From InstaNovel to NervousBreakdown: the next generation of apps for the busy modern writer

A writers’ organization recently conducted an online survey. Is there anyone out there, it asked, who still writes by hand rather than on a computer? A few people confessed, shame-facedly, that, in spite of the many wonderful opportunities offered by the new technology, they still worked in the old-fashioned, inky way.

As one of those poor benighted creatures myself, I briefly felt like a comical character out of Dickens, dusty and absurd, clinging on to the traditional way of doing things out of fear of the present and the future.

Clearly, we should do better. A wonderland of apps and aids is to be found online offering to make the writing process easier and more enjoyable. Some will ‘help access your inner muse’, others will ‘kickstart your creativity’, ’embed essential writing tools’ or –  particularly useful  -   ‘organise your brain-dumps’.

Helpful as these apps are, they only deal with the practical surface of things. The next phase of technology will be to address the more important challenges of the writing life.


It is one of the banes of the profession. You have reached the end of an article or book, having quarried every corner of your brain for material. Yet you are still several thousand words short of the commissioned length.

This devilishly clever device will organically lengthen your text with a variety of expanding tools: introductory flannel, extended metaphors, adjectival overkill, pointless anecdotes,  and extensive quotations from out-of-copyright sources.


The words written over the gateway to publication in 2013 read: The Same But Different. In testing times like these, the last thing publishers expect to have to deal with is something entirely new and original. They want to see a direct, visible (yet not too visible) connection between the manuscript they are considering and a past success.

This clever app will customise your work to the trend of the moment, leaving you to do what you are best at – wandering about, having ideas. Your task will simple be to fill in the template form, covering the theme, premise, characters, tome in plotline of your novel, and the app will do the rest.


Publishers are increasingly absent from the lives of authors, and never more so than in the middle of the day. In the past, lunch was a moment when editors, publicists and sometimes even sales directors left the office to spend time in a restaurant with an author, human to human. Laughter, chat, flirtation and sometimes even work would take place.

With LetsDoLunch, the busy professional writer will be able to experience the authentic author-lunch experience from the first glass of wine to the heartfelt expression of admiration of your talent over the main course, closing with an earnest discussion of your future career over coffee. This time-saving app will allow you to enjoy a virtual lunch with a publisher while alone in front of your computer with a piece of toast and a cup of coffee.


Attending a literary festival to talk about yourself in front of hundreds of grateful readers is an essential part of an author’s life. Unfortunately, since there are a small number of people who invite more or less the same authors to their events, it is one that is not available to most writers.

LitFest will solve this problem by providing an online version of a festival at which you are the star speaker. A series of emails will be sent to you, enabling you to escape from your family and daily routine on important authorly business.

Then, in the company of your laptop in the room of Travelodge motel, you will experience the thrill of sitting in a Green Room and chatting to Will Self and AS Byatt, of explaining your creative process to a large, appreciative audience, of signing hundreds of copies of your books, and of bonding with authors you will never see again.


Even today, some academic authors make the mistake of writing their theses and books in comprehensible prose, forgetting the importance of weighty, impenetrable jargon which no one can understand. The effect of their careers has been disastrous. In modern universities, nobody takes seriously an academic who writes in a way which can be understood by ordinary readers.

Invented in France, Campus will clean your prose of any excess clarity by replacing nouns used in everyday life with spurious, multi-syllable terms containing no obvious meaning, while mangling subordinate clauses out of recognition. Lengthy footnotes will cite sources so obscure than no one will bother to check them.


All you want is a little prize, so that biographical notes can describe you as ‘the award-winning author’. Is that too much to ask?

Not for long. Thanks to this remarkable new app which will adapt your current work to any particular literary trend of the moment, your books will be taken seriously for all sort of awards. If multiculturalism is all the rage, PrizeWinner will add exotic locations and a sense of cultural alienation to your work. Authors who have ruled themselves out of many awards by including humour in the their writing can use this app’s de-humouring tool.


Are you one of those writers who have the niggling sense that you are too normal to be taken seriously as an author? You were not abused as a child, brutalised at school, your sexuality is what is crushingly known as ‘vanilla’, you get on reasonably with your spouse or are contentedly unmarried, your children hate you no more than is usual.

NervousBreakdown will provide a much-needed assault on your sense of self with a series of tests and messages, designed to reach you when you are your lowest and pointing up the many and various failures in your professional and personal lives.

It does not guarantee low self-esteem, self-hatred, bitterness and jealousy, but it will certainly take you some way to be as messed up and emotionally dysfunctional as any of the most successful authors. The rest will be up to you.

This piece was first published in the latest edition of The Author, the magazine of the Society of Authors. An archive of my Endpaper articles, reaching the parts of the literary life which creative writing courses do not reach, is in my Writer’s Shed,  here.