7 Distraction-Free Writing Devices
When I first wrote about my AlphaSmart years ago, I got a lot of confused comments as to why I would want a device with a one-color screen and no internet. “Why not just focus?” was the general response. Since then, there’s been a slow but sure growth in interest in distraction-free writing devices. In fact, the New Yorker even recently wrote about them.
Distraction-free writing devices tend to not have internet, nor notifications, so you’re not tempted to check social media or surf the web, nor are you interrupted.
We already spend a ton of time on full-power electronic devices. so distraction-free writing devices can help manage our energy levels, as they may be totally mechanical, or use drastically less electricity than, say, a fully-featured laptop. Many people report eyestrain from looking at screens, and I personally have noticed I’m sensitive to EMFs, and I fatigue quickly on even a low-EMF computing setup.
Distraction-free writing devices
Here are some distraction-free writing tools and devices, besides apps, and the obvious pen-and-paper or small whiteboard.
I love to write on a typewriter. It’s a way better experience than you would expect. My typewriter is completely mechanical (some are electric, and so require less finger strength), and I can write on it all day without fatigue. I love how writing on a typewriter eliminates your internal critic. You can’t transfer to an electronic form, so there’s no fooling yourself: you’re writing a first draft. There also great for writing neatly on index cards for a paper zettelkasten.
You can find typewriters at local thrift stores, or in an old relative’s attic, but people are still refurbishing them. I bought my 1953 Smith-Corona Super at Phoenix Typewriter.
Read about why I write on a typewriter »
The AlphaSmart is a portable word processor with a simple screen that displays a few lines of text. It stores eight separate text files, so you can easily switch amongst projects. I personally use it for initial brainstorming, or drafting articles that I later rewrite, but it’s still possible to transfer your writing to a computer or tablet, via a USB cable.
They’re no longer made, but the NEO (shown above) usually available used on Amazon, for around $80. It runs for months on three AA batteries. Read about my AlphaSmart »
Freewrite makes a collection of e-ink screen-and-keyboard devices that sync to the cloud. Many writers balk at the price tags, ranging from just under $500, to $1,000. But if you earn your bread writing, it could easily be worth it. (Haven’t tried one.)
Pomera makes foldable e-ink pocket devices. They’re a Japanese company, manufacturing primarily for Japanese users, so it seems some struggle with it not being particularly friendly to writing English – if you can even get your hands on one. Though I’ve seen some reports on Reddit it’s getting better. (Haven’t tried one.) The base price is 49,800 Yen, or about $366.
Modifications to existing writing devices to make them distraction-free
Here’s a few ways, if you’re technically adept, you can hack existing devices to be more distraction-free:
SolarWriter is an iPhone and Android app to connect a keyboard to your Kindle (and simultaneously, your smartphone, which makes it a bit less distraction-free). Ostensibly, this is for writing outside, in the sun.
Kobowriter is an open-source project, on GitHub, to make a Kobo e-reader accept a keyboard. The e-reader is unable to provide power, so you may have to supply power to your keyboard, as the creator, Loup Topalian, has shown above.
7. ReMarkable with Keyboard
The ReMarkable is a bit of a distraction-free writing device in itself, albeit by hand. Here’s a blog post showing how to connect a keyboard to a ReMarkable e-ink tablet.
As I wrote about in my book, Mind Management, Not Time Management, different stages of the creative process call for different tools. I think of them as either “grippy” or “slippy” tools, and you can choose the right device with just the right balance of distractibility and versatility.