An interesting product came up on my radar yesterday. And I’m not one to diss genuine creativity and inventiveness gratuitously, but I do wonder. The Hemingwrite, you see, is designed as “A Distraction Free Writing Tool,” offering the functionality of an old-style word processor, the ergonomics of a typewriter, and the freedom from distractions of a hermit’s cave. And designed for decades of use.

The Hemingwrite’s features include a mechanical keyboard, an e-ink display with backlight, and Evernote cloud backup – for despite its retro styling, the Hemingwrite is a connected beast. What it is not, however, is connected to the internet in such a way that allows the distractions of the internet, social media, or even email to impinge on your creative fugue.

“What the Kindle did for reading, we want to do for writing,” says cofounder Patrick Paul in the Hemingwrite’s launch release. “Adam and I are huge fans of the simplicity of a typewriter but using one is tiresome and outdated. We set out to deliver the same distraction-free writing experience of a typewriter with all of the added benefits of modern technology: backups to the cloud, e-paper display, Cherry MX keyboard switches – and nothing else.”

I can imagine the appeal for some – without drawing the obvious, damning parallel with Jonathan Franzen. But I do have one reservation. For many, many working writers, writing requires research and reference to real-world materials rather than the products of your imagination – mostly now accessed online. Working writers also need to manage their writing career and their daily routine. They even need, god forbid, to copy/paste. All of that can be done on a desktop, laptop, or tablet while writing as well. Except for sustained bursts of a very particular kind of creativity, I don’t see the Hemingwrite actually helping most working writers much – although there is probably still enough of a niche audience to throw up buyers.

I’m also simply not persuaded that distraction via the internet is that much of a problem for modern writers. Virtual persons from Porlock may be constantly intrusive, but it didn’t take the internet to invent distractions. And many, many writers, including Franzen’s idol Karl Kraus, have written in cafes, libraries or other public places partly in order to distract themselves from the intense solitude of the writer’s life. That’s a problem that it didn’t take the internet to invent, and that social media has if anything alleviated.

The Hemingwrite’s inventors do ask one question that’s worth pondering, though. “What’s the oldest electronic device you own and actually still use?” they query. “The question arises: Is it even possible to create an electronic device in 2014 that doesn’t become obsolete?” Now, notwithstanding my reservations about the Hemingwrite, I can imagine those who want it still using it in five or ten years’ time. I’m not even convinced that something like my Android tablet will last that long.


  1. It looks more like a child’s toy than a useful writer’s tool. A ripoff of the Alphasmart with bells and whistles added. Is it accidental that the photo is so poor that you can’t identify any of the features? Is this a prototype still in development or a ready-for-market product? I’d be willing to bet it never gets off the ground floor, and if it does, it will sink without a trace.

  2. The screen is so poorly placed that writers can’t see what they are writing without hunching over, and back problems are rampant enough in this profession.

    The screen is also so small that only a few sentences are shown which would make it pretty dang difficult to rework anything for those of us who rewrite as we go.

    As someone who has composed on paper, on an electric typewriter, and various computers over the years, I find a decent word-processing program on a computer with a big screen with a zoom feature the best of all methods for me. The spelling feature, the ease of moving text via cut and paste, and the ability to change fonts and font sizes is also a big plus.

    Writer friends who can’t focus because of the Internet, etc., pull the plug on their modem or have a computer that isn’t connected to the Internet. They also cut off their cell phones, etc. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than a silly toy like this.

  3. Paul…

    An enjoyable read and a great analysis of this particular piece of writer-centric tech and its practical usefulness.

    Personally, I write using a single keyboard and mouse with three separate computers, each powering separate large-screen monitors, the largest 28″ diagonally.

    Excessive? Absolutely. Necessary for me? Probably not. But it helps. I can have notes open on one screen, the manuscript on another, and email or a browser open for reference on the third one. It makes my life a lot easier on a day-to-day basis.

    While I loved the keyboard on the original IBM Selectric II, I found writing on a typewriter anything but distraction-free. As you pointed out, it didn’t take the internet to distract writers.

    I suppose writers will always prefer whatever they began writing with, whether it’s a pen and a white legal tablet (like James Patterson, whom I know you loathe), an 18 year-old PC (like Dean Koontz), an Olympic manual (like Harlan Ellison), or a reasonably state-of-the-art PC or Macintosh (like the rest of us).

    Sadly, I think the Hemingway device is already like the man himself: dead. It just doesn’t know it yet. (Too soon?)

  4. As an avid Alphasmart user I’m curious to see how it’ll go. The Neo works poorly for me (my computer is picky) so I’m a Dana user instead, which would be perfect if not for the battery life (I charge every four days as a hobbiest.)

    Probably won’t buy one immediately, especially since it looks expensive, but if it flops I’ll be there to pick up cheap used ones on EBay.

  5. There is a large audience for this I think. The price is steep. Alot of people do get distracted while writing so I think this has value of at least opening the door for a great all around writing tool. If they fine tune this product with improvements I can see it staying around. I don’t understand why tablets and laptops dont have mechanical keyboards incorporated. Or the option to have an eink screen incorp. with an lcd/isp for eye relief….hhmm.

  6. I currently write on an Alphasmart Neo and before I plopped down the 400.00 for a Hemingwrite I actually tracked down Patrick Paul at the CES Convention in Las Vegas and took a hands on test drive of it. It has the best feeling of any keyboard I have ever used. It is extremely well made and I can vouch for it not being a cheap rip off of the Alphasmart in a higher price tag. The Hemingwrite is indeed the best made writing device, I have seen since metal typewriters. The body is solid aluminum. It has a 4 week battery life, this gives you the possibility to hike to places for weeks on end and write in a place where only a note pad could go before. It loads to the cloud as soon as connected to the internet so all of your information is protected from a computer crash and most of all it just feels really good when I am typing. After using the Hemingwrite I really hate my Neo and my laptop. Every keyboard I touch now feels like I am playing with a babies toy. The Hemingwrite certainly is not the toy if anything it is the first thing I have seen in 30 years that is not.

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