My Nanowrimo 2018: An Exercise in Failure

I started doing Nanowrimo (a writing challenge where you write 50,000 words in 30 days, it can actually be fun, even though it sounds ridiculous) in 2015, at the time I had just finished my final year of university and was starting a new job. I finished it well that year (after a big dip into the ‘not enough per day’ territory) even with moving and the new job cutting into my time.

Fast forward one year and I’m working full time, this time, no moving, no real hassles at all, but I fail spectacularly. At the time I blamed no planning of the story (as in, none at all, not even a vague notion of where my plot was going), but I fear it was just general laziness that got me that year.

When 2017 rolled around I was just finished moving, our whole office had also moved and I was pretty in the swing of things, I would write walking to work (that 60 minutes each day was getting used one way or another) and, after a slow start (I didn’t break 10k until the 22nd day) I managed to hurl myself across the finish line with a 10k word day and several 5k days. But I made it, incidentally that story (the one I wrote, not the story of how I did it) has sat collecting the digital equivalent of dust at the bottom of a labyrinthine folder tree on my computer ever since.

This year, I tried a different tactic. I started early. Like a month early. I had a story that I needed to get written, just to get it out of my head, so I started early, with the goal to finish it off (having, just barely, started it a few months prior). I pumped out 16k in 22 days, only about 727 words a day. Then nano started, but the characters and the story were steaming along and the momentum carried on after a rough 2 days where I couldn’t get in front of my keyboard the words rolled out, 2k, 2k, 2k, 2k, 2k, 2k, and on the seventh day in a row, 4.5k. The next day I missed the 1667, but I finished the story.

And here comes the snag; my plan had been to complete the story that I did and move onto other unfinished writing projects I had, the rules aren’t specific to it having to be the same story to finish Nanowrimo, in fact it is almost encouraged to switch, anything to keep you writing. Obviously sticking to your guns with one story is how you get something complete out, but I had already completed one and it needed time to fester in my mind, for the flaws and weaknesses to become apparent with my mental absence from the idea. But, a friend of mine suggested I write something ‘different’ he’d read some of my other stuff and wanted to see what something without the action (I’ve been told my writing isn’t exactly slow-paced) would look like coming from me. I made him a deal, he finish reading my story that he was dragging his feet on (I’d asked him to give me feedback months before, though I don’t blame him, I hardly have time to read either) and I would write ‘the different story’. Two days later he suggested I enter a competition with another story I had previously written. The catch: I had 15 days to make changes, copy-edit, re-read and submit. And, < insert cliche about working late here >, I made it before the deadline with something I thought was at least passable for the competition. There were patches that weren’t as polished as I would have liked, but there was a deadline, and finished is better than perfect or so I keep telling myself. That was the 25th, and the changing of priorities shows;

Fast forward to today, the 29th and I’m flailing. Ten thousand, five hundred words to write today, the same again, tomorrow. I have been rushed off my feet with work (same workplace, different position) for the last few days, so only mere whimpers of writing have come out, 1k, 2k or maybe 3k at most, nothing like the 10k that saved me in 2017 or the slow ratcheting up that gave me the steamroller momentum for the end of 2015. Just a whimper, a flail, and a lot of cursing and caffeine abuse as I struggle to stay awake.

What’s the moral of this little story? Sometimes caffeine can’t save you.
Or, on a less depressing note: Sometimes it is better to try something else, to attempt to finish an idea and give it to an audience, be they a panel of judges or a friend, than it is to create a new shambling abomination, at least in the short term (something-something have to be able to close something-something).

Also, the thousand words from the editing got added to my Nano word-count. Because, dammit, I’ve got 24 and a bit hours and I’m still trying.


Building A Keyboard

I fell down a dark, deep rabbit hole. For those of you unfamiliar with mechanical keyboards (and the amazing subreddit by the same name),

Seriously though, if you get sucked into this it will get expensive fast.

Initially when I dreamed up the project I’ve since nicknamed Forty Six (the number of keys it has) I was looking at modifying the Mitosis keyboard (a bluetooth keyboard with a peculiar layout made by redditor Reverse Bias). I initially got my own boards made with modifications to include a Li-Ion battery, charging circuit and a fourth row to include the number keys (and to sacrifice some of the extra function keys they had laid out below the keyboard).
I won’t bore you with the details of manufacture (it was just a long slog through several iterations using DipTrace, getting them produced by a PCB manufacturer, the external plates laser cut and, 3D printing a spacer to hold everything together). After it was built I immediately ran into the issue of having lost all of my function keys (no F5, Home or End key really hurt) and despite their presence on higher layers (I could hit a button on the keyboard and all of the keys would change what they do) I couldn’t stand doing that for even basic functions. So I built another board, a connecting board that would sit between the two freely moveable “hands”. So back to the drawing board, an evening of DipTrace and a few weeks of waiting and I had a console with the numpad and all the extra keys ready to go.

Small problem. I lent it to a friend to try out and, through no fault of their own, they discovered that the microcontroller’s USB connector had dry joints (hence why it’s unplugged in some of the images). Which would be fine, but my design, to save vertical space, had the components of the Pro Micro (the controller board) sandwiched between the PCB of the controller and the PCB the switches were mounded on. And there’s no way in hell I’ll be able to get the controller desoldered without destroying something, PCB, controller (which doesn’t matter as much) or the plastics (the brass-look top plate can’t be removed without desoldering the switches which can’t be done without desoldering the controller). So another lesson learnt, keep the components within easy reach.

The last problem I have is… That I’m going to do it all again.
My intent is to take everything I’ve learnt from this little endeavour, fix the mistakes I’ve made and build a slightly more traditional keyboard (it’s hard to get used to).
In the mean time I’ll make do with the Corsair Strafe I bought a while ago, even though it frustrates me to no end (whoever thought a fixed 8mm cable was appropriate for a keyboard needs to seriously reconsider their choices).
So stay tuned, this time I plan to document the process better, from start to finish.



It’s late at night, everyone else is asleep and I’m up writing the first entry in a blog. A first entry that may never see the light of day (hint: if you’re reading this, then it did). I’ve spent the last few hours trying to get my head around Hexo a static generator of websites that this blog is using. I had thought to use wordpress or something else equally mainstream and proven but I also like the idea of relative simplicity.

So, as it’s 2:30 AM and I’ve all but exhausted myself today I invite you to tune in next time to follow my adventures in stuff. Yes, I haven’t narrowed down what this is going to be all about, probably writing, almost certainly building things, maybe some code, if we’re lucky I might even get to upload something new once a week. But I make zero promises.