An Open Letter to the Creators of FreeWrite

I heard about a product a little over a year ago: The Hemingwrite. I wrote a little piece about it then, in which I waffled between two opinions. namely that it would probably help some writers to a) write more and b) feel better about their writing, but ultimately I came down on the side of feeling that the thing was decidedly silly for the price. It was still in development, though, and everything was fair game for change.


Well, the wait is over, and the discussion is no longer hypothetical: the device is here. You’ve rebranded it the FreeWrite, which is maybe less catchy than the obvious play on Hemingway’s name. I like it, though. The new name taps into the inspiring soul of the idea: they’re branding it as “your distraction-free writing tool.” It conjures up images of writing wherever, whenever you feel like. A lonely beach at sunrise! A breezy mountaintop with the whispering wind swirling about you! The cozy confines of your murder cabin! Er, writing cabin. I meant writing cabin. Take it anywhere, write anywhere. Distraction free!

And I stand by most of what I wrote in my original review. I would love to test-drive one. It’s still adorable. And I can totally see the draw it will have. We writers are a strange lot — what looks odd and useless to the general public can be a source of endless inspiration for us. Having a tool “just for writing,” especially a tool in which one makes a serious financial investment, is almost certain to do two things: remind the author that he has made a commitment to his craft, and remind him that he really should be writing.

Of course, we have Benedict Cumberbatch for that.


But I see one problem towering above all the rest with the FreeWrite.

The investment.

When I first wrote about it, I (crazily, apparently) mused that I might be willing to spend $100, maybe $150 on something like the FreeWrite. I also realized at the time that that figure was probably laughably low, and I was right; I checked their website and the price, to my memory at the time, was projected to be in the $200-250 range. That’s frankly too rich for my blood.  I’m a guy who agonized for a month over shelling out $40 for a copy of Scrivener. (Which I love, it turns out, although they seriously need to implement a Track Changes feature for the Windows version.)

So what does $250 get us? A typewriter simulator with an e-ink screen and a wi-fi switch for automated cloud backups and a couple of weeks of battery at full charge (which is pretty cool). No internet connectivity for anything other than your backups (which is, obviously, sort of a core tenet of the idea — no distractions). A million pages of internal storage (which is, in the scheme of computer storage, not actually all that much, but since this is all the thing does, it’s more than adequate). Feels a little overpriced to me, but I guess I would have been willing to shell out extra for the kitsch factor.

Except — surprise! — the price on the current iteration of the FreeWrite is $499.

Four hundred ninety-nine dollars. (Which is a specially discounted, limited-time offer over the apparent original price of $549.)

Look. FreeWrite creators.

I wanted to like the product. I really did. In fact, I still do. I think, conceptually, it’s absolutely got a place among burgeoning, youngish writers like myself. (Sorry, I just had a coughing fit over calling myself a youngish writer. Whoops, it happened again.) I can even envision how I  would use it:

“I’m going out to write!” I announce to nobody in particular, as I throw a scarf around my neck and don my tweed jacket with suede elbow patches and spontaneously sprout a beard. I put on spectacles for no apparent reason (they’re just empty frames and YES I CALL THEM SPECTACLES), scoop up my FreeWrite by its collapsible handle and bicycle off on my 19th-century huge-front-wheeled bicycle (because modern bicycles are so mindlessly corporate, and yes, I use “bicycle” as a verb AND a noun in the same sentence; I’m a writer, whee). Along the way, I stop and pick some coffee beans from the living trees and brew them with my own urine, then I perch in the crook of a mighty elm in the heart of the wood, sipping my coffee and typing away on the next American masterpiece while the fauna of the forest swirl lazily around me.

Seriously, the site features pictures of a bearded dude writing on this thing. So tranquil! So creative! So hip! This is what you’re’re selling to the throngs of would-be writers out there. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great vision. People would buy that! I would buy that!

But — five hundred dollars? That’s almost a mortgage payment. Rent for a month. That’s two months worth of car payments. A university course. Four weeks’ worth of groceries for my family of four. 2500 packets of Ramen Noodles, enough to subsist on for over ten years!

So who are you really selling this to? I have to imagine that any “established” writer is already going to have their routines and favorite tools well-ensconced; they won’t have any need for this thing. Poorish college types will balk at dropping that kind of cash on this thing when they can easily get a laptop — and a damn good one at $500 — to do everything this machine does and more. And middle-of-the-road types like me (my wife and I are comfortable, but by no means flush with extra money) are never going to be able to justify dropping that kind of coin on a unitasker like this.

In short, I feel you’ve priced yourself out of the very market you hope to attract. The only people I can see spending $500 on this device are the very rich who have run out of useful things to spend their money and time on (which may be a bigger segment of the population than I give credit for) or those who believe that the tools seriously make the writer (which I sincerely hope is a minuscule portion of the writing population).

