in the rotten and the ghosts

“My bones are rotten,” it told me. “My rooms all filled with ghosts. Come inside and see for yourself. I’ll protect you as I swallow you up and guide you through the sagging floors where footsteps used to thump. Down the creaking stairs, don’t bump your head, to see where I buried my dead. I guess you could call it a garden of sorts, but the worms are all hungry now. That’s right, my dear, nestle into the dirt, it’ll soak up what’s left of your blood. It’s not a bad place to end things, you’ll see. Plenty more ghosts than just me.”

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the Freewrite review and experiment proposal

Last July, I won a first pages writing contest at Writer Unboxed. The prize was a glorious piece of writing tech: a Freewrite by Astrohaus. My Freewrite arrived late last week and we’ve been busy getting to know each other.

There’s a friendliness to this little beast, perhaps in the face I see when I’m writing, folder and wifi toggles like eyes, the keyboard a toothy grin. It reminds me of the way I imagined helpful robots in the era of Return of the Jedi and  Flight of the Navigator. Or maybe my old Speak ‘n Spell?

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Depictions of familiar writers wait for me before I turn it on.  Isaac Asimov,  Agatha Christie, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe.  “Good morning, Chuck,” I catch myself saying to Charles Dickens as I set down my coffee and turn it on. His face disappears and my writing awaits.

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While I admire these great writers, I’d love to see writers of color represented, as well as a better balance of genders. Alexandre Dumas, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou – they would do well in this crowd.

Technically speaking, the Freewrite keyboard is smaller than my laptop keyboard, which took me a moment to adjust to. It does bring to mind happy memories of plunking away on my parent’s electric typewriter, dreaming of being a famous novelist like the fictional Jessica Fletcher (obviously the whole mystery writer thing didn’t take). The notable exceptions being that the Freewrite fits on my lap without crushing me and has all the convenience of digital processing.

Learning how to use my Freewrite was as simple as following a few prompts to set up my ‘Postbox’ online and sync my cloud.

I ran into some syncing problems early on and panicked, thinking I’d lost my work. Freewrite covered me by sending a .pdf and a .txt copy of the work in question, which I didn’t expect. Thanks for having my back, little Freewrite!

A quick trip into the troubleshooting forums instructed me on how to re-sync my cloud. I suspect my spotty satellite connection will make this fix a common event. In the forums I also discovered that I can also plug the Freewrite into my laptop with its USB cord (also used for charging) and access my work through my Postbox online. Backups of backups? Yes please!

The Freewrite does not allow for editing. This is strictly a first draft machine. It is a pleasure to draft on as I stare off into the distance, lost in the world of my story, no glaring screen demanding my attention.

My preferred method is writing long-hand, which gives me a feeling of intimacy with the page and the words as they come. I don’t get this with my laptop, but I am finding this personal ‘sweet spot’ on the Freewrite. It feels like a writing buddy, with all the familiarity of an old notebook, stuffed full of stories. Full disclosure: I’ve already named the device and given it a backstory.  #wordnerd

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The screen is a game changer for me. I often get eye strain after a long day in front of my laptop. With the Freewrite, I’m constantly looking up, at the baby, and across the room as I consider something new.  While it’s not over-bright, I turned off the screen light first thing (hit the ‘special’ key + l), which is my personal preference, and discovered I can still read my work by regular lamplight at night.

As a bonus, I can see the screen just as well outside, which means I can move my writing outdoors without any trouble.  The Freewrite feels sturdy enough that I’m not afraid of damaging anything internal by lugging it outside. Hellooooo hammock writing!

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There are other features worth mentioning: the battery that lasts for a week; the word count option in the lower window (my favorite); and there’s even a timer option for word sprints!

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that’s gonna come in handy for NaNoWriMo
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time your word sprints!

The slogan of the Freewrite claims it is a “distraction free writing” device. Astrohaus’ website promises it will double your productivity. Is this true? That’s the real question. These beasts don’t come cheap.

First: is it distraction free? The Freewrite is set up to write, and nothing else. The wifi capability works in one direction: to your cloud. You can’t google something, you can’t search thesaurus.com. You can’t even go back a few paragraphs to edit without deleting everything ahead of it. You are forced to slog ever onward.

I’ve read arguments that this is silly, after all, who doesn’t have a phone handy to look things up and fall down a rabbit hole of something or other? This made sense, so when I first pulled my Freewrite onto my lap, I left my phone across the room. The first time I reached a point where I would normally look something up, I looked at my phone, far away, remembered how comfy I was, how well the writing was going, and left it where it was. I could look it up later. I typed a note into my draft to remind myself, and kept on going. This happens about twice a day as I’m clickety clacking away, and I’m consistently choosing to keep writing. I am consciously making this choice, but the Freewrite removes temptation.

