A writer's blog - not a developer's

A writer's blog - not a developer's
Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

Ever felt that sometimes just getting started is better than finding that optimum solution? I agree. But it took me over 4 years to reach this point😙

Yup, that's how long I have been looking at 'technology'. Technology in which to write an app. First, it was technology to develop a complex business application that was at home on the desktop as well as on the mobile platforms. Numerous changes in my personal life happened over this time until, in the Autumn of 2021, I needed to get started. That need first appeared as a need to make a small amount of money. I am looking for an additional income of just a few hundred UK pounds a month. It's not that much. I do not have any delusions of grandeur - writing the next big thing. I just need to write something that is good enough to bring in a few hundred pounds of income a month.

What was that 'thing'? The app that I wanted to develop? Those same personal changes saw me drift away from any business imperative. I no longer wanted to write a business app. I turned 60 years old last year. I have had 'enough' of business. But I still needed an idea to turn into an application. What was it to be?

Over those 4 years of indecision, I had played with many applications, which did many things, but was always struck by the beauty of the Things 3 application for Apple devices. For those of you who do not know what the Things 3 application is, it is a posh 'to-do' app. I bought the phone and iPad versions but could never quite justify stumping-up for the desktop version at £50 it was just toooooo expensive. Anyway, its beauty, to me, was in its mature, clean lines. I loved how you could select a task and then the detail pane would gracefully open-up to present a clean canvas upon which to write.

I have always loved that clean piece of paper. Some people need prompts to start writing. I am the opposite. I have enough prompts in my head - thoughts - andanything on the page merely distracts me. For me, Things 3 did a simple thing well - it organised my to-dos and provided a graceful writing experience. Over those 4 years, I had started to write a weekly journal of my thoughts and plans relating to the technical aspects of what I wanted to do. Over time, even when I had stopped working on that project, I realised that I felt better if I had written into my journal about other aspects of my life. Even now, the words are simply flowing from my head into this paragraph. How that contrasts with those initial thoughts as to how to start writing any long-form writing. I have read that the best course of action is simply to write. Start writing and cut-out the junk later.

Ripley was better at killing Aliens than me

This writer's imperative of just-getting-started never seemed to join together in my technical head. In my technical head, I was still 'collating' stuff about many technologies with which to write that app. Like in the scene in the film Alien where the scientific officer, Ash, would do nothing to remove the Alien - he merely sought to collate information about it. In effect, his collation did nothing to defeat the Alien. Ripley had to do it. My 'collating' had done nothing to help me start building that application. Where was my Ripley?

Ripley never arrived. I simply morphed into her. It's said that

Necessity is the mother of invention

and my necessity was the need to bring in some money within four years. Just a few hundred British pounds a month is all we - my wife, Tracey and two gorgeous large labradoodle dogs - and I need. Armed with those four years of 'collating', I should be simply able to pick the right technology off my mental shelf - shouldn't I?

Well, that was October 2022. It's now nearly four months later. Even after four years of collating, I was still testing which was the best technology. For another four months - yikes!

On the 16th February, I wrote a post-it note and stuck it to my terminal. It simply said:

16th February - Augmented Web Native

I had made my mind-up. It wasn't going to use any one technology that I'd spent those 4½ years collating-over! It was to take one and augment it.  I was going to use off-the-shelf Web-based technologies and add to it. I am going to write some platform-specific code so that my application could do things other such apps could not. Little things, but, for a writer, important things.

For example, the ability for images to be in-line with the text. If you think that others already do this, just have a look in any App Store.  You think that they do, but they have images either as a header or a footer to the article. To me, it is important that an image that I am writing about is there. Right adjacent to the words that I am writing. Not a scroll away. That breaks the reading experience. It's technically much easier to have images as footers and/or headers using native technologies - and that is why so many apps do that. But that is not 'warm' to me. It is functional. I want inline images!

Another pet 'hate' of mine with existing apps is a lack of constrained line lengths to limit the width of the text line. Again, as most people look at their words on a narrow-screen mobile device, they don't get to see the thirty-five words that gets displayed on wider screen devices using that same app. It's a horrible reading experience and not one suitable for your cherished words.

Now, for those in the technical know, you do not need to add to any existing web technology to do those. We have all been reading text with inline images for nearly thirty years now. Nearly all web sites have images interspersed within the text. It's easy stuff. But there are some ideas of mine that would require adding to those technologies in the way that the app works on the native device - be that an Android phone, a Chrome OS laptop or a Windows workstation. I will write more about them in the years ahead.

But, for now, I think that I have stopped collating.

I want to create a safe place into which you can channel your thoughts and ideas.  

So what's it going to be? Oh! A writer's writing app. Yes, I know that there are already many apps that claim to address this. But, to me, they clearly are not written by a writer. They do not give me that warm experience of opening-up that writing pane in the Things 3 app. I see no point in delivering yet-another 'me-too!' app. My focus is technology, but my heart is in the end-product. I want to create a safe place into which you can channel your thoughts and ideas.

I want you to be delighted with the beauty of that home for those most precious things - your cherished words.

This is the start of a developer's blog to write a writing application for the Android and Windows platforms. I have several ideas that will make my application at least different to the existing apps out there. A clue is in what I see missing in so many of them. A heart. This will not be a blog written by a developer. I will put my heart in front of the keyboard and type a writer's blog.

I think that I've started. After 4½ years 😱.