5 lightbulbs in a row, 1 swinging

My Own “Oh Right, I Can Build That!” Moment

One of my favourite hobbies is spending time creative writing. I’m not choosy about what I write; whether it’s a journal entry, a piece of fiction, a piece of content for a client, or an essay (I know, I’m the anomaly, but I really do love writing an essay!). I do have a lot of ideas, so I typically write the ideas I have down for later. I have a small mason jar that is filled with folded slips of paper and whenever I have time or the desire to write something I will fish one of them out and get started on writing what is on it.

My current dilemma is that I live an incredibly nomadic life these days; I am travelling between two cities, almost always on a train or in a car, basically living out of my backpack. There is no space for a mason jar in a backpack, no matter how small. This has meant that I haven’t been able to dig through those ideas and choose one at random to work on, and it also means I’m letting ideas I have for later projects go by without storing them. I was lamenting about this to myself over the Christmas break, thinking about how much I missed having these prompts within reach all the time when I had my own eureka moment. I realized I could actually build this on my own, and have my ideas live online, so that I could always have access to them.

(Cue me feeling a bit silly – this is literally what I go to school for! Duh, I can build this!)

I started with vanilla JavaScript. I held all of the prompts that I wanted to use in an array and set a simple function so that every time I clicked my “Get Prompt” button, it sent me a random item in my array. It worked for what I needed, but I knew I would later want it to do something different for me. My goal was to create something where I could easily add a new prompt on the go without having to touch the code files, and a way to set my prompts as complete, so I wouldn’t see them anymore after I finished with it. When we started with our second semester term, I found the solution: PHP.

Faith McQueen writing prompt generator add new

I found that I really enjoy PHP, and I understood how to meet my goals with my project very quickly. I rebuilt it over the reading week in PHP, connected it to a database which held all of my prompts and a boolean value for whether the prompt was complete or not, and then I moved it all online so that I can just call up the webpage any time from any device in order to get a prompt.

Doing this project on my own was the first time I realised that being a developer was more than just something that I would do at work – I can actually use what I’m learning to create useful tools and solve problems in my own life.