Productivity is trickier to prove. Eight months ago, before Baby Nim arrived, I was averaging 13 645 new words per month (not including any editing and secondary drafts). Since Nim arrived, I’ve been struggling to reach a measly 4000 new words per month. Yeah. Time to get back on track.

What I propose is to track my writing for the rest of September, on into October. I’ll stop when November arrives as I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo and this will skew the results. If there’s interest, I’ll consider posting the results of the months following November as well.

I’ll only track new words drafted on the Freewrite for the purposes of this experiment. Further skewing may come from the Freewrite being a new toy, but the lengths of the experiment should ease this skew and a pattern should emerge by the end of October.

There may be a tendency toward greater productivity because I’m being held accountable. We’ll have to absorb this one, I’m afraid, as I see no way around it. I can tell you that I’ve always found ways to hold myself accountable (waves sheaf of calendar records). I’ll come back here at the end of October and post my results.

At this point I have had my Freewrite for seven days.  In this time I have written as follows:

Day 1  – 705 words

Day 2 – 2145 words

Day 3 – 1571 words

Day 4 – 1749 words

Day 5 – 239 words

Day 6 – 1724 words

Day 7 – 681 words

In the past week I’ve already surpassed my post-Nim monthly writing average, but will it last? Can the Freewrite actually double my pre-baby productivity? Let’s find out!

P S. this post was drafted on my Freewrite.

the winning entry

Late last July, I entered a contest at Writer Unboxed. The task was this: write 200 words of a story’s beginning  in 24 hours. The judges chose finalists, and then readers voted on the final stories: yes, they would keep reading; or no, they wouldn’t turn the page. Well, my entry won! The prize? A Freewrite, touted as a “distraction free writing tool”.

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My Freewrite arrived the other day and I’m busily learning the ins and outs of it so I can tell you all about it … and that’s what made me realize I never shared my contest entry. I admit I feel shy about it, because I’d like to polish it up more than 24 hours’ worth. Usually I’m a 20 or so drafts writer, but no. It won, after all, posted publicly for all to see. The Freewrite folks also asked permission to reprint it (no news on that one yet), so it’s time I accept it, warts and all.

So here it is folks, for your reading pleasure (I hope!):

Little Kira sucked at her thumb, unable to look away from a few grains of sand clinging to the mermaid’s eye. Confusion pooled within her six-year-old mind, flowing back and forth between delight that mermaids were real and horror that this one was dead.

The tide completed its voyage out and was coming ‘round again when the search party found her there, her small form hidden amid the debris of the storm surge. Squawking gulls took to wing as they approached. The smell struck them hard, a stench of rotting fish and decayed seaweed. Their jaws fell agape at the mermaid, hands flying to their mouths.

Someone clasped their hands over Kira’s eyes as a sand crab scuttled from the mermaid’s open mouth. Kira pushed the hands away, thinking that it wasn’t fair the summer sun had bloated the mermaid so.

A woman wrapped her in a blanket, murmuring to her companion. “What becomes of a little girl who sees something like this?”

Kira wondered what they meant.

She suddenly wanted to touch the mermaid, just once, before she had to leave. Without hesitating, she reached for the mermaid’s tail. A smear of silver scales came off onto her hand.

Well, what about you? Would you keep reading?

pack your bags for a daydream

Pack your bags for a daydream, was all the invitation said. I looked around my apartment, uncertain. What would I need for a daydream?

Google didn’t help.

My empty suitcase, second-hand and no stranger to adventure, waited on my bedroom floor. “Think like a story,” it suggested.

My suitcase is overfond of riddles.

In the end I packed a clock, so I wouldn’t run out of time. A dictionary, so I wouldn’t be at a loss for words. A compass, so I could explore with confidence, and a mirror, to reflect upon my adventures. Blushing, I tucked in my imagination. I probably should have thought of that sooner. Next came knitting needles, in case I felt the dream unraveling. The last thing I packed was a box of cookies. To share.

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publication day!

Issue 68 of Andromeda Spaceways is out today, which is especially exciting because it contains my short story Mrs. Coleman’s Backyard Refugee Camp.  Just look at this gorgeous cover

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artwork by Evgeniia Litovchenko

It is quite a thrill to see my name on there!

The digital issue is available for purchase on Andromeda Spaceways’ website for $4.95 (Australian dollars). I’d love to hear your thoughts if you read it!

On another note, my eldest starts kindergarten tomorrow. Which may mean more time to write, but first … inevitable heartache. *deep breath*