Ben Wilson, Author

29 July 2023

The Great Code Pause of 2024

This article summarizes what I’ve been working on for the past six months. In a later post, I will summarize what I’ve been doing to prepare for future novel writing series, and how I’ve used AI to help.

My writing year runs from October to September because of my birth month. This year’s plan was to draft four novels, but I added a fifth because I was plugging away so well with a new series. I had two books in the can and on schedule. Then I turned to the Navy Quartet of the Postal Marines and ground to a halt. Why? I spend a lot of emotional energy writing novels. Starting in the Spring, however, work started taxing my emotional reserve. 

From Novels to Yak Shaving

On April eighth, I marked my last entry writing a novel. The great thing about keeping metrics on yourself is knowing when these things happen. Since I also use Basecamp to project manage myself (and my family), I have weekly entries showing what I’ve been up to. Since then I have been coding a cross platform text editor called Verkilo. It’s been a dream of mine for well over a decade. I’ve used Scrivener, and I have cobbled together my own novel writing tool chain using various text editors over the years. I’m comfortable writing in native LaTeX and have a point-perfect template for polishing my novels in print. Since I had no energy for novel writing, and since AI has reached a useful threshold, I gave it a go.

Verkilo by October or Bust. My goal between April and October of this year is to write a cross platform text editor from scratch. The ambition is that it will work on Apple, Windows and Linux, with a bonus if it works on iPhone and Android. I learned a new programming language to access emerging cross-platform GUI technology.. As of this week, I am down to my last major hurdle: wiring in a modern, professional spellchecker and grammar checker. I found the right technology, although it doesn’t work on mobile platforms. But it required a change how I am handling my rich-text editing process. I’m doing the change now, and hope to finish it this weekend, so that I can then do the last bit of wiring for the spelling/grammar checker.

Why by October? Because that fits into my writing year, and it marks six months since I started. Ideally, I will resume writing novels using my editor. I would like to think that it will end up being the best editor between Microsoft Word, Scrivener, and would give platforms like Atticus a run for his money. But hey, if it lets me write and publish with no tears, then it’s a win.

ChatGPT Flattens the Curve

What has allowed me to speed up my writing of this text editor has been the use of ChatGPT. It is especially strong in certain areas, such as code writing. This is the reason StackOverflow, a platform for programmers helping programmers, has experienced a 50% drop in viewership over the past several months. ChatGPT requires a professional coder to guide it, but it is great in helping with boiler plate, refactoring code, and debugging. It also flattened the learning curve for the Rust programming language. I’ve been programming off and on as a hobbyist and professional for 40 years now. Rust has peculiarities related to type safety, security, and performance that required some growth in my skill set. But that has been surmounted and now I am “cooking with Crisco” as I like to say.

I will not get into details about my code stack beyond that. It is my trade secret. I’ll be lucky to make something that is usable for me. But it would be cool if others could use it as well. My first love is writing novels, even though I have written a few in my life. I guess that makes programming my mistress. And I have been unfaithful. I still have a goal of writing 20 books publishing by August 2028 when I plan to retire from my current work. I only have 16 left to go.

Ben Wilson, Author