Weeknotes #7 – 1st March 2020
So it’s been a fuckin while eh? I made it through seven weeks in the noble pursuit of writing some bullshit every Sunday/Monday before the cataclysm of existing in the real world hit hard. Lots of things happened since I last did a weeknotes, some were pretty cool, like getting married. Some were a massive fucking pain, like moving across the country four days before Christmas. Some were abysmal and shite as all fuck but we’ll forget about those.
Coming off the back of a literal winter of discontent, I’ve redone this site (haven’t touched the blog like, soz) and been far more purposeful with the work I’m looking for, and far more transparent with my pricing and the negotiability of my rates. My thinking here is quite simple: if you don’t talk about the shit you do, no fucker is gonna ask you to do that shit. Wow. How have I survived to 30?
I had a barren Dec/Jan. Like, almost zero work barren. One of the first bits advice I give new freelancers, aside from get a fucking contract, get a fucking accountant, and get some fucking insurance; is to be realistic about cashflow. We have pretty high day rates for a reason, and part of that reason is we lack the perceived income assurances of a full-time job. The arl pet-fuckers in the Tory government aren’t gonna magically give us a basic income—what do we think we are? A failing bank in need of rescue?—so we often have to save enough from the good times to help us get through the bad. There’s a metaphor there about a fuckin squirrel or something that yer lad Aesop probably rinsed.
Anyway, you’re supposed to prep for the low months, and the low months almost always include December, January, and sometimes Feb too. All sorts of shit like people taking time off, companies not getting their budgets sorted til Feb/March, no-one really wanting to book a project in over the Holidays, etc. etc. add up to a pretty stressful time if you’re freelancing. Obviously then, that was a perfect time to upend my entire life and move back home to Liverpool.
Regardless, the shit months are gone. I survived. With debt and sadness but you know what’s fucking new there? The new site changes have been something I’m cautiously calling a success, as I’ve had more enquiries the past couple of weeks than I was used to, even when things were going well last year. Enquiries don’t mean shit if they don’t translate into actual projects with actual deposits and actual signatures on a contract though, so jury’s still out.
Away from personal site work, I’ve been working away with Ashley on a new With Jack dashboard that I’m really enjoying. We’re excited as shit to get it out into the world.
Back last year, I made a speculative start on building the writing app that I’d always wished existed. When I wrote my book, I absolutely rinsed the writing app market, and got an idea of some of the features and drawbacks that most impacted long-form writing. I settled on iA Writer, because it was multi-platform and had a focus mode, which were essentially the non-negotiable features I needed. Before then though I was using Ulysses (macOS/iOS only), Day One (not a writing app come on), vim (shut up), and a cobbled-together scratchpad in Sublime Text using a bunch of third-party plugins.
Each of those solutions had its merits (except vim like fucking hell what was I thinking?) and disadvantages during the writing process, and I kinda got a feel for what this ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ writing app would look like. One day in some down-time between projects, I figured I’d try out a little speculative front-end spike just to get the idea out there. With personal projects, this is often how I like to start. It’s a little arse-backwards, but getting a project in a browser and making it interactive early on is often my sanity test. A few hours in and I had:
It was two lists and a contentEditable, but it felt good to have something that was, after a quick fuckaround, pretty close to feeling nice to write in. I figured that if the overall writing experience wasn’t jank as fuck, then maybe I should add a few of those features that I knew I needed, and see if it becomes a viable little local app for screwing around with writing ideas. Anyway, here’s a 6-month long Twitter thread of me building out the app that I’m now using to write this post:
I love working on stuff that evolves organically like this, and from one ‘I wish there was a browser-based writing app that could come close to one of these native fuckers’ spark, I’ve come out the other end with a product that (with some final polish and tweaks) not only keeps up with my other writing apps, but genuinely improves on them. Because the web is fucking boss and browsers can do more shit than we give them credit for.
This app is called Lorist (yep that is a Broken Earth reference) and it’s almost ready for people to use. It’s designed to get the fuck out of the way most of the time, but is actually pretty feature-rich when you delve into it. So far, aside from what I think is a really nice core writing experience, it’s got:
- Focus mode and typewriter mode for a more focussed and attentive writing experience.
- Per-collection goals so you can track your progress towards word-count targets.
- Pomodoro-style writing timers with write/break cycles, letting you split longer writing sessions into more manageable chunks.
- Instant publish for posts that you just want to get in front of people, without the hassle of maintaining a blog (hello, first post since July) or inviting people to a bloated Google Doc.
- Constant sync for forgetful people like me who managed to fuck off to France and forget to sync their half-done book chapter to Dropbox the night before.
For those who care, Lorist’s front-end is build entirely in Svelte, something which I enjoyed so much when I first played with it that I set out to rewrite the entire at-the-time-React project just as it was heading for an alpha release. Something I’m honestly delighted I did because React has been irritating me for a long fucking time. With a community where elitist dickheads outweigh the genuinely lovely folks (hello, web dev in general), and with it being owned and maintained by the actual fucking devil that is Facebook, anything that got me away from it was a welcome venture.
If you want to stay up to date with Lorist, get at me on Twitter, it’s in a super-limited, closed alpha right now, but a beta release is right around the corner, and it’s really only a few bugs and a couple of usability tweaks away from a full release.
I’ve been on a trashy, low-fantasy fiction binge to cleanse my pallet of some of the intense fiction I read last year, before I jump back in to Literally Everything N. K. Jemisen Has Ever Fuckin Written. I read the first four books of the Dresden Files in like three weeks and honestly fuck you I loved them.
I’m currently reading The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie and, while it’s certainly lacking an interesting narrative structure beyond the typical ‘let’s jump between 20 different characters and slowly bring them all closer to one another until their stories overlap in a way which everyone has seen coming since the seventh paragraph of this fucking yarn’, it’s also got some fucking wizards in it so absolutely sick that’s fine by me. My first impression (I’m 80% through book one) is that it’s like if Game of Thrones wasn’t shit.
This week I read (and re-re-re-read) one of the most important posts I’ve encountered in my design career, by Josh Taylor over on the Abstract Blog: How to understand your impact in the brave new world of product design (big thanks to Nicole for putting me on to that). The slightly self-help clickbait title aside; Josh delves into the concept of Pace Layering as a means of modelling and understanding impact in design. While there are a few tropes in there that I really disagree with (namely, the idea that ‘everything is design’, even with broad and vague definitions of the craft, I really dislike this designwashing line of thinking) applying the fundamental concept of layers of a system which move at differing speeds to design and impact is such a compelling analogy for me. Give it a read.
I’ve started playing Dark Souls Remastered on Switch because, while I’ve completed Bloodborne and almost completed Sekiro, I’ve never actually made it anywhere close to far in a Dark Souls game. It’s fun and it’s hard.
I’ve also been playing Dead Cells cause I finally grabbed a physical copy. I am a complete newcomer to Roguelites and Roguelikes and Roguefuckinghellwhatnexts and it took me a while to appreciate that permadeath and procedural generation can actually be fun, but I’m absolutely loving it now. I’ve reached the final boss a dozen times and every time it reks me in the face.
I replayed Octopath Traveler which is charming for 10 hours and then absolutely plummets off a fucking cliff and becomes the most hand-holdy, dialogue-heavy, cliche-ridden, patronising shitshow of a game afterwards. Which I really hate, because they managed to bring some genuine thrill and excitement back to turn-based battling. It’s just a shame that the jank storytelling and abysmal dungeon design gets in the way of that far too often.
Oh and I 106%’d Hollow Knight and it’s one of my all-time favourite games.
I fuckin told you it’s been a barren couple of months.