You’re probably rolling your eyes at it, but yes, the concept of a “writing computer” does exist.
It’s a computer that is dedicated solely to…
*insert drumroll here*
Anticlimactic, we know.
So take a normal computer, and then strip it down to its bare minimum. No games, no entertainment, no nonsense that can distract you from your writing.
It sounds like a silly idea, in theory.
We’re living in an era where high-powered mini computers, no larger than your palm and no thicker than a deck of cards, are commonplace.
These devices can do all sorts of amazing things: programming, video and photo editing, audio production, 3D sculpting, and gaming.
Tap a button, and they can connect you to other people around the globe.
Tap another button, and they can connect you to a collective computing hivemind that can instantly generate images and text for you. Just type away some simple prompts, and out comes content, perfectly formed and polished. (Yes, we’re talking about ChatGPT and all of these magical AI tools that are popping up nowadays).
Yet here you are, wanting to strip all of that away. You want to remove all of these functionalities that make a computer useful to 90% of the world.
That doesn’t make a lick of sense, right?
But hold on a minute.
A computer dedicated solely for writing might not make a lot of sense to most people.
But for easily-distracted authors who depend on writing as a livelihood, it certainly does.
Table of Contents
Your computer might be holding you back
A normal computer is an essential tool for modern productivity. Yet useful as it is, it can also be a double-edged sword.
The next, you’re gorging yourself on random YouTube videos, letting so much precious time slip away with you not making any progress on your writing.
Writing procrastination is a real affliction. And your always-connected computer isn’t helping.
Why writers should have a dedicated writing computer
Let’s start with some of the reasons why you DON’T need a writing computer.
Reasons why you don’t need a writing computer
You don’t need a writing computer if…
- You think it’s unnecessary and excessively pretentious.
- You already have an existing computer that you’d much rather work with.
- You’re pretty old school and you prefer to write using pen and paper. Or maybe a typewriter, like Tom Hanks. (Note: Apparently, actor Tom Hanks has a wholesome obsession with typewriters, according to this feature from Far Out Magazine).
If you agree with the first point, then that’s perfectly alright. Taste is subjective and all that.
Also, we do admit that a “writing computer” isn’t that much of a necessity- it’s more of a “nice to have” thing.
If it’s the second point, then you’re in luck. You can turn whatever computer you’re using right now into a nice, distraction-free machine that is optimized for writing. All you need to do is download some distraction-free writing apps, and you’re all set.
Try WriteMonkey! It’s free and it works on all major operating systems.
If it’s the third point and you just really like writing the old-school way, then more power to you!
It might not be the fastest or even the most efficient way of writing, but the benefits of writing in longhand have long been documented.
Typewriters are cool too, since they’re practically just a screen-less, non-digital writing computer. (read: Five reasons to still use a typewriter from BBC News)
Should you ever want to upgrade to a digital machine, or explore some other typewriter-like gadgetry in the future, you can refer to the section in this article where we discuss just that. Skip to that section by clicking HERE.
Now, let’s go into some of the reasons why you might need a writing computer.
Reasons why you need a writing computer
- You want to be like your literary idol, famed fantasy author George RR Martin.
- You’re particularly fond of having stuff in your life compartmentalized and separated into distinct categories
- You want a cheap, comfortable device that you can easily whip out and type on if you have a spur-of-the-moment need to write.
- You’re easily distracted, and need a distraction-free environment in which you can focus on writing and nothing else.
There is much value to be had in using a writing computer.
So much value in fact, that George RR Martin can’t work without one.
Why George RR Martin works with a prehistoric writing computer
In a 2014 interview with Conan O’Brien, Martin told him that he uses an ancient computer for writing his novels.
"I actually have two computers. I have the computer that I browse the internet with, that I get my email on and I do my taxes on. Then I have my writing computer, which is a DOS machine not connected to the internet. Remember DOS? I use WordStar 4.0 as my word-processing system."
In case you’re too young to remember or even know what a DOS computer and WordStar are, here are some pictures of what they look like.
This is the boot up screen for DOS:
DOS stands for Disk Operating System. It was a popular operating system for computers back in the day and was the precursor to graphical operating systems like Windows.
Instead of clicking on icons, you had to manually type commands to run programs.
This is Wordstar 4.0:
It’s a word processing application that was written for DOS machines.
According to Martin, he likes WordStar because it does everything that he needs a word processing program to do (i.e. write and save files), and nothing else.
No grammar checkers, automatic spelling correction- none of that fancy stuff that we usually take for granted in modern word processors like Google Docs and Microsoft Word.
From this bare writing environment we got A Song of Ice and Fire- one of the most captivating fantasy worlds ever created in modern literature.
