Storyspinning and Smartphones

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For years, I was a cellphone Luddite. It took me forever to get a cellphone in the first place, and even longer to start giving people my number. But even after that, I kept on buying cheap pay-as-you-go cellphones, long after all of my friends had smartphones.

No, I couldn’t go online with my cheap, basic phones, and I couldn’t take pictures with them either, but why would I need to do any of that? I had a camera for taking pictures, and I had a laptop for going online. All I needed a cellphone for was to make and get phone calls when I was out of the house…and since I usually forgot to charge my phones, they often ended up lost for weeks at a time, unusable even for that one basic function.

But a smartphone felt like a totally unnecessary, decadent indulgence. How could I possibly justify spending that kind of money on a tech toy?

Then, a month and a half ago, my parents came to visit, and my dad really generously passed on his old iPhone to me. (Which – thank goodness! – comes with a “Find Your Phone” beeper app which has saved it sooooo many times since then. I am not good at remembering where I set things down!)

I was thrilled by the gift…but honestly, I had no idea just how hard I would fall in love with my smartphone, as a writer who is also a mom.

Here’s the thing:

Before I was a mom, I would often get random short story ideas while I was out of the house, because going out – getting outside stimulation – is so good for creativity.

So I’d be out walking around town (or in a forest or a ruined abbey or wherever) when some vague, tenuous glimmering of a story idea would suddenly start to tease at me…and then I would sit down for as long as it took to daydream my way through that thread, and finally I would write out either a paragraph or so about that idea, or else a few paragraphs of basic description of wherever I was, to help myself recapture that mood and moment later.

That was before I had children.

Now I’m the mom of two young children – two wonderful, creative, lively, curious, adventurous, and frequently squabbling young children – and when I leave the house, 90% of the time, either one or both of my kids is with me. That means that 75% of my attention (at the bare minimum!) is focused on monitoring and responding to my kids, and a bare 25% is left to focus on our surroundings.

For the past several years, whenever I’ve been out and had that familiar tingling of my senses that signals a possible story idea in the air…one of my kids needs something that moment. Or one of my kids starts to do something unsafe, and I leap to stop them. Or they ask me a question, or they want me to look at the very cool thing they’ve just done, or, or, or…

And the moment is gone. That tenuous fragment of possibility has disappeared before I could capture it. There is no way I have time, in that situation, to stop, divorce myself from the rest of the world, and dream my way through that fragment of possibility into a real story idea – let alone sit down and write 2-3 paragraphs of description.

So that was it, for years…until my smartphone arrived!

Guess what? There’s a reason it’s so great to have a camera in my phone…because unlike my regular camera, I carry my phone with me all the time nowadays.

Sometimes (okay, most of the time) I just pull it out to take a quick snap of my kids, because they’re adorable and I want to capture the moment.

Sometimes, too, I pull it out when I’m away from my kids and I see something I want to share with them:


(I can’t even tell you how many times my 2-year-old has asked to look back at that photo of a neighborhood cat that I took almost two months ago! The kids still haven’t met up with the cat themselves, but MrX asks to see the picture of “that cat neighbor” on my phone all the time!)

But then there are moments like the one that happened the other night.

I’d taken the kids around town all afternoon, running errands and eating in caf├ęs and attending clubs. At the end of it all, in the early evening, we wandered down to wait by a nearby stream for Patrick to come pick us up. I’ve been to that stream many times, but this time, as I looked into it with the kids, I felt a sudden tingle – a story possibility, hovering there. I almost had it…

“Mummy! He took my stick!”

I defused the situation, I looked back at the stream, and as my kids raced along the bank of the stream, I realized that there was NO WAY I could take the time to sit down, pull out a notebook and write a description of what I was looking at, to capture that atmosphere and moment for good…


I pulled out my phone.


It’s not a great or artistic picture – but there it is! My moment, captured. I look at that picture, and I have the story in my head.

And OMG does that make a difference for me!

So in other words, years later than all the rest of my friends, I’ve finally realized: you were all right. Smartphones aren’t just fun tech toys. They’re amazing.

And Dad, thank you so much. That was a really great gift!

Now I’m going to do some more writing before it’s time to take over with the kids again. :)


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