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Working Without the Net
In December 2014, when the Kickstarter for the Hemingwrite, "a distraction free smart typewriter" launched, I was as excited as many other writers were by the prospect of a machine built for only one purpose: writing. The "distraction," of course, is the internet, and the answer seemed to be a dedicated keyboard for word processing -- not for checking Facebook or posting Tweets, or reading blogs like this one.
My enthusiasm waned a bit at the expected price tag, nearly $500, as well as the long wait for the device to reach market; ultimately, I opted to get a used Alphasmart Neo for a mere $30, which I have blogged about before. But I never stopped dreaming about the Hemingwrite, and now it has finally been released!
Rebranded as the Freewrite by Astrohaus, the "world's first dedicated device for distraction-free writing composition" became available on February 23, 2016 at getfreewrite.com. It still comes at a hefty premium, $549, which will get you a frontlit E-ink screen and a full-size mechanical keyboard. The Freewrite promises four weeks of battery life and internal storage for more than a million pages, and while you can't use it to send e-mail, it can get online over Wi-Fi -- in order to upload your files, in real-time, to the cloud.
The Freewrite uses a custom Postbox interface to sync your documents to apps like Dropbox and Evernote, where you can format, edit, and print them. It looks like magic when you see it in action in one of their demonstration videos, but it's worth noting that, by design, you will rely on this digital sorcery to do the real work of writing: editing and revising. The Freewrite is meant only to help you get that first draft down; in fact, not only is the screen too small for editing as you go, but there is no cursor or even arrow keys to navigate within your work-in-progress. This could be a deal breaker for some writers.
Another potential showstopper: this thing weighs four pounds, a lot for something advertised as portable in today's world of paper-thin laptops and tablets. But that's the price to pay for its amazing looking and sounding mechanical keyboard, my writing instrument of choice. The Freewrite also seems quite sturdy with an aluminum chassis, and it has an appealing retro style that some critics have dubbed hipster bait.
Do I still want one, even though I already have a budget alternative in the Alphasmart? Heck yeah. My fingers are itching to write a book on a Freewrite! But I'll have to write and sell something for a lot of money before I can afford one.
The other issue is that the Freewrite and the Alphasmart have a limited use -- I spend far more time editing and revising a book than I do in drafting, so I still need other ways to combat the siren call of the internet. I can't just switch off the Wi-Fi, because I do need to research online, and it's nice to listen to music or whitenoise generators while working too. So my current go-to, when I have to be on my laptop, is the app Freedom, which lets you block certain websites such as Facebook and Twitter for set periods of time. Now I just need to do the same with my smartphone.
But I know there are many similar apps out there that block websites, or force you to keep writing to avoid losing what you've written, or disable your online access entirely. So two questions: Does the Freewrite "smart typewriter" appeal to you? And what tricks or applications do you use to avoid distractions or motivate you to stay productive?