Productivity app Write Track - which was a finalist in last year's FutureBook BookTech Award - helped Cornish author Wyl Menmuir finish his Man Booker-longlisted novel The Many. So what other tech does he rely on in his working life - and what does he avoid?
I love being the first person to use new kit - an app, a new tool, anything shiny, basically. I’m always looking out for tools that will make things easier, that will make processes quicker, or that will help me to maintain the discipline I need to sit down and write until I’ve finished whatever I’m working on. What I’ve learned is that sometimes the thing I’m convinced is going to help is actually just another mechanism to avoid work. I’m a fairly harsh critic, though, and if I don’t find a new piece of tech useful or if it’s not well designed, I’ll drop it really quickly.
I go cold turkey from tech from time-to-time as well. Holidays are off limits for tech for me - it’s about spending quality time with my wife and children rather than getting distracted by screens, and I sometimes wonder whether I’d be better with a typewriter than a laptop in terms of productivity, though I can’t see myself ditching the laptop anytime soon. I saw something recently that really appealed - it was a rather beautiful typewriter hacked to feed into an iPad, which is something I could see myself investing in. I could see that working, as I love typewriters, and it would be much more difficult to browse online using the typewriter as an interface, so that could work well.
In terms of hardware, I’m pretty much hard-wired to my laptop and phone. I love my phone. I take lots of photos when I’m researching, I can make notes on it, record video if I need to, make recordings of sounds I want to come back to later. It really is phenomenal technology and I think sometimes the simple things are the things that really help me to do my job - the fact it fits in my pocket, yet does all of these functions so well.
But by the end of the day I’ve usually had enough of screens and I revert to notebook and pen, which are really the only other things I need to do my job. I don’t even bother with smart pens anymore (for a while I was convinced I could only write with black 0.5mm pens from Muji, but it turns out biros do the job just as well).
Most other pieces of tech are a luxury and even detract from the job of getting words on the page. There are two tools I use when I really need to write though. The first is an app called Self Control, which blocks out anything on my laptop aside from my word processor. No Twitter, no Facebook, no email, no browsing news sites - you can restart the computer, delete the program, nothing will make a difference.
The only other thing I use every day when I’m writing is Write Track, which tracks the days I manage to complete my writing objectives (usually 500 words of the next novel). It’s simple, it works and it motivates me to keep going. I used it throughout writing my first novel, The Many, and now I’ve started on the second novel, I’m using it again, so I know it’s doing something. I don’t keep a diary and a weird side-effect of using Write Track was I wrote short posts when I tracked my writing and recently looked back over the entries and it’s a really interesting journal of writing a novel. I surprised myself by how candid I was about the whole thing.
When it comes to social media, I’m fairly (read entirely) addicted to both Twitter (@wylmenmuir) and Facebook. I find it's great to talk with other writers, to get feedback from readers and to promote events and publications, and I’ve had great support over social media since The Many came out in June. I would hate to know how often I check my various accounts - I have a feeling I’d be horrified, though I suspect I’m not the only writer who is guilty of that. It’s so easy to waste time, especially if the scene I’m working on isn’t coming together, and I can fool myself into thinking I’m doing something useful by just sitting in front of my computer looking at the pretty lights.
I spend most of my day attached to a screen, so in the evenings I tend to switch off and return to pen and paper. I think there’s a temptation to try to replace experiences in the real world, for want of a better expression, with online experiences. I can research Venice online for weeks, but nothing is going to beat walking its streets, talking to people in its bars and exploring its palazzos for myself if I want to get across the experience of being there to a reader. I tend to type up on my laptop, but I do my best writing when I’m out walking, when it’s just me and my notebook.