For the same $499, I can buy myself a laptop and a copy of Scrivener (which not only offers a distraction-free writing mode, but will also package and format my book for submission to agents or even self-publishing) or any other free programs that do what the FreeWrite does (q10 and WriteMonkey, just off the top of my head, are two free programs that are excellent for drafting), and still have $200 to throw at the tsunami of credit card debt rising outside my door because of all the frivolous, needless things that I buy.(I’m an American, after all).

I would have loved for the FreeWrite to be one of those things. I love its design and I love its concept.

But I can’t, in any type of conscience, let alone with a straight face, consider paying $500 for $100 worth of hardware and $400 worth of kitsch.

Bleh. Back to doing this thing I love using the tools I already possess — which are more than adequate and don’t make me feel like a stinky hipster in hiding.



13 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Creators of FreeWrite

    • You may be right about that: “solution looking for a problem”. I still think it’s a kinda nifty idea. But yeah, the screen really is tiny. I can’t imagine not seeing the whole page as I work on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m considering buying scrivener at the moment. 40 bucks is a lot, but I have heard great things about. If I can put it on my desktop and laptop, it’s so worth it, but I have yet to find if I can do that with one purchase.

    I loved the idea of the FreeWrite. I have been following the development too and was baffled at the price. I will just go full hipster and pull out my old typewriter if I want distraction free writing. I bet I could pay someone less than 500 bucks to type everything in the computer for me after I finish on the typewriter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You can use a single scrivener license to install the program on multiple machines. I want to say maybe as many as 10 installations are allowed. You can even run it from a USB key. It’s a cool little program, a different way of organizing the work. Totally worth the $40, imo. As soon as it gets a track changes feature in Windows (it already has one in Mac, *scowl*) I will probably use scrivener exclusively. For the moment, though, I draft in scrivener and revise in Word.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was a super-early backer at $384, and I dropped out in part because of the reasons you mention, but more specifically because they have, in their holier-than-thou wisdom, intentionally crippled the thing.

    I used an AlphaSmart to draft a decent bit, and I really enjoyed the simplicity (and the full-sized keyboard), but the AlphaSmart comes with 2-key rollover, which means if you can actually type reasonably fast, it will ignore key presses. Frequently. Boo.

    However, the AlphaSmart, being a relatively-exact corollary to the FreeWrite, does include one vital-to-me feature: Arrow Keys.

    Yes. On the AlphaSmart (or a $200 laptop, or a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard, or, really, anything else) I can easily revisit the prior line when I realize that I typed the wrong character’s name, or to fix some other detail I couldn’t recall mid-sentence. But on the Freewrite? Nope. You MUST edit it on your PC later. This device only goes one way. Seriously.

    Ugh. I was ready to drop $384, and likely feel bad about myself down the line, so, in a way, I suppose, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t heard of the AlphaSmart, but … seriously? NO editing capability on the FreeWrite at all? I feel a lot less snooty and judgy about it if that’s the case. Wow. What a tremendous oversight.


      • If you’re at all interested in trying out a dedicated “drafting tool” like the FreeWrite, I’d highly recommend picking up an AlphaSmart on ebay for around $20. Specifically a NEO or Dana, the former being ridiculously simple and the latter having a larger/touch screen and Palm OS.

        Like I said, the NEO has the 2-key rollover issue that requires me to slow down, but otherwise works exactly as advertised, and is a pleasure to type on (even with its membrane keyboard.) I haven’t yet grabbed a Dana, so I can’t say whether the 2-key rollover limitation applies.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have one on order. For why such a thing is useful, watch James Scott Bell’s “Snatching Time” video on Youtube. I have written quite a bit on an Alphasmart in many unusual places and crave two things – high-zen keyboards and long, long battery life.

    The bizarre “feature” of no arrow keys is a deal-stopper. My plan at this point is to root the Freewrite and run a simple Linux editor like Nano (nothing to do with Nanowrimo). If the small screen is a minus, think about not having a clamshell screen flop around while writing in the passenger’s seat of a car. Or use the airline tray table as a writing desk – can’t do that if you have a screen that unfolds.

    Best of all, there has long been a prejudice against e-ink for real-time input, because of the mantra, e-ink is slow. I think the Freewrite could do mankind a real service by showing e-ink can indeed keep up with typing. At a lunch-break picnic table, an e-ink based laptop for writing would be pretty cool. We don’t have them, in part, because most writers are predisposed to think their blinky Kindle displays are the utter limit of e-ink performance.

    But the biggest negative is this. I don’t think any have yet shipped. Find a hands-on review.

    Google “got my Freewrite today,” or “Astrohaus delivers Freewrite.”


    I’m not convinced I’ll ever see one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do think it’s a really cool idea, and for $150 or maybe even $200, I’d love to give one a spin! But at the price point I see, there’s just no way. I mean, if you’re planning to mess with the thing’s onboard programming to make it more like the Alphas art, I’d have to ask again… What is the point of this thing, exactly?

      You’re absolutely right, though. This thing has been “in development” for a couple of years now, and it may well stay that way.

      Meanwhile, my bargain basement laptop is still kicking…


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