The best computer for writers – how to choose
Here’s what we’re assuming if you’re someone who is looking to procure a writing computer for yourself:
- You’re a writer and writing is going to be 95% of what you do on your machine. If you really need a computer for other things like programming and photo-editing, then look into buying a more general-purpose computer like a Macbook.
- At minimum, it should have a physical keyboard (or the capability to connect to a keyboard), and should have WiFi access that you can turn on and off. We recognize that having Internet access is a non-negotiable thing for most writers. And we’re not going so far as to tell you to imitate George RR Martin and use an ancient machine that has no Internet access capability whatsoever.
- You prefer a machine that works right out of the box. Yes, you can probably do your writing on a smartphone or maybe cobble together a laptop of your own using a Raspberry Pi, but that requires a lot of extra effort on your part.
As we’ve seen, the main reason why people want a writing computer is because they want to get rid of distractions and focus on the writing process.
It’s all about simplicity. A minimalist setup without all of the bells and whistles that can take your mind off of writing.
What are the rules then, when looking for a machine to turn into a writing computer?
A writing computer should be portable
Obviously, this rule doesn’t apply to you if you’re the type of person who likes to write in one place. Or if you’re the type who needs the extra firepower that a desktop computer provides.
But the best computer for writers is a laptop. Optionally, it can also be a tablet, provided that you can connect a physical keyboard to it using Bluetooth.
The sweet size for laptops is 13 to 15 inches. But it all boils down to preference, really. If you need more screen real estate then go for a larger laptop, if you find the larger screen overwhelming, then go for a smaller one.
A writing computer should have a capable CPU
The best laptop for writing is a laptop that has a capable CPU.
Note that we didn’t use the word “powerful.”
Because writers really don’t need that much computing juice to be honest.
Formatting text takes little processing power, and going for laptops with Intel i9’s (or Apple’s M2 chip) is a bit of an overkill if you’re going to use it solely as a writing machine.
As long it can handle multiple open programs as well as tabs on a web browser (Google Chrome is pretty much notorious for eating so much RAM if you have multiple tabs open), then it’s golden.
The current generation of Intel’s Core i3 and i5 chips can provide enough computing power to handle most word processing and web browsing tasks without going overboard. Their AMD counterparts, the Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5 (U series) chips, offer similar performance at a usually smaller price point.
A writing computer is not a gaming computer
You’d also need to steer clear from popular brands’ gaming lines like ASUS ROG (Republic of Gamers), Lenovo Legion, and Acer Nitro.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to classify whether or not a laptop is made for gaming, but here’s a simple rule of thumb:
If a laptop has a dedicated graphics card, then it’s probably a gaming machine.
Having a dedicated graphics card usually means that a laptop was intended to be used with more intensive graphical programs, such as photo and video editors and games.
You can usually see if a laptop has a graphics card on its spec sheet. Alternatively, this information can also be accessed through the device manager or system information tool.
For example, in Windows 10, we can see that the computer below is using a dedicated AMD Radeon RX 570 graphics card, as well as the Intel HD Graphics 610, which is an integrated graphics adapter (i.e. the GPU (graphics processing unit) that comes integrated with your processor).
So based on the existence of the RX 570, we can conclude that this is probably a gaming machine, and might not be suitable to use as a writing computer.
A writing computer should be comfortable to type on for hours
You’re going to be sitting and staring at this device for hours. It’s not enough for it to be able to run the programs that you need it to run, it also needs to be comfortable to type on.
Here are some of the things that you need to consider when choosing a writing computer:
How comfortable is your laptop’s keyboard?
We don’t want to get too technical with this and bore you with discussions of actuation points, tactile force, key rollover, and other such terms of keyboard geekery.
Just go with your intuition.
Consider the feel of your laptop’s keys when typing. Are the keys easy to press? Are they spaced out correctly (i.e. they’re not too cramped together nor are they too far away from each other)? Does it feel good when you type?
As we’ve said, this machine is something you’ll be staring at for a long time.
You’re not going to do any gaming or photo/video editing on it. So, there’s no need for a 4K or any other fancy ultra high-definition display.
Instead of 4K, you might want to consider going for a Full HD (1920 x 1080) display.It’s a little less bright than your usual 4K, but the difference is so insignificant that you wouldn’t probably notice it especially on a non-graphics related task like word processing.
Imagine spending a few precious hours on an essay, only to have your work wiped out because you forgot to charge your laptop.
Battery life is important. More so if you don’t want to lug around bulky chargers with you all the time.
Most laptops last anywhere from three to six hours on a single charge, but an exceptionally good one can last eight to twelve hours.
Best laptop for writers
Using all that we have learned about what the best computer for writers should be, let’s take a quick dive into some of the options you can consider.
