Working Without the Net

Astrohaus Freewrite_lg_01In 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 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.

Astrohaus Freewrite_lg_ 01The 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.

Astrohaus Freewrite_lg_ 04

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?



11 Responses to Working Without the Net

  1. AuthorGuy Mar 23 2016 at 6:19 am #

    Wow. years ago dedicated word processors were being thrown away for their limited functionality,and this sounds like it has even less. And for a mere $550! I can’t imagine a more useless contraption.
    I use Word. On a laptop. In an alcove of my living room. I wrote 620K words there in the space of less than 4 years, because I loved the story I was writing. (Granted, most of the heavy lifting in that one had been done for me. I was writing an improved version of another story. I doubt I’d have been nearly as ‘productive’ writing a wholly original story.)
    As for motivation, I write stories I want to write. I write for fun. I write for the challenge of taking the weirdest idea I can think of and making it work. Which probably means I won’t ever get published in the mainstream but oh well.

    • Eugene Mar 24 2016 at 11:04 am #

      I mostly write on my laptop in Word (more recently, Scrivener), but I drafted my next book, Against All Silence, on the Alphasmart, which helped it go faster. Unfortunately, even when I love what I’m writing, sometimes deadlines and the need to hit a daily wordcount makes it feel too much like work — and then I look for distractions or “rewards” for my productivity. :-/ Especially when I’m sitting in a chair for 12-hour days!

  2. jeffo Mar 23 2016 at 7:34 am #

    I used to have a freewrite–it was called a “typewriter.”

    Honestly, this just strikes me as another way to separate writers from their money. What happened to willpower? Why can’t people work at an internet-connected computer without constantly checking e-mail, Twitter, FB, etc?

    Prediction: A lot of people will buy them and trundle them around, and still wonder why they’re not getting anything done–oh, it’s because they’ll have their phones by their sides, chirping and chiming every few seconds.

    Wow, I sound like a real curmudgeon today.

    • Marc Vun Kannon Mar 23 2016 at 9:11 am #

      I’m right there with you. I felt like I was reading about a literary version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, with apps instead of giant robots.

    • Eugene Mar 24 2016 at 11:12 am #

      Sure, I can exercise willpower, or I never would have finished writing anything with all the other things I could be doing instead. But it’s certainly easier to eliminate the temptation. Some people also have theorized that willpower is a limited resource, which draws on the same pool as cognitive tasks.

      I have, however, turned off all notifications on my phone, but I definitely feel a need for human interaction, even over the internet, which social media helps fulfill.

  3. Jen Mar 23 2016 at 8:02 am #

    Reminds me of the old word processors from the days of yore. It’s nice it uploads but I still can’t think of it as being worth the money. I think I would find a way around it. I think what if I were to just turn off my monitor and type. That way I’m not looking at the internet and can still listen to music. I don’t know I just want to take it apart and see how it works and find a less expensive way to make it.

    • Marc Vun Kannon Mar 23 2016 at 9:14 am #

      The least expensive would be to kill your Internet service. You’d get this functionality, and save on your cable bill.

      • Eugene Mar 24 2016 at 11:15 am #

        “The least expensive would be to kill your Internet service. You’d get this functionality, and save on your cable bill.”

        I save money by only paying for internet, not for cable 🙂 And I do need the internet for research, and many other aspects of the business of writing…

    • Eugene Mar 24 2016 at 11:13 am #

      I know someone who turns off her monitor, and that seems to work for her!

  4. Rowenna Mar 23 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    Nope 🙂 I’m very picky about my keyboards, and I actually really dislike typewriter keys. (Yes, I’ve used a manual typewriter many times!) This really doesn’t appeal to me–I like my big screen, too, and the teeny one on this doesn’t appeal to me at all.

    I just disconnect my internet or go somewhere without a connection if I’m finding myself truly distracted. But usually the “distractions” I use online are beneficial–my Thomas Tallis Pandora station, a quick check online on whether koala can swim for a plot point, a short break emailing a CP an update or question or encouragement…important stuff.

    • Eugene Mar 24 2016 at 11:17 am #

      Typewriters are hard to type on, but I do love mechanical keyboards, for the tactile feedback and the wonderful clicky sound 🙂 The one on the Alphasmart is a little soft, but it’s much better than most modern keyboards, which have those flat, chiclet-style keys that Macbooks made so popular.

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