Writers are always looking for the next big thing to keep them from being distracted. There are simple apps like the writer-approved Freedom , which shuts out the Internet; Write or Die, which tortures you with noise until you keep typing towards your goal word count; and Self-Control — which simply shuts off designated social media platforms. And then there’s my favorite distraction-free tool: a Moleskine (or other nice-looking, similarly sized notebook) — just don’t look at your phone while you use it.
But for those who want to spend extra money and skip the step of translating longhand to text doc, there’s a new class of pricey gadgets. Take the Bamboo Spark, a notebook that allegedly converts your scribblings into plain text.
And now, the splashiest entry into that market: the Freewrite, formerly the Hemingwrite, which was so popular with the online community when it was first conceived that it was able to raise a hefty sum on Kickstarter —”$342,471 from over 1000 backers across the world,” according to its inventors, who now work under the moniker Astrohaus.
With an old-fashioned typewriter keyboard, a sleek e-ink screen, and a portability-friendly handle, the Freewrite (initial price tag: $449, during a 24-hour flash sale) is designed to be a tactile throwback to the writer’s machine of yore, but also Instagrammed next to your espresso drink with the #amwriting hashtag. And, indeed, without the hassle of sliding new paper pages into the machine — instead, a switch connects you to wifi and the company’s own document-sharing back-end platform or a popular one like Dropbox or Google Drive, making your scribbles available for your future use — it’s as tempting a writer’s toy as any I’ve seen.
I went down to the office of Astrohaus, the tech company that was founded solely to turn this gadget from an idea to a reality, and sat at a desk demo-ing the Freewrite. The deep, clacky keyboard provided an entirely different, more purposeful typing experience than the little keyboard on the Mac I use. As soon as I hit the keys to type out “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” my mind started conjuring fantasies about going to a certain mellow coffee shop in my neighborhood where I could type away with pleasure and no distraction on my screen (though, of course, I’d still be checking my phone every ten minutes). We live in a strange era in which we spend more and more money to be connected, and then want to spend money to disconnect too. It’s a messed-up product of capitalism, but also hard to avoid, mentally.
So if you don’t hate typewriters, the Freewrite is an appealing gadget with a great feel — but it’s designed for one thing only, and that’s writing drafts. You can scroll up and down with “page up” and “page down” functions, and there’s a delete button, but no mouse arrow keys that would allow for the kind of detailed revision either a careful first draft or a second draft requires. This means the Freewrite is really only ideal for a kind of drafting that requires continuous, stream-of-consciousness writing — whether you’re working on “morning pages” or just trying to finish a new chapter of your book, dissertation, or journal.
Sadly, for those of us who need that priceless kind of focus that allows us to actually edit our manuscripts, the tool has yet to be invented that will force us to screen out distractions. That having been said, if ever a Freewrite were to be donated to the cause of my writerly ego and productively, I would humbly accept the gift.