The Freewrite removes that shroud, situating the writer in the world, while also making the writer’s work transparent to any who would happen to look or wonder. And given that the device is small and light enough to take anywhere, that place could be anywhere—the armchair, the bed, the toilet, the terrace, the lawn. It signals that its user is writing, because it can do nothing else.
* * *
I get the first wobbles of dizzy drunkenness as I realize that the Freewrite encourages me to see into the distance as my fingers inject letters onto its screen, into its files, and eventually up to the cloud. It’s just my den—I’ve seen it a million times before. The couch, the chairs, the bookcases, the art on the walls, the ceiling fan spinning. But I’ve never seen them while writing—not this directly, anyway. The Freewrite almost feels like an en plein air field easel, but for words rather than pigments. I can look at what I am writing about, without looking back and forth to the screen on which I would write it.
I feel headless. Blind, almost. I’m typing—writing, I should call it, but it doesn’t feel that way—on nothing whatsoever. This is a device that truly earns the name “cloud,” for it makes me feel as if I am floating.
It is a different kind of emancipation than merely eschewing online distractedness. Unfortunately, it’s also an aspect of the Freewrite that has been downplayed as the device made its way from prototype to Kickstarter campaign to manufactured product. When I signed up for Astruhaus’s crowdfunding campaign a year and a half ago, they were calling the gadget the Hemingwrite. It was an obvious riff on the lucid and unadorned prose of the American novelist, the sure and unfettered individualism of the writer of True Sentences overtaking the anxiety and uncertainty of the Internet-connected, hipster-neurotic, Brooklyn-based writer. There were good reasons to change the name, not the least of which is its unnecessary coupling to a machismo that’s long outlived its usefulness in writer’s circles of all kinds.
Nevertheless, it’s still bittersweet to have abandoned Papa as namesake. Like Thoreau in the 19th century, in the 20th Hemingway had made writing a kind of living, and living a kind of writing. Deliberate, individual, slow, strong, lonely, powerful. Words maturing in the mind’s warm pupa, before fluttering into the cool air via the chrysalis we nickname “the writing process.” A few hundred true words a day, before the trauma of war wounds gave way to the pallor of drink.
Alas and thank goodness, those days are over. The Hemingwrite would have been doomed to romantic nostalgia, as if there really ever was a time when writers just wrote, even in the sticky heat of nonchalant, mid-century prosperity. Not to mention the fact that Hemingway wrote his first drafts longhand anyway! Today, the Freewrite can never really escape the delight and the prison of writing in the time of the Internet.