NaNoWriMo Tech Tips for Writing On the Go

This will be my eighth NaNoWriMo! Every year, I use slightly different technology. One reason is because I like writing on the go — I pull out my phone and write or make notes when I’m not near my computer. I know working on your novel on your phone sounds crazy, but so does writing a novel in a month! I don’t always have the chance to sit down at my computer, but my phone is always in my pocket, ready for action.

Here are the tech tips that have been working for me lately — and I hope will continue to work in November. Maybe they’ll work for you too!

Tip One: Use Headings and Multilevel Lists in Word

Yep, I’m using Word instead of Scrivener. I like Scrivener because it allows you to easily skip around within your manuscript by clicking on different chapters in the sidebars. But I never got into using Scrivener’s additional features, so the program always seemed too bulky for me. Plus, they have been slow to get into the mobile app game, making writing on-the-go tricky.

But guess what other program lets you click on different chapters in the sidebars? Microsoft Word! By using headings and multilevel lists in Word, you can navigate through your novel by clicking on the chapter numbers in the sidebar, and also hide the chapters you aren’t working on so that you can focus on one chapter at a time. You just need to set it up!

Novel template using headings in Word
A template for a novel I created using headings and multilevel lists in Word

First, make sections that can be expanded or collapsed (hidden) by setting your chapter headings as headings in Word, as explained here. This will allow you to only expand the chapter you’re working on, so working from a giant Word document will feel less distracting. Once you do this, Word will generate a sidebar with the chapter headings, so you can easily click from one chapter to the next. This is really helpful if you’re someone who likes to skip around as you write, and also in the revising stage.

Next, use multilevel lists to auto-number your chapters, as explained here. This is a tiny bit trickier and not necessary in the drafting stage, but I like to be able to insert a new chapter without fixing the numbers of my other chapters. Totally worth it.

If this sounds like too much work, you can download a template I made here. (Note that the template is just for drafting — you’ll need to put your novel in manuscript format later. Also, I’m using currently using Word 2013.) Good luck!

Tip Two: Work from the Cloud to Access Your Novel Anywhere

Having the ability to work on my novel on my mobile devices (phone or tablet) has been awesome for me. When I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2008, I wrote parts of my novel on paper while I was away from my computer and transcribed those parts into my Word document. It wasn’t a good process for me because transcribing made me second guess the choices I made, which can trip you up while writing a novel in a month! Since then, I’ve been working from my mobile devices while on the go.

In 2009, I would sync my novel from my laptop to my Palm Treo smartphone using Documents-To-Go so I could work on it while commuting on the metro. Now that cloud storage is an option, that seems totally old-school. But Documents-To-Go is still a decent option if you don’t have Word, and it now can work from the cloud (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and iCloud). (Unfortunately, the app can be a little buggy, so proceed with caution.)

Last year, I wrote my novel in Google Docs (which saves to Google Drive) because I was working from three different devices (MacBook, Android tablet, and iPhone). That was easy and 100% free, but the actual writing experience was weird at times — there was sometimes a delay between typing and seeing my words appear on the screen, and Google Docs doesn’t really work when you lose internet connectivity.

This year, I’m writing my novel in Microsoft Word and saving to OneDrive. The experience has been the most seamless yet. The Word app on my iPhone picks up right where I left off on my computer, and I haven’t had any trouble with different versions of my novel on two different devices. However, I am paying for an Office 365 subscription. Since I use a number of features that come with the subscription, it’s worth it for me, but it’s a personal decision.

Pick whatever cloud storage provider works for you: OneDrive, iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon, etc. and try it! Even if you never decide to work from your mobile device, it’s comforting to know that you’ve got your novel in your pocket.

Tip Three: Write On-The-Go with Your Phone & a Bluetooth Keyboard

iPhone with Microsoft Universal Bluetooth Keyboard
My iPhone paired with my awesome Microsoft Universal Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard

I know this seems ridiculous, but I carry a full-sized keyboard in my purse. If I’m going to be working on my novel on my phone for more than a few minutes, I sync the keyboard with my iPhone and write on it. The keyboard I currently have is the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard and it’s amazing. It’s small, slim and light, has killer battery life, and has a detachable cover with a slot that fits almost any phone or tablet (works with Windows, Android or iOS devices). Before that, I was using a ZAGG Pro bluetooth keyboard for an iPad, which was great because I got it for $18 and my iPhone fit into the iPad slot. I recommend keyboards with a slot for your device because they allow you to work from your lap more easily.

The nice thing about this setup is that carrying around a lightweight bluetooth keyboard is much easier than carrying around a laptop or tablet computer. The keyboard is smaller than a laptop and much less valuable. I don’t worry about leaving my keyboard in the car — if it was stolen or lost, I would be sad, but I wouldn’t be out several hundred dollars and a ton of data, or have any identity theft concerns. Not true with a whole computer. Plus, even though working on a tiny iPhone screen is not preferable to working on a laptop, it also allows more privacy when working out in public and it’s less bright if it’s dark and my kids are sleeping in the car (which is one time when I use this setup).

Of course, there are disadvantages to this setup — mostly the small screen and the weird looks you may get from strangers — but it works for me!

Bonus Tip: Backup, Backup, Backup!

This is obvious, but it needs to be said. Try to have your novel saved in at least three places. Currently, I save one to my hard drive, one to OneDrive, and email one to myself. Sometimes I save it to Dropbox or Google Drive too. And my phone is constantly backing up to iCloud. I also like to save new versions every few days (I add the date to the file name), just in case the file I’m working from gets corrupted or something. You never can be too safe!


These are just a few things that are working for me right now. I hope they’re helpful to some of you. If not, write however you want — just so long as you write!


Related Posts:
My “Special Snowflake” NaNoWriMo Prep
5 Silly But Effective NaNoWriMo Prep Tips


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