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?
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.
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
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!
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!
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.