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How I'm boosting my concentration with electro and Oscar Wilde

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I began my novel-writing project using a 30-day plan from the Guardian’s website. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve now abandoned that schedule – mostly because it was based around the idea that “the first draft of your book [...] in almost all cases will be the final draft, needing only minor editing and polishing”.

Some writers can craft something near-perfect immediately, but not me. As I’ve said before, my first drafts are ugly things unfit for human eyes. They need shattering and re-setting, not polishing.

With that in mind, although I began writing using the outline I made with the Guardian guide, I started using it as a loose structure rather than following it slavishly.

I’m glad I did – I’m only 10,000 words in and already I've decided to change one character’s gender, split another in two, and revoke a nation’s independence.

Space upgraders

Progress with this new method has been steady – particularly now that I’ve solved the problem of privacy when writing on my morning commute – but it would be nice to have a dedicated space for typing away at home. 

There’s no way I’ll have a whole peaceful room to myself, as is recommended in so many books on writing. 

My desk is opposite my husband’s in a room painted an invigorating shade of turquoise perpetual and there's a Damoclean tension caused by two bikes mounted on plasterboard walls (one of which is at just the right height to scalp me if I stand up suddenly).

This is where tech comes in – specifically, music. Stephen King claims to work best while listening to Metallica, and although I’m also fond of the Black Album, it makes me feel more like grabbing a pencil and drumming along with Lars than getting any work done.

Google Play’s Unstoppable Rock radio station is another favorite, but if you can resist singing along (badly) to Summer of ‘69, you might actually be a robot.

Focus at Will factors in your caffeine consumption when recommending a musical genre, so this came as no surprise

Focus at Will factors in your caffeine consumption when recommending a musical genre, so this came as no surprise

To avoid the distraction of familiar tunes, I’m trying Focus at Will (opens in new tab)  – an online radio station that prescribes a certain type of music based on a personality quiz. It's said to be used by employees at eBay and Google to boost productivity. 

The aim is to help you achieve a ‘flow state’ by altering brain activity (opens in new tab), enabling you to work quickly and efficiently. 

It’s a subscription service with a free trial and 30-day money back guarantee to fall back on if it doesn’t float your boat, so I signed up and tuned in.

Focus at Will features 12 channels, each of which has three ‘energy levels’. My test results indicated that up-tempo tunes should get me in the mood for hitting the keyboard, and I selected the highest energy option. All music is instrumental – no distracting vocals – and my selection proved pleasingly synth-heavy. 

I’ll need to give it a little longer to see if it helps boost my concentration and output, but it’s good stuff in any case. Forget bland ambient lift music – the first track that appeared on my radio station was by Giorgio Moroder (the chap you can hear being interviewed on the Daft Punk album Random Access Memories).

Uncommon scents

On a less techie side, I’ve also tried enhancing my writing space with a little scent. The internet is awash with strangely-perfumed candles with aromas like pipe tobacco, old books, and even specific cities (opens in new tab) – all of which sound appropriate for a writing environment (though a London-scented candle might give you the weird black snot you get after a few hours on the Tube).

Most of the more literary options would have to be imported from the US at considerable expense, but a little investigation turned up a series of soy candles inspired by famous authors from a company called Paddywax.

I bypassed Jane Austen (opens in new tab) (gardenia, tuberose and jasmine) and Mark Twain (opens in new tab) (tobacco flower and vanilla), instead opting for Oscar Wilde (opens in new tab). Hey, if you’re going to buy a decadent candle, you might as well go all the way.

Science fiction authors were sadly unrepresented in the Paddywax library, but dystopias probably stink so that might be a blessing.

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination" is printed on the Oscar Wilde candle's sleek tin in an effort to justify its price tag

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination" is printed on the Oscar Wilde candle's sleek tin in an effort to justify its price tag

Oscar Wilde’s candle had so much potential – lilies and cigarettes, maybe – but when lit, it just smells like a kind of inoffensive aftershave. Okay in its own right, but nothing that takes attention away from the road bike dangling overhead or the room's violent color scheme.

Still, though it's not be inspiring, at least it won't be a distraction either. Time to turn up the music and get back to typing.

  • Cat Ellis has turned to technology to help write her first novel. Follow her progress in her Sculpt Fiction column. 
Cat Ellis
Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)