Writing-related Gadgetry: The Freewrite Traveler

Like many other people trapped in this nightmareish hellscape of a year, I’ve coped in part by resorting to shopaholism. I wouldn’t say it’s a problem, but let’s say that as someone ten years sober, I recognize certain similarities btween buying crap and being addicted to alcohol.

Nonetheless I’ve bought some stuff, and it’s been fun, and it’s diverted me temporarily from the collapse of democracy in America. My latest purchase is actually an old one, from an Indiegogo campaign I backed quite a while ago. I got this nifty little typewriter-style word-processing gadget: the Freewrite Traveler.

It’s essentially a keyboard attached to an e-ink screen. It connects to wifi and uploads your documents as text files. It has a very simple interface, and it’s intended to help you focus on generating text without doing anything else.

Longtime blog readers might remember that I went through a long phase where I developed increasingly complicated systems for shutting off my own access to internet while I wrote. At first it was only this app, Freedom, that forces you to reboot your computer if you want to access the internet before time is up.

That worked for about four years, until I finally got a smart phone. Then I bought these Kitchensafe boxes that I used to lock up my phone. And I bought bigger boxes to lock up my ipad. Eventually I started doing this thing where I would lock up everything before going to sleep and not set it to open again until 2 PM the next day. But at some point two years ago I got an iPad too big to lock up in one of the boxes, so I gave up on the practice.

By that time I’d outgrown it. I had learned the dangers of forcing myself to write when I had nothing to say. Now if I don’t feel like writing, I just don’t do it. Sometimes that feels bad and like a waste of time, but I think procrastination does have its uses. I’ve learned to listen to procrastination, to listen to my own disinterest in the text and feel what my unconscious is trying to tell me.

But I still do have a fascination with things that reduce the barriers to writing. For a time I used this app called FlowState where the text disappears if you don’t keep writing continuously. I wrote several short stories using that app, including, if I am not mistaken, my recently published story “The Leader Principle”, which came out in F&SF. I also wrote a number of chapters of my literary novel, THE LONELY YEARS, in that app.

But once I had a child, life became too chaotic for FlowState. There are always interruptions that might cause you to look away for too long and, as a result, lose the text. And I wouldn’t dare lock up my phone or shut off my Internet, because you never know when you might need to hurriedly google “How can I tell if the paint chips my kid just ate have lead in them?”

So now I have this doohickey. And…it’s okay. I like it. It’s one of those things I can’t entirely recommend, since I think other people probably wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much. For one thing, the screen has a delay–the letters don’t appear until at least a half-second after you type. This, combined with the lack of arrow keys (there is a way of skipping backward in the text, but it’s cumbersome) means that for most people, especially those who are prone to frequent typos and spelling mistakes, this really wouldn’t be very useful.

For me, however, I really like devices that denature the text and make it seem less like a real book. I like things that feel temporary and trivial. The small screen and the cheesy look of the device makes it feel like everything you write in it isn’t really serious. And the simple file system encourages you to just turn it on and start writing.

For me the most annoying thing is the lack of first-line indents. This is a common feature of writing apps that are designed by programmers. They all use markdown for their formatting, and they are all designed with the assumption that your text is going to go on the internet (where there are no indents and where paragraphs are usually set off by a blank line). When writing a short story or a novel, that just really doesn’t feel right to me. And it often requires some annoying reformatting when I finally import the document into Word or Scrivener.

Anyway this was a thoroughly pointless blog entry. Do not buy this device. You do not need it. You do not need anything. If Flaubert could write Madame Bovary with pen and paper, then none of us need some fancy piece of machinery to churn out our fanfics and blog posts.

I’ve also been reading a lot of graphic novels, as I think I’ve mentioned. I read Greg Rucka’s STUMPTOWN. It’s about a PI based in Portland. It’s four volumes, and I think only really found its footing with the last one, which centers around a billionaire who’s trying to steal a coffee roaster’s special civet cat coffee. Before that, the tone just felt a little too heavy.

Also reading THE LONELY BONES, which is fantastic. I can’t believe this book sold twenty million copies. It is so good. And really intriguing structure. It has a “how do they catch the killer” element that keeps you reading, but the core of the book is the murdered narrator’s longing for the life she was pulled away from, and her description of the lives and struggles of the people she left behind. Beautiful book.

As for my own writing, I’m working on a very intriguing fantasy novel that blends several ideas I’ve been toying with for years. But it’s hard to say if it’ll ever really turn into anything. This book has made me remember why I stopped writing long-form speculative fiction. You neeed to get the premise really tight, both on a thematic and a logical level, before you even start, and oftentimes by the time the premise is in order, it’s so tight that it drains all the urgency from the text and doesn’t give you the ability to really get into the emotional arcs.

We’ll see. It feels good to write. It’s only in the last few days that I’ve felt excited about this book as anything more than just an exercise. Sometimes I despair of ever having another book published again. The path is just so long, and who knows if the world will even be standing by the time my book is finally on submission to publishers (much less the point at which it would come out).

I also feel like writing about trans themes and trans characters puts a barrier between me and the reader. They want to like and appreciate a book that’s about the T in the alphabet soup, but in truth the worries and concerns of the T are not particularly relatable even to the rest of the alphabet, much less to cis-hetero people. So the reader comes away wanting something that it’s impossible for the text to give them. They want to feel some connection to this story, but they can’t, because it is all about feeling alienated from exactly those things that the reader takes most for granted.