The last few weeks for first-time novelist Wyl Menmuir have been a blur. Since finding out his book The Many had been longlisted for the Man Booker – the most prestigious literary prize in the world – he’s been interviewed by national newspapers, courted by big name agents and has headlined literary events.
But wind the clock back just three years and Wyl’s novel hadn’t seen light of day – we know because he used our very own Write Track app to keep him motivated during the writing process. Something he’s doing again for the writing of his second novel (watch this space).
We caught up with Wyl to find out about how tracking and scheduling his time helped him write his novel and bag a Booker nomination.
First off, how do you feel having made the Man Booker longlist?
Wyl: It’s been a whirlwind since the Man Booker list was announced. It wasn’t something I had even thought about before, so to find out I’d made it onto the longlist was an incredibly surreal experience. How do I feel? Elated. Utterly elated.
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What made you decide to start a novel?
Wyl: I read somewhere that action tends to happen when the fear of not doing something overtakes the fear of doing it. That was true for me – I’ve wanted to write a novel for as long as I can remember and I’d reached a point where I realised if I didn’t just sit down and do it, I’d end up as a frustrated would-be novelist rather than someone who had at least given it a good shot. The other side of it was about knowing I had the right story to tell.
“if I didn’t just sit down and do it, I’d end up as a frustrated would-be novelist”
Why did tracking your writing seem like a good idea?
Wyl: I knew writing a novel was going to take a lot of support – there’s a terrible lie that I believed for a long time that novels are the product of the author alone, when in reality there are so many other people involved – and I was keen to enlist as much help as possible. When a friend, Becky Swain, who’s head of learning at Arvon, mentioned Write Track to me, I looked into it and the idea of tracking progress towards a writing goal really appealed.
How did tracking your work help?
Wyl: I’d never considered tracking my writing, but I’ve got a fairly addictive personality and the idea of creating an unbroken streak of days in which I tracked my writing spoke to that. That alongside being part of a supportive community of authors worked for me, as so much of my time while writing the novel was just me with my notepad or laptop.
“It helped to know there were other people out there struggling with the same things as me”
It helped to know there were other people out there struggling with the same things as me and to be able to share the experience with other writers who ‘get it’. It also helps to know you might be helping someone else with their project, too. Less narcissistic somehow.
What challenges did you meet along the way?
Wyl: There were a few times while I was writing The Many when I really didn’t feel like writing at all, but tracking my writing served as a reminder of the objectives I’d set for myself – to write 500 words a day, five times a week – and sometimes those sessions, when I’d had that boost to keep going, were incredibly productive. It’s a bit like the feeling you get from going running when you really don’t feel like doing it – you always feel better at the end of the session.
Other times it was just a comment from another writer using the Write Track app that gave me the boost to pick up the pen again. Many people have compared writing a novel to running a marathon, and when you’re running longer distances, it’s sometimes a bit of encouragement from one of the race marshals or another running that keeps you going. Especially at the points when you’re wondering whether it’s really worth it and thinking it would be far easier to be doing something else – that’s where it really came into its own.
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What kept you writing?
Wyl: There’s a simple message behind Write Track, which is to finish what you start. That was probably the biggest thing for me and I kept that phrase in mind all the way through writing The Many. I’m used to setting objectives in other areas of my life, but I’d never done it with writing before, so tracking my writing helped me to think about the steps I needed to take to get to that finished novel and what I would consider success.
“finish what you start – I kept that phrase in mind all the way through writing”
I realised success, for me, would mean having completed a novel to the best of my abilities and everything that has come after that has been a huge bonus. Being able to look back on the work you’ve put in really helps, and reminds you why you started in the first place.
I think I would have given into one of the hundreds of other temptations on offer several times if I hadn’t received my reminders, comments from other authors.
How do you want your story to affect or inspire people?
Wyl: I really hope it inspires other writers to finish what they start too. I’d love it if my story inspired someone to pick up their pen and start, to resurrect a project they’ve put aside, or to join with other writers to get that support that I needed to get The Many finished.
“I’d love it if my story inspired someone to pick up their pen and start”