Why I’d rather be naked on a train than write my novel in public

Temporarily quitting Twitter to give myself more time to write has been amazing. I might be missing out on photos of particularly delicious avocado toast, but it's a small price to pay.

To my shame, however, I haven’t spent as much of that extra time working on my novel as I’d like. The reason is simple: I’m embarrassed.

Much of my Twittering took place on my daily commute to TechRadar Towers and, let’s be honest with ourselves, it's hard to resist peeking at someone's screen when they're tapping away at a laptop next to you.

This is the 08:30 South West Trains service to quiet embarrassment

This is the 08:30 South West Trains service to quiet embarrassment

Usually they’re putting together an astonishingly tedious PowerPoint presentation almost entirely made up of incomprehensible pie charts. But what if it turned out they were composing the most terrible, cliché-ridden sci-fi you’ve ever seen?

It would be like seeing them naked – there’s a chance you might be impressed, but more likely you'd silently cast terrible judgement upon them and try desperately to avoid eye contact.

Put a sock on it

My hunt for a possible solution turned up several options – one of the most appealing being an innovative piece of knitwear featured in an advertising campaign for tech company 3M. It’s a kind of hoodie that envelopes your whole laptop screen, giving you ultimate privacy without looking even slightly mad.

The sweater was created by design agency DDB Singapore and sadly isn't a real product, but community-minded knitter Becky Stern has written a tutorial explaining how to make your own bright orange Compubody Sock

It looks extremely helpful, but there are a few potential problems with it.

First, the design encases both your head and your warm laptop in a cozy layer of wool. This would be pleasant enough in winter, but in late June it could lead to either you or your laptop overheating and crashing.

Second, hiding away under several feet of orange knitwear might attract unwanted attention from British Transport Police.

And third, although learned to knit as a kid, I never progressed beyond little teddy-sized scarves and cried when I dropped a stitch.

Becky Stern's home-made Compubody Sock – cosy, but potentially alarming

Becky Stern's home-made Compubody Sock – cosy, but potentially alarming

Another option would be a laptop privacy screen – a film that sticks over your display and renders it unreadable unless viewed straight-on. Unfortunately, train designers have an annoying habit of arranging seats in parallel rows, so the person directly behind you would still be able to see everything.

Also, the best privacy screens seem to be gold rather than black and, like Gollum, I’d be even more curious if something mysterious, shiny and golden was within my line of sight. Scratch that idea, then.

Back in black

I really don’t want anyone reading my screen – but it it's occurred to me that I don't really need to see it myself either. I already know my work is going to need some seriously heavy editing, re-drafting and possibly razing to the ground, so it doesn’t matter that the first draft has the odd typo. 

If writing a novel is like creating a sculpture, right now I’m sitting on a block of limestone waiting for it to turn into marble.

I’ve therefore decided to download Focuswriter, set the Focus option so everything except the current line is greyed out, and then turn the screen brightness all the way down so I can type away in secret. 

I can just about make out the line I'm working on but no more, which also stops me constantly trying to go back and edit on the fly (a habit that does nothing for productivity).

My first novel – much darker than I'd expected

My first novel – much darker than I'd expected

The only worry will be coming home, turning up the brightness and finding out that my touch-typing is nowhere near as good as I thought it was. Oh well, v\rdy ;s boe  c’est la vie.

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