Best budget option – HP Chromebook 14
Not the most powerful laptop out there, but it gets the job done. At just $250, you have a machine that is more than capable to run your favorite online word processing programs (Google Docs or MS Word online) and browse the web.
Best reasonably-priced option – Google Pixelbook Go
Chromebooks are great for writing. But among the Chromebooks that are currently out there, Google’s own Pixelbook Go takes the cake.
The original Pixelbook is a 2-in-1 laptop (i.e. you can use it in both tablet and laptop configurations), but the Go variant is just a traditional clamshell laptop.
Still, for a writing laptop, it’s one of the best out there. You get 11 hours of battery life, an awesome keyboard with Google’s own patented “Hush” keys (a fancy new technology that significantly dulls the sound of typing), and some high quality webcam and speakers, all wrapped up in a premium look.
Best “splurge” option – Dell XPS 15
We’re hesitant to include this in here because when you’re entering splurge territory, it may be overkill for a writing laptop.
But if you have money to spare (and want to be spoiled with all the premium features that a laptop of this caliber can feature) then the Dell XPS 15 is an awesome writing computer to behold. The display is luscious- it has a 3.5K OLED, almost at par with Apple’s Macbooks. Great keyboard and trackpad too.
Best battery life – Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook
A laptop with 22 hours of battery life! That’s what the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet can offer you.
If you travel a lot, then this device is perfect. It’s cheap, it’s easy to carry, and of course, the battery life means that you won’t have to go searching for an outlet in the middle of the workday just to charge it.
The only downside is its size. It’s a Chromebook-tablet hybrid so it’s naturally smaller than your usual laptop. This makes the IdeaPad Duet’s own keyboard feel a little cramped.
Curious writing gadgets and thingamabobs
We’ve seen laptops and laptop-tablet hybrids, but what about writing computers that come in… non-traditional forms.
These are gadgets that were manufactured with writers— and only writers— in mind. These aren’t your traditional laptops; you really can’t do anything much with them except to write.
In some ways, these are devices that truly exemplify what a “writing computer” should be. Because even with a disconnected computer, there’s still lots of opportunity for distraction. You still have music on them, as well as games, documents, and old pictures.
But the (very niche) devices below have none of that. You can only use them for writing and writing alone.
So, let’s take a gander at…
The Freewrite Smart Typewriter
Mashable described the Freewrite as “pretentious hipster nonsense” and we could kind of see where they were coming from.
It’s a hefty four-pound “smart” typewriter with a tiny e-ink screen and a very clicky mechanical keyboard. It can connect to the Internet, but only for uploading your work to your preferred cloud storage account (Dropbox, Google Drive, etcetera).
Oh, and it’s currently priced at around $650.
That’s a lot of money for what is essentially a typewriter with cloud syncing.
But still, the idea behind Freewrite- a distraction-free device for writing- is something that we can all appreciate.
Which leads us to the…
Neo 2 Alphasmart Word Processor
The Neo 2 Alphasmart is so old, so retro, and so niche that you can’t even purchase it brand new.
Often touted as the low cost option to the Freewrite (you can buy it used on Amazon for $100), the Alphasmart does everything that the Freewrite can, except for the cloud syncing.
It’s a pretty nifty device. Sure- the amount of text you can write on it is limited (it can only handle eight files, with a 10,000 word limit per file), and you have to physically connect it to a computer just to get your files out of it, but you have to admit that there’s a certain charm in its simplicity.
Because of its retro appeal, the Neo 2 Alphasmart has garnered a bit of a cult-following among distraction-free enthusiasts. Matt Wille of Inverse.com called it “…the best writing tool I’ve ever owned.”
If you want a device that sits between the Freewrite and the Alphasmart in terms of functionality, you can try looking into the…
KingJim Pomera DM30
The Pomera DM30 retails for $249 on Amazon, so it’s way, way cheaper than the ridiculously overpriced Freewrite.
It has most of the same functionalities- portability, tiny e-ink display, comfortable keyboard. But compared to the Freewrite that is almost the size of a real typewriter, the Pomera DM30 is miniscule and more portable.
The only downside is that the Pomera was made by a Japanese manufacturer, mainly for the Japanese market. You can’t use it right out of the box since you have to set the interface to English first and tweak the settings.
“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”-Father John Culkin, SJ
Most of the writing tools that have been used in human history were not specifically designed for writers.
Cuneiform was for recording business accounts, typewriters were for clerical work, and computers were for performing mathematical calculations.
But still, human ingenuity has transformed these tools into writing implements, and it is through this transformation that some of the best literary works and books have been created.
These tools have shaped us, and we have also shaped them.
It’s a never-ending introspective process that will continue as we adapt and evolve as writers.