Can you write 50,000 words… on your cell phone?

I read a story in the New York Times a few months ago about “cell phone novels,” a new-ish phenomenon in Japan. In short, these are stories, (apparently many novel-length) written bit by bit on a cell phone, published to website in serialized form as the author writes it. It intrigued me at the time, but because, well, it was a Japanese phenomenon, I wasn’t sure what these cell phone novels actually looked like.

Now it’s coming to the U.S., and thanks to spending way too much time on the NaNoWriMo forums, I’ve had a chance to spend some time exploring a couple of websites that offer their services to aspiring cell-phone novelists. 

The first is MobaMingle, which is one of NaNoWriMo’s sponsors–it appears you need to sign up to actually read any of the stories, so I have to admit, I haven’t spent much time on it.

However, with a little judicious googling, I found another site, Quillpill. It seems it’s still in beta, and there’s a waitlist to join, but you don’t have to join to read the written offerings. (They’re called “books” on the site, however the ones I read weren’t generally novel-length, but more like short stories, or even flash fiction.) Each segment of text is limited to 140 characters, the same limit as on Twitter, and if you click on a book to read it, the segments are presented in the order they were written, 10 to a page. You can easily click to read the next page, and though I would have preferred to have more on a page (I read fast, so anything that requires me to click frequently I find a touch annoying), the layout is easy to use.

I can’t quite get the idea of this out of my head. There’s something rather beautiful about having each segment of text, each thought, carefully set apart from all the others. It gives each line a weight that it doesn’t quite have when you’re looking at a solid block of text on a page of a book. 

This might not be a comparison that many people would make but it made me think of the little photocopied hand-made zines that I loved for a while as a teenager. Although this is sleek and even futuristic, and those zines were unapologetically hand-made, there’s just something about the small format, the sense that the words have come straight from the writer’s mind and hand to your eyes, the immediacy of it.

I’ll admit, I added my name to the waitlist. I don’t know how much I’ll use it, but I want to play with this new format. Plus, there are added capabilities for reading as a registered member–you can add books to a personal bookshelf, and “bookmark” books you’re reading, so that you can go straight to the last place you stopped. 

Here’s a couple of books that I read and enjoyed: Contract Quota, Chemical Dress Eliza, Truth and Tidbits (not fiction.)

And what really amazes me… a couple of books that will be written during NaNoWriMo: Here Under Stars, Of Clouds

Finally, though this post is getting longer than I’d planned, a quick link to a story about the Twitter Writing Contest. Unlike the idea behind QuillPill, this is fiction in 140 characters, much like the classic, stories in six words

But c’mon now… who wants to limit themself to just six words, when you can write 50,000 in a month!


One thought on “Can you write 50,000 words… on your cell phone?

  1. Claire,

    I had a similar reaction when I read about cell phone novels in Japan. I did quite a bit of research on the topic and developed and launched one additional site that you don’t mention, called This site lets readers create, share and vote on their favorite stories using cellphones (by MMS text or email), email or online.

    Unlike Quillpill, doesn’t limit each addition to 140 characters — you can add as many characters at a time as you want.

    If you get a moment check it out and let me know what you think!

    Stan Founder

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