About a year and a half ago, what was then known as the Hemingwrite had a Kickstarter to fund a new, distraction-free writing device. A lot of the internet was going ape over it, so I decided, hey, why not give it a shot? As an early, early, early bird backer, I got a steep discount. Then I waited...and waited...and waited (in Astrohaus's defense, they were great about keeping backers updated as far as the status of the devices). They renamed it the Freewrite. Finally, a couple weeks ago, it arrived!
I was really excited to get it. I'd been doing a lot of my writing on an old Alphasmart Dana that I had renamed Zuul, and to be honest, it just wasn't working for me. Getting the file from the device onto my computer was...well, interesting. And yes, there are ways to make your computer work in such a way that it can be kind of distraction free, but my brain has a hard time making that adjustment. Having a specific device that I ONLY EVER use for writing works the best for me. And yes, that is most definitely a #firstworldproblem. I CAN work on a regular computer. I have for a very long time. But I work best on a writing specific device, even if it is a pad and paper.
So, I got the Freewrite in the mail. Now, having gotten some other things from Kickstarters, I have to say, you never would guess that this was a small independent venture. The box, the packaging, everything was top-notch quality. There was no concern about it having been damaged. It even had a shroud. It was well cushioned and protected.
It came with a small "get started" guide that basically said how to turn the device on for the first time, and then a charging cord. That's it. And really, that's all that needed to be there. Almost.
The first thing that anyone has to understand when they consider a Freewrite is that it is streamlined. It is designed for fast drafting, getting that first draft out. There are no arrow keys, for example. You can use "page up" and "page down" to read your document, but you can't get a cursor up or down. You can't go back and edit what you wrote yesterday on the Freewrite.
That's OK, though, because one of the great things about the Freewrite versus my old Alphasmart is that the Freewrite has wireless capabilities. When the wireless is connected, your document is instantly sent to Google Docs (or Dropbox, and I believe they said iCloud is coming up as well as an update). One thing that seems to have caused a lot of confusion is Astrohaus's use of the word "sync." The Freewrite doesn't sync, per se. You cannot import documents onto it. It exports documents onto cloud programs via the internet. So, it's not a two-way street.
One other issue I had was that it was hard for me to get answers to my questions at first. As I said, the device came with a tiny get started guide. The rest is online at the Astrohaus website. It was very easy to set the device up, but the website had very little more on it as far as troubleshooting. Now, things are much better for newer users because they have forums, and they are better populated now than they were when I first started (I was literally one of the first people there). So NOW, users can find answers to questions and have people to talk to, including the Freewrite developers, who seem to be fairly active on there.
It took me about a day to figure out the best way to use the Freewrite, how to tailor it to my specific usage. But after that...I found it to be a dream to work on. I LOVE the keyboard. I admit, I am a hardware junky. Keyboards...I could just...the clickety clack...give me a moment.
Anyway. The keyboard on the Freewrite is a thing of beauty. The keys have the perfect amount of resistance, they have that old school sound and feel that you really just can't find in modern keyboards. I feel like I am writing when I use it. I feel like I'm accomplishing something. However, if you have a roommate who needs quiet, or need to write in the library, this might not be the best option for you. It's not a quiet keyboard. It is lovely, though, and was definitely one of the reasons I wanted the Freewrite.
Because the Freewrite is so simple, there is very little for technophobes to "mess up." two switches, a button to turn it on, and the keyboard. One port in the back for the charger. That's it. You choose what folder you want to type in (three options, a, b, or c), and hit the two red "new" buttons at once (VERY handy to prevent accidental overwrites) and boom, you are ready to start typing.
The device itself has aluminum housing and a rubberized plastic bottom. It's very sturdy and I definitely am not worried about damage. The screen is just like the paperwhite Kindle screen. Very visible, stark contrast yet not too much where you get eye strain. You can set the size of font, and the screen, though small, is actually just fine for drafting. I have not felt that I needed to see more of my work than what is there. You can see a paragraph or two.
I have used my Freewrite daily, for a couple hours a day, and after two weeks had to plug it in for the first time just now. I don't know how charged it was when I first got it, but this works fine for me. I expect it will last longer with the new, full charge.
So, all in all, I love this thing. How I use it:
I sit down at the thing and start typing. At the beginning of the doc, I type "Chapter 3, scene 2" or whatever I'm working on. This is because that's how the Freewrite names the file, with the date and then the first couple words of the document. Then I type, come back, type more, until I am done with the chapter or scene, however I decide to work. It works best for me to put a "return" between each paragraph to format it. Then, I go to Google Docs and look at the file there (which is already there without me having to do anything, other than have the wireless on on the device). I import it onto my preferred word processing device, and there I format the spacing and paragraphs properly with a click of the mouse so that everything is in standard manuscript format. Voila. Very, very easy. Then I clear the folder on the device and start the next chapter.
Why don't I just write the entire thing on the Freewrite, top to bottom? I could easily do that and it would work just fine. My issue is that I'm actually not on my first draft--some of my material I will be copying and pasting. And sometimes I don't work in order, and with no way to move things around, that just doesn't work. It's not what the machine is designed for. But you could very easily write your entire manuscript, top to bottom, on this device, and it will automatically back up to Dropbox or Google Docs or Evernote.
All in all, I really enjoy using the Freewrite. So why shouldn't everyone go out and grab one right now?
Well....frankly, the cost. As I said, I got a pretty good discount, being something like the 16th person who backed it on Kickstarter. The going price for one of these NOW is something around $500. That is a LOT of money for a glorified typewriter. Now, I'm not saying the Freewrite is not worth this money. The quality of the construction, the keyboard, the hardware they used, the keyboard, the design that went into it, the keyboard, all are expensive and were very deliberate choices on the designers' part. If these things are important to folks--and they can be--then every penny goes to a good cause. But not everyone can afford all of these components, and I think when push comes down to shove, this is not something that people need to have. It's a luxury. That doesn't mean that people shouldn't buy one or feel guilty--if you have the cash, it is, as I said, a fine piece of equipment on which to draft your novels, articles, and whatever else you want.
So, as the Freewrite tells me every time I look at it, "Set your story free!"
And oh, that keyboard.
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available now on Amazon. Follow Melanie on Facebook and on Twitter as @MelanieRMeadors.