Freewrite: Writer at Large

It’s called the Freewrite. 

It has a lunch pail handle. It weighs almost nothing and is about the size of a school loose-leaf binder. The body is made of hard black aluminum shaped to resemble a portable typewriter. The keys are white with gray letters and numbers. The “on” button and the keys to create a new document are both a pleasant red. There are two screens where your eye would have fallen on the paper and carriage of a typewriter. It has the feel of a typewriter and travels like one (some users worry about its portability; I do not). There are two toggle switches in the position of where the ribbon spools rest on a typewriter. The toggle on the left can be moved to indicate one of three possible “folders” to place your documents. The one on the right is for the “off” “on” or “new” needs when wanting to connect to an existing or new wifi network. The screens resting in the middle where the eye would have sought the paper and carriage rest one on top of another, as the picture shows, the larger of the two holding the typed content, the smaller can display a number of messages like time or word count. At rest it has several, randomly-chosen, screensavers depicting famous writers like Agatha Christie, Issac Asimov, Shakespeare. 

img_7656It is not a complicated machine/program to learn or use. The reality of what it does and does not do requires no time to establish and once you understand its capacities and limitations you’re off to the races, so to speak. 

When the Freewrite is connected to a wifi network it more or less automatically sends your documents to a password-protected storage Web site called Postbox. Conversely, if you choose to write without the wifi network toggle turned on, the machine knows to send the documents to the cloud site the next time you are connected, although, as you can imagine this is the less reliable of the two options. Some users do not connect to a wifi network in order to save battery life; all I can say, and I stress this, is do not give one moment’s time to thinking about the battery of this beast — it’s phenomenal. 

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So you turn it on by softly depressing the red “on” button (there have been issues with the button becoming stuck so when I mean softly depress, I really mean it), the screen enlivens with either the last text you were working on or a blank screen. You type. And if connected it goes directly to the cloud. The machine can simulatenously send your documents to Dropbox and/or Evernote; from all sources it is extremely easy to download your work into another word processing application. I was an early adopter of this smart typewriter (I’ll say more on this later) and I can say unequivocally there have been no document loss to speak of. Once faith is established it is not tested. And to be clear, when the machince and you are connected to wifi there is no capacity to surf the web, check your Twitter feed, send a Snapchat or Instagram; no Facebook. It is largely distraction free.

I use Freewrite solely for drafts. A rudimentary examination or practice on it will establish how you will use it. I use it for drafts because for all intents and purposes it is a forward-motion machine — there are no hot keys allowing you depress a button to move back up to the third line in the second to last paragraph. You can delete only by using backspace (caveat: there may be tricks to using Freewrite in unique and customizable ways, but I’m not one who knows, so when I say something can’t be done, that’s speaking of my own experience and understanding of its general use, others, well, are more ingenious.) Editing is always for later with the Freewrite, and on another word processing application, i.e. Word or Scrivener. 

Its (arguable) distraction-free allure and the rather instant upload to the cloud make the Freewrite highly desirable. It has a high “hipster-alert” quotient however when used out in the wild, which is to say you get a few stares and ‘tude like the ponce who takes his 1920 Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter to coffeehouses to work (me). My own use has been sporadic because I have other means and machines to help me get a draft down. Frankly, I have an iMac Clamshell laptop, I purloined from eBay a few years ago, performing the very same functions as the Freewrite, at a fraction of the cost. It should be said though, the Freewrite keyboard is superior to my Clamshell. It has a very tactile feel to it that feels and sounds rather marvelous. This is no fey MacBook keyboard. 

The clear barrier to wide adoption, understandably, is its price. It is costly to purchase when the very same activity can be accomplished with any number of meager tools and some honest to goodness will power. 

So why?

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Me at work, not distracted, at Starbucks. I wrote the first draft of this review on the Freewrite at Starbucks
I am a lover of gadgets and typewriters; when the two were melded into the Freewrite (originally called the Hemingwrite, BTW) I was more or less on board from its Kickstarter beginnings. It was painful to be in on this device so early, because its founders took utter care in crafting it and making sure it was all they had hoped for and promised. It took time to finally arrive; now my understanding is that they can overnight one. It costs less than most quality laptops, comes with a community of fellow enthusiasts through the same Web site that serves as main cloud depository, and Freewrite allows you to get some work done, without much distraction, anywhere you choose.

It was an easy choice for me to make. Sell a couple of stories and the thing is paid for.

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One of the resting screensavers — the Freewrite does not have to be turned off completely each time you are done