My mostly retro writing platform contenders in National Novel Writing Month for 2022 #NaNoWriMo

My mostly retro writing platform contenders in National Novel Writing Month for 2022 #NaNoWriMo

I've participated in National Novel Writing Month for the last two years. While I don't have aspirations of being a fiction author, I think there is a ton of value in writing 1500 words daily. Good writing or bad, 45000 words in a month is worth the effort.

In 2021, I used a DOS 386 with Wordperfect 6.22 to complete the writing for the month and produced a pretty terrible Techno/Wilderness thriller that no one should be subjected to reading. Using a 386 Laptop was a fantastic experience, and WordPerfect for DOS remains one of the best distraction-free word processors ever created.

Many have pointed out that I'm more of an 8-bit kind of fella, and it's no secret that I have a special place in my heart for all machines with some version of the 6502 processor.

This year, I've decided to use an 8-bit machine to complete my November novel, so let's dive into what I might use. Note that these are all machines I own working versions of and feel very comfortable with maintaining should they crap out on me at some point during the month.

My contenders are...


The first Computer I can remember using was the Commodore VIC-20. It stood on my Uncle's Dining room table, and at six years old, I finished the entire beginner's guide one afternoon.

Part of me wants to give the VIC-20 a go for 30 days, but I suspect it would be fun for the first couple of days and then pretty frustrating. If you're unfamiliar, the VIC-20 was inexpensive and featured a 22x23 character display. It's pretty capable, but it makes for quite a poor word processor. The VIC-20's standard 3583 bytes (yes, bytes) of RAM is only enough to simultaneously hold a few pages of text. I own several expansion cartridges that take it up to 35k, which would have several days' worth of writing at once.

Still, that 22-character wide screen is a problem, putting it out of the running this year.

Commodore Plus/4

Ahh, the weird, quirky, and relatively unreliable Plus/4.

Over the years, I've wanted to love this machine. I always loved the look of it and was jealous of my friends who had one. Unfortunately, the chips are wildly unreliable in their 35th year, and the built-in software, while well-intentioned, is quite awful.

Commodore 64

This is the C64 I've had since 1983 or so. I can't believe it still works after all I've put it through.

My word processing platform of choice from 1983 to the year I finished High School in 1993 was a Commodore 64 running Speedscript, a free program initially posted as a "type-in" program from the Compute! Magazine.

I've got thousands of hours on this keyboard layout, so its awkwardness is not a problem.

I'd cheat a little bit on the "mushiness" problem many complain about. I built an Ultimate64 Elite with a modern Mechboard keyboard. Cherry MX brown switches are excellent.

Portable 8-Bit Fun

For some, portability is essential. I did a write-up of my portable and rugged C64 setup, lovingly called the N.O.O.C.U.L.A.R. Check out that post for details.

I didn't consider it this year because I hate the keyboard, but even my Atari 800XL works in the N.O.O.C.U.L.A.R. setup.

Commodore 128

Of the Commodore 8-bit line, Speedscript on a 128 in 80 Column mode is a very capable platform, even for writing today. The 80-column 128 version of this program is comparable to the basic features of the practically perfect in every way WordPerfect for DOS. Including built-in help and full-page editing.

The keyboard on the 128 is good (not amazing). You could do a lot of comfortable writing on this thing.

Apple IIe

The venerable Apple IIe has a shockingly good keyboard for the early 80s, and paired with AppleWorks; this is still a useful writing platform in 2022.

Nana's Apple IIe in near-mint condition

This machine belonged to my sister-in-law's grandmother (Nana) and was given to me to be its current steward. I restored the power supply and added an SD card floppy interface, but it's working like a champ.

I can't emphasize how pleasant this computer is to create documents on. By the early 80s, Apple dialed in on the feel and usability of this machine. It was crazy expensive compared to its competitors, but the build quality is fantastic, and it feels much more solid than most of the other computers from the era.

Some Twitter fun

I floated this idea on Twitter earlier in the week. My favorite response by a mile:

The "also-rans" (not necessarily 8-bit) ;-)

Atari 400

I LOVE this computer, and mine works great, but a novel on it... not so much.

486 SX 25

This machine dual boots DOS and RedHat 5.2. A serious contender for 2023.


My Selectric II. This one even has correction built in—quite a lovely typing experience. Also, does this count as 8 bits or less? Asking for a friend.
My near-mint Olympia SM7 (1961 edition) has a carrying case and requires no power. In the event of a global catastrophe, I can still write books.

PET 2001


Sure, you can get a Freewriter for $400+ these days, but I happen to have two Alphasmart devices. These are FANTASTIC.

Trumpet sounds: I'm writing my 2022 NaNoWriMo on...

A VERY interesting idea

I've decided to use the Apple IIe. With Nana being recently gone and my novel idea this year being a young adult adventure set in the 1950s, I figured maybe Nana could give me a hand trying to put my characters in a place I have only heard stories about.

What a great platform for writing!

My runner-up was a very close second, the Commodore 128 with Speedscript. I wonder if alternating these two over the month could be interesting.

What would you use?

Do you have a different choice? Maybe a machine I didn't feature or own? I'd love to hear about it.

Using the Apple IIe for 45,000+ words this year should be a fun exercise, and since it cannot connect to the internet will be a close-to-perfect distraction-free writing platform.

Happy Fall!