Archives for September 2016

Track What You Write with Writeometer

What gets measured gets done is a truism in management consultancy. I find it to be the case for writing as well. Quantifying when and where as well as how much I have written is something I’ve tried to do ever since I read Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K. I datamine this information to see when and where I am most productive and if there is anything I can do to make myself more so.

Writeometer is a free app for Android phones that I’ve found useful for this. It keeps track of how many words you write per day.

K10 Screen

To use the program, you first input the name of your novel or short story or whatever it is you writing. You decide how long you want to be, and you decide on a completion date. You can set the program to remind you that you need to write and how much you need to write, or you can just log your word count once it’s done each day. When the reminder is due, the program will start a timer and prompt you to do your words.

You can have as many titles on the go as you want. Writeometer will let you track them all and then archive them when you’re done.

This is the core functionality of the app. The fact that it’s on your phone lets you keep track of what you’ve written no matter where you write. I use Scrivener, but I also use Word and WriteMonkey and Byword and a number of other word processors. Writeometer provides me with a dashboard that totals my word count no matter which program I use.

Writeometer will also do things like calculating how many words per day you need to write to finish a novel of a certain length. Scrivener can do this, at least on the Mac but I find myself using Scrivener for Windows a lot these days. It’s not just that Writeometer tracks your word counts, it also tracks how long you take to write those words. The program comes with a timer where you can record your session afterward. One of the most useful things it does is aggregate the word count from all of your sessions into total daily word count. It also keeps a running total of all the work you’ve done on any given project.

Writeometer Daily Total

You can add a note to your records telling you when and where you did your writing, your mood and anything else that you deem relevant. You can also export all of the statistics to a spreadsheet in Google Drive. Or you can email them to yourself or transfer them to OneNote or Evernote or various other places. This is very useful when you need to compile your statistics and take a broad overview.

Writeomter Daily Habit

Writeometer has plenty of other functions. It shows you graphs of your daily word counts. It also shows you other things. It lets you plan rewards for meeting your goals. It has a built-in thesaurus and various other things. It will show you inspirational quotes too. I don’t use any of these things, so I am not in any position to comment on them. I use it to keep track of my writing sessions each day and compare my word counts.

If the program has a weakness, it is that it only allows you to track new words written. I would love to see it log the amount of time and number of words I have edited as well. As someone who usually spends more time editing and polishing than he does writing first drafts, I would find this very useful information.

The program is beautiful. It looks good, and it’s very easy to use. I highly recommend it to any Android phone users.


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Dragon For Mac 6 Review

I have been using speech recognition software for years now, mainly to let me write when my RSI and assorted ergonomic related ailments got too bad for me to type. Over this period I have primarily been a Mac user. Speech recognition on Apple’s machines has been an area in which they have lagged well behind Windows.

I have tried every incarnation of Mac speech to text software, starting with iListen before it was acquired by Nuance and working my way through DragonDictate and the renamed Dragon Professional Individual for Mac. Every version has ultimately disappointed. When Nuance took over the basic speech recognition engine became the same superb one as used on Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows. Unfortunately, the interface built around it was usually terrible— ugly, buggy and extremely prone to crashing.

The last (otherwise very good) version was ruined for me by the corrections interface. It randomly added characters as I typed corrections which made the process, so essential to accurate speech recognition, extremely long-winded and frustrating. Eventually, I gave up and went back to Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows running on Boot Camp.

I booted up version 6 of Dragon Professional with no great expectations. It installed quickly and easily, and the accuracy was superb out of the box. My hopes started to rise, but they always do at this point in testing a new version of Dragon. I am so used to having them dashed I gritted my teeth and kept at it. I fed it the texts of 9 of my books and some of my journal pages so it could get used to my writing style.

This time around making corrections actually worked. There were none of the show-stopping bugs I encountered with version 5. Soon I was dictating happily within Scrivener with full-text control. A dream come true for me this. The program learned fast and well.

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The new batch transcription feature worked very well. I could dictate onto my Android phone, upload the results to Dropbox and then get the speech files turned into text. Being able to use a phone with speech recognition is incredibly useful. It lets you dictate anywhere and in a sort of secrecy. People assume you are simply making a call if they see you. If you are self-conscious about dictating in a public space, this is very useful.

I find myself making notes and jotting down ideas as I go. First time this has ever happened.

Recognition accuracy is extraordinary— over 99% on normal speech, 98.2% accuracy transcribing dictation of a fantasy novel with made up words. That’s 18 mistakes in 1000 words, better than my actual typing. (As an aside I tend to think my typing is more accurate than it really is— I correct mistakes automatically as I go along and so don’t notice them. When I bother to keep track, I discover I usually manage around 94% to 97%. ) I was dictating at 100 words a minute.

