With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) giving literary enthusiasts the perfect excuse to lock themselves away and embrace their inner novelist, here’s a thought for the art of writing in the 21st century. This once simple and straightforward art form is now awash with a cluttering of paraphernalia that feigns to spur on the writer to greater realms of productivity. Only last month did David Nicholls, creator of the beloved One Day which was turned into a film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, admit that he experimented with an application called Write or Die while crafting his latest novel Us. This tool apparently ‘aims to eliminate writer’s block’ by forcing authors to write a certain number of works within a specified time period or risk losing their previous work—a seemingly torturous atmosphere in which to create art. This is just one example of a plethora of apps and software that claim to summon a writer’s creative spirit one way or another. ZenWriter exemplifies a more kindly approach, taking over the entirety of your computer screen to bolster your focus while also providing soothing background music and the supposedly authentic, metallic tapping sounds of a vintage typewriter for a classic feel. Unfortunately the atmosphere created is a bit more Medal of Honour than Buddhist writing sanctuary.
Perhaps the zenith of writing-inspiring gadgets comes in the form of the Hemingwrite. Described as ‘the Kindle of writing composition’, this ‘distraction-free tool’ is designed in the vein of a classic typewriter but kitted out with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and so enabling users to back-up their masterpieces-in-the-making to the online Cloud. The device aims to revolutionise the way authors approach writing, steering them away from laptops—where the internet can tempt you away with infinite Buzzfeed quizzes and Youtube videos—and instead allowing users to dedicate their optimised powers of concentration to their work of art.
As far as I can see, the Hemingwrite will be a hit. I can imagine gangs of bearded hipsters in beenies hats slumped over their Hemingwrites in bohemian cafés and bars in London, New York and beyond, penning—although not quite literally—their post-post-modernist novels. That’s in between checking Twitter and Tumblr on their iPhone 7s for the latest on One Direction and Kim Kardashian’s backside. But perhaps that is just the cynic in me. The self-publishing market appears to be going from strength to strength and this device could well and truly provide the gunpowder for an explosion in self-publishing. Why not?
Yet it does seem rather too ironic that this device is named after an author who wrote in pencil and is known for his defining understated style. What Hemingway would have made of this device we’ll never know, but is this not a rather elaborate solution to a simple problem? Zadie Smith, in her rules for writers, advises simply working ‘on a computer that is disconnected from the internet’. Is that not enough? As well as being dubious about what need there is for such a device, I feel there might be more serious implications unforeseen by its creators. One of the key features of the Hemingwrite is that your work will be supposedly securely stored on the Cloud. Yet it was only recently that naked photos of powerful celebrities were leaked to the world via malicious hackers; is there not a possibility that this could happen with hotly anticipated novels? If so, could the Hemingwrite be bringing the publishing industry ever closer to the situation of the music industry, which continues to struggle with the issue of entire albums being leaked onto the Internet sometimes weeks before their official release date? It is a worrying thought, and it is something bibliophiles should watch with a keen eye in the months leading up to the Hemingwrite’s launch.