Look South

By Dave South

Freewrite Gen3 on my floating shelf.

The Freewrite Smart Typewriter Gen3 sits beautifully on my shelf next to my desk. There is a handle in the top so it’s easy to grab and go.

What is a Freewrite, and why did I get one?

There is a computer product I’ve coveted for a while. It’s not fast. The screen is black and white. It’s a little finicky. It has almost no ability to do anything … except write. It’s called the Freewrite.

I hate writing, so naturally, my job is to write. I write content for websites. After my research, I have to sit and force myself to write what I’ve learned in plain language. My brain would rather do anything else — surf the web, clean the house, do my taxes. Writing that first draft is a killer.

I own an iPad and bought a Magic Keyboard to trick myself into writing more. It didn’t help. The iPad is just as bad as a laptop for distractions. Plus, the Magic Keyboard isn’t stable on my lap. It’s worse than a laptop for typing in most places.

What I wanted was something like a Kindle, but for writing. If you own an e-ink e-reader, you understand what I mean. If you are holding a Kindle, you are reading. That’s all it does. It’s way better than an iPad or iPhone for reading. It works in sunlight. The text is crisp and easy on the eyes. I love reading books on my Paperwhite Kindle.

The Freewrite is precisely the same, except for writing. They call it a smart typewriter. Like a typewriter, you must push forward. There’s a backspace key to fix a simple mistake, but editing on it is nearly impossible.

Unfortunately, a Freewrite is not cheap. The Freewrite Gen3 is $650. If you buy the hard case for it, it’s a cool $800. Want the Hemingway signature edition with a matching case? $1000.

But I couldn’t let it go. I need to write more, much more, and distractions are killing me.

A search of KSL classifieds returned one, and only one, Freewrite for sale in the Salt Lake City area. It was brand new, still shrinkwrapped, Gen3 Freewrite with the matching hard case. He’d sell both for $500. Why? Because he also owned a Hemingwrite and loved it. So he was selling the second machine he bought at the same time.

I raced to get it. That was in late June. I figured I could sell it again for the same amount on eBay if I didn’t use it. I shouldn’t have worried. I love it.

It sits firmly, solidly, on my lap. The keyboard is raised higher than my MacBook Pro, so it’s in a better ergonomic typing position. The laptop has an excellent keyboard, but the mechanical keyboard on the Freewrite blows it away. I can type faster and more accurately.

The Freewrite works everywhere, even in sunlight. I like taking places where I will be left alone to type. A park. A coffee shop. My backyard.

It’s a feature that editing on Freewrite is difficult. It forces me to write. This cannot be emphasized enough. This is the reason to buy a Freewrite. It’s the whole point.

If you have a Freewrite on your lap, you are writing. That’s all it can do.

No autocorrect is another feature. How often have I written content and unknowingly misspelled a word that autocorrected to a word that — although spelled correctly — is entirely wrong? When I bring a draft from Freewrite into my computer, the spelling mistakes are all underlined and easily corrected.

The screen lag in tech reviews is overblown. It reminds me of MacBook Pro reviews. Reviewers HATED the notch on the screen. Yet, after a couple of days, the notch disappears from your perception.

Perception is the problem.

The lag is more noticeable when you first use a Freewrite. Over time, as you get used to the rhythm of typing, the perception diminishes. Sometimes it reminds you there is lag. Mostly, you never notice. You are writing. Your brain is pushing forward. When I type, I know I made a mistake. I hit “new-backspace,” and the word is erased, and I can retype it and move on. Or wait just a moment, and the word appears. Rhythm. Perception. New habits.

What about the price?

How much money do videographers and photographers spend on cameras, lenses, lights, and computers? All justified as “the right tools for the job.” A tricked-out 16-inch MacBook Pro is $6100, yet companies outfit entire development teams with these screaming machines because it makes their people more productive.

How valuable are words? How valuable is productivity? Will I write more with a Freewrite? Yes, I already do.

More importantly, it’s forcing me to rethink how I write. Before, I would write, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite the first paragraph trying to get the correct “tone.”

With Freewrite, you can’t do it that way. It’s a throwback like a pen and paper or a manual typewriter. You write. You can’t go back.

Write first. Edit later.

Get that first draft out of your head, warts and all. Then go back and rewrite.

Ironically, after worrying about the price, I take my Freewrite places where I would never bring my laptop. The Freewrite is cheaper and easily replaced compared to my fully-laden laptop.

Plus, it’s a joy to type on. I look forward to picking it up and clacking out a new draft. I journal with it. I look for excuses to use it. Overcoming my stumbling blocks to writing easily justified the price.

  • Michael Jecks of WriterlyWitterings posted several reviews of the Freewrite that persuaded me that this was more than a toy. For the best long-term review, I highly recommend his video, Astrohaus Freewrite 3 years on.
  • Freewrite and AlphaSmart have teamed up and plan to announce a new product on August 24, 2022. Creative editing reveals it might be a bit in between the Smart Typewriter and the Traveler.