There have been a few problems, but they are fairly minor. Instead of randomly adding letters and symbols to my corrections, Dragon now sometimes locks up the letter A. No idea why. At first, I thought my MacBook’s keyboard was broken, but when I switched off Dragon, the letter became available again, and the program worked just fine. Simply restarting it got rid of the problem.

When it learns fantasy names, Dragon does not recognise the capitalisation. Kormak becomes kormak. Aethelas becomes aethelas. This can be cured with a simple find and replace, though. It’s a huge improvement on previous versions where there were certain words I could not train or get the program to learn no matter how often I tried.

You still can’t train Dragon to learn new words and phrases from your transcription files. I wouldn’t have noticed this except for the fact that the Windows version has been capable of it for several generations now.

These are all relatively minor glitches. The highest compliment I can pay Dragon for Mac 6 is that I have been using it and getting work done. My previous experience of Mac speech recognition has been to desperately try to make it work and give up in disgust after a few days or weeks and return to Windows.

So far it looks as if Mac speech recognition has finally come of age. I’ll report back in a few months and see if I still feel that way.

Addendum: Jeff Leitman from Nuance responded to my review with the following clarifications and solutions to the problems I mentioned. With his permission, I am sharing them here.

I wanted to let you know we are planning a 6.0.1 update this Monday, September 26th, that addresses a number of issues, including the difficulty with the A key you reported. It is related to changing Shortcuts, located in the Preferences.

The best way to have Dragon learn proper names is to add them to the Vocabulary Editor. If you use Vocabulary Training to read documents, it will use lower case. We will look into that for future updates. I added both Kormak and Aethelas directly into the Vocabulary Editor capitalized and Dragon did save them as capitalized terms.

I’d like to thank Jeff for reaching out. I am very impressed by the dedication this shows.

Addendum Two: A number of people have written to me concerning bugs and flaws in this version of Dragon. Since the last update, I have experienced a return of the random letters appearing during correction bug. More information is available in the comments below.


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Freewrite Versus Neo

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It’s time to update my impressions of the Astrohaus Freewrite.

All the things that were good about the Freewrite, the keyboard, the simplicity, the basic idea, are still good. Using it has revealed a few shortcomings, though.

First and most importantly, for what is supposed to be a simple, reliable device that enables one to write, the Freewrite is not reliable. In fact, it has been anything but. We’ve become used to software being sent out into the world in beta version and then fixed through updates. This is the first time I have encountered this with hardware.

When my Freewrite was left overnight, it discharged all the power and would not restart. The only way to get it working again was to leave it plugged in for at least half an hour, hold down the power button for 10 seconds and wait.

This was not exactly an intuitive procedure. It certainly made it impossible to do what the Freewrite was supposed to do– just pick it up and go. The first time I picked it up and went to a cafe after leaving it overnight, I got no writing done because it would not switch on. I am far from the only one who had had this problem. I did find a solution on the Astrohaus forums, but it has been fairly hit and miss since.

The Freewrite uses a stripped down interface to get out of your way when you write. This is great, but it means that when things go wrong, you are left without a clue. There is a way of finding out how much charge the battery has, but you’ll need to head to the forums to find out what it is. Currently, there is no way of getting your text files off the machine if something goes wrong with the wireless. Or if there is I have not found it.

The real problem is, of course, that this is still a prototype. I backed a Kickstarter. I did not buy a machine from a shop. The good folks at Astrohaus are working hard to resolve these problems but none of this helps me right now use the machine for what I hoped would be its purpose.

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I have fallen back to using my Alphasmart Neo. This does not have quite as good a keyboard as the Freewrite, and it does not have the wireless connectivity that makes the Freewrite so easy to use when it works. You need to connect the Neo to your computer with a cable and squirt the text into it in a process that looks spookily like the Flash typing your text.

That aside, the Neo has many advantages over the Freewrite. The first is that it really is pick up and go. Mine has been using the same set of batteries for almost two years now– normal AA batteries you can buy in any shop– and it is still at 38% battery charge.

It has a much easier and more intuitive way of handling text files. You simply push a button marked with a file number to switch between your open files. You can have up to eight of them. You push send to send your text. It is that simple. It also weighs less than half of what the Freewrite does. It is also incredibly rugged and long lasting. I can carry it with me everywhere in a normal daysack or even just a canvas bag, and it never gives me any problems. I’ve given it to my toddler to use as a toy, and it has kept him amused and survived the experience.

The main difference is probably that the Freewrite costs $500, and the Alphasmart can be picked up for less than $25 on eBay. Yes, that’s second hand but like I said I have not had any problems with mine.

I’m not saying the Freewrite is bad. I think someday soon it will be great. If you’re interested, read the forums, follow what people are saying and when the word comes down that it’s working as it should, buy. Until then I would advise you to stick with the Alphasmart if you are looking for a portable, long battery life, distraction-free writing environment.


If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.