Mobile word processing, 1989 edition.

This is a Brother WP-1 word processor. It has a monochrome screen with amber text on a black background, a daisy wheel printer, and a 3.5″ floppy drive. It also weighs a bit north of 30 pounds. When I started my first attempts at writing fiction, this beast is what I used when I wasn’t writing longhand.

I was in the military at the time, so this thing went back and forth with me between home and duty station frequently. The floppy disks were formatted in low density at 720kb, and each only held a few chapters of a novel, so a complete manuscript took up a little stack of disks. And when you wanted to print something, you had to send it to the daisy wheel printer, which would hammer out the text slowly and with a lot of noise. At least you didn’t have to feed paper sheet by sheet–you could deposit a small stack of paper in the feed tray behind the platen, and it would usually feed it automatically.

This was in the early 1990s, in the Model T days of personal computing. A few years later, I would buy my first PC (a 486 DX2-50 running DOS 6 and Windows 3.1), and an inkjet printer to go with it. These days, writing long-form in Microsoft Word feels to me like I am trying to put together a Lego set while wearing oven mitts (I’ve used Scrivener for all six Frontlines novels and only use Word for editing and revisions), but back then Word for Windows and its WYSIWYG editing was a freaking miracle for someone who had been using what was essentially a super-heavy typewriter with a small data buffer.

I do get a bit of nostalgia when I see amber text on a black screen, though. It’s like seeing a picture of your first car somewhere. Not that you’d want to have that piece of junk back in your driveway, but you have fond memories of the places you went with it.


  1. cancer green 4 lyfe! Roughly the same time frame, I had a PC Jr., followed by an XT with a 30MB(!) hard drive. the XT had a Hercules card in it, so I had 16 shades of glorious green. I still set my terminal windows on MacOS to use green on black.

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