit of software. Regardless of whether you choose to pay to edit files or not, if you’re able to review them on the phone, you can be green (saving tons of paper on print-outs), as well as efficient with your research time.
- Use that tiny keyboard to write! That way you always have a digital version of your assignment/story available. I’ve taken to typing in lists, short snippets of copy and other text into Google Notebook, which lets me remain platform-agnostic about the copy’s destination until I’m sure how I want to use it. (Although it looks as if I might have to switch to Google Docs, since Google has recently stopped supporting Notebook.) It’s difficult to type with one’s thumbs for an extended period of time, but it is possible to make significant progress through smart-phone-typing over time. Some writers have been able to write entire books with a smart phone during their mass-transit commute.
- Upload blog posts to provide real-time updates for your readers/audience. WordPress has a mobile app for both BlackBerry and iPhone users, allowing updates that include text, photos, video, etc. With some publication start-ups looking at WordPress and other blogging platforms as a content management system, this feature could help reconfigure editing workflow for magazines and news organizations with an online presence.
- Research your source’s social media presence via Facebook’s mobile app. If you spend anytime on Facebook, it’s hard not to at least be curious about what’s going on in your newsfeed while you’re away from the computer. But it’s possible to do some actual reporting research if you use the mobile app for Facebook. Visit your source’s profile (if it’s open to all viewers), check out his/her friend list, surf their organization’s fan page, check for outbound links that provide additional details or data for your piece.
- Use the calendar/alarm features to keep you on track. Yes, it’s simple, almost pedestrian, and I know “dumb” (non-Internet-accessible) phones have these features too. But given all the other things you can do to move your writing projects forward on a smart phone, it would be dumb not to consider using the calendar or alarms to remind you of interviews, meetings, or personal appointments. BlackBerry, in particular, offers the ability to sync the phone calendar with any number of others (Google, desktop PC, etc.), so you can also put everything in your life on one calendar and not suffer from the downside of Multiple Scheduling Syndrome—which is to say, forgetting an appointment because it was on the “wrong” calendar system.
The questions to you:
How do you use your “smart” phone in your writing work?
Do you feel the integration of so many electronic tools in one device is useful, or a distraction?