Under the general topic of “How I Write” Eamonn Griffin follows on from previous blogs explaining how he’s got on with some new technology. I for one am always interested in how other authors work and I think everyone will enjoy this insight.
About eighteen months ago I posted a blog article here that was itself a revisiting of an earlier piece on writing and machines. Being a man-child, I like toys: gadgets that can support making up and finessing stories. The two earlier blog posts document this ongoing fascination, with the second leading up to the purchase of an expensive (for me, at least: you might all be minted) new gizmo, the Freewrite Traveler. I promised at the time to return to the topic and give my tuppence worth on the device in question. So here we go.
The short version: I didn’t get on with it, so I have gone old-school again.
Don’t get me wrong, the Freewrite Traveler is a great bit of kit in itself, and I really enjoyed tinkering with it and finding what it could and couldn’t do. Where it fell down for me though was in its insistence in being awkward in talking to other devices. Basically, the Traveler saves both locally onto the device itself and then backs itself up to the cloud when there’s a handy Wi-Fi signal. So far, so good. Where I struggled was the inflexibility (for me, as this is wholly subjective) with the files in moving them from the manufacturer’s own cloud storage thingy to somewhere I could then edit and work further on the file. A bit of a palaver, basically. I struggled with the workflow aspect of the Traveler, and soon realised that the machine wasn’t for me.
So, I sold it on eBay, took the financial hit, and made myself the promise not to do that kind of thing again. As the previous post indicates, though, this may not be a pledge that’s adhered to. There’s always shiny things out there, and they are seductive.
A minor factor in all of this was the pandemic. There are few things less immediately useful than a portable no-distractions writing gadget in the context of ongoing insecurity about being able to go out and ostentatiously write in a public place, after all. Call me old fashioned, but if there’s a choice to be made between staying home and safe on one hand and being in the roiling stew of transmissible disease, I’ll take the first option every time.
The Traveler had been long in production, being a crowdfunded project: it’s pre-pandemic technology, essentially. While the coronavirus has subsided – if not gone away by any means, no matter what that uncle of yours who does his own research on the internet might say – it’s had multiple impacts. For me, these include a disinclination to sit for extended periods of time in places where one person in twenty is both infectious and at best oblivious, at worst, actively uncaring. A device that promises (and largely delivers on the claim) to be distraction-free so that you can focus on writing is of less use to me now than it might have been three years ago.
Other folks may disagree: they can go right ahead. The Traveller is a great bit of kit in and of itself, but it may not be for you. That might be on cost grounds (a swift Google indicates they’re currently retailing for £433 in the UK), or on contextual ones, as with me.
Then again, maybe I’m stuck in my ways. As I’ve noted before, my writing preference is to first-draft into Google Docs, and then edit in Microsoft Word. Google Docs is simple, easy to use, is available on pretty much any communications device that’ll support an internet connection, and is always there both for offline and online use. I’m typing this up on Google Docs right now.
As someone with a day job that involves writing (the creative stuff takes very much a back seat out of the necessity to earn a living), I spend six to eight hours a day at a keyboard. So, questions of mechanics, of aesthetics, of feel, and of usability are absolutely central to what I do. The best kinds of technology are those that are invisible, so that there’s as little in the way of you getting what you want done as possible. The Traveler didn’t offer that to me, despite its good intentions. Hopefully, there’s happy users out there who are getting on well with the machine, and who wouldn’t change a thing about it.
I took some of what I got back for the Traveler (my recollection is that a doctor bought it with the intention of drafting a novel), and bought a basic Chromebook. A long-standing trick of mine is to have more than one computer whenever possible, so that different forms of writing have their own spaces. You can do this with pen and paper; with a tablet or a mobile phone. I do this with two computers: one for work work, one for creative writing first drafting. That keeps making stuff up and tidying my mess physically and conceptually separate. This is reinforced with the whole Google Docs / Microsoft Word separation thing.
If I’m writing on the go these days, then I can use my phone if I don’t have the Chromebook with me. And when I’m back at base, I can work on what’s been done in either Google Docs (straightforward tidying up, as I’m a terrible typist and I’m worse with screen keyboards than with physical layouts) or in Word. I kinda miss the Traveler as it’s both well-made and good-looking but ultimately it wasn’t for me. I hope, though, that its new owner is not only getting on well with it but, more importantly, that they’re having fun with their writing.
So, over to you. Workflow and preferred tech (both hardware and software): what are your preferences? Or are these irrelevant to you? As they tend to say at the end of YouTube videos, let me know in the comments below!
Writing On The Go – the earlier blog post referred to, from October 2020:
Freewrite Traveler – purely for information / curiosity purposes
Bio: Eamonn Griffin was born and raised in Lincolnshire, though these days he lives in north-east Wales. He’s worked as a stonemason, a strawberry picker, in plastics factories (everything from packing those little bags for loose change you get from banks to production planning via transport manager via fork-lift driving), in agricultural and industrial laboratories, in a computer games shop, and latterly in further and higher education. He’s taught and lectured in subjects as diverse as leisure and tourism, uniformed public services, English Studies, creative writing, film studies, TV and film production, and media theory. He doesn’t do any of that anymore. Instead, he writes full time, either as a freelancer, or else on fiction. Eamonn has a PhD in creative writing with the University of Lancaster, specialising in historical fiction, having previously completed both an MA in popular film and a BSc in sociology and politics via the Open University. He really likes biltong, and has recently returned to learning to play piano, something he abandoned when he was about seven and has regretted since.
Eamonn’s reading diary: https://255bookreview.com/
Eamonn’s movie review diary: https://255review.com/tag/eamonns-reviews/
Social media (Twitter only for me): https://twitter.com/eamonngriffin
Most recent thriller is East of England: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07K46292T/