NaNoWriMo Again

Right now I am roughly 5000 words into my project for National Novel Writing Month. It’s only the second day of this 30-day effort to get a 50,000-word book written, but I feel like I’m making decent progress. In theory, I only have to write just over 1660 words per day to hit the target. I am trying to build some margin for error into my word counts as well as allow myself to take the weekends off.

Why am I doing this? I’m not sure that I can give a decent answer to that. I did National Novel Writing Month two years ago and enjoyed it. I skipped it last year because I was busy editing Illidan. I was quite keen to get back into the swing of things this year.

I like the discipline of it. I like having a definite goal. To be honest, I doubt that 50,000 words will be enough to finish the book that I am currently planning but it will be a good start.

I have some advantages this year over my attempt two years ago. I have something that resembles an outline. It’s pretty sketchy, only about a page but that should be enough.

The book is called Extinction Event. It’s a sequel to Armageddon Protocol, my upcoming military science fiction novel. Being the second book in a series it has a number of advantages when it comes to getting a swift first draft written.

I don’t have to come up with all of the background because it already exists in the first book. I don’t have to come up with a complete cast of characters because a whole group of them were introduced in Armageddon Protocol. There were some loose ends left in that book. Tieing these up gives me a lead into the plot of the current book. In general, if you’re interested in completing a book in National Novel Writing Month I can highly recommend doing the second book in the series.

It’s something of a strange writing process at the moment. The repetitive strain injuries to my hands are very bad at the moment. This makes typing quite painful, so I am dictating the book on my phone.

This is not quite as insane as it sounds. I have a very good voice recording program called Hi-Q MP3 Recorder. This not only allows very high-quality speech recording, but it also automatically uploads the file to Dropbox.

For transcription, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows. The Mac version is just as accurate when it comes to transcribing the files, but it lacks the batch processing functions that the Windows version has. Dragon Naturally Speaking has a transcription agent which scans a prearranged Dropbox folder and automatically transcribes any MP3 files that it finds there. It does this automatically. I don’t have to do anything. It’s just about the easiest way of transcribing text that I can think of. It’s also approximately 99% accurate.

Transcribing in this fashion has other advantages. For one thing, it looks as if you’re simply making a phone call as you dictate your latest masterwork. This can be useful if you’re out walking in a public place.

Another thing is that I am never stuck without a speech recorder if I feel the urge to dictate some text.

On top of this, I find transcription faster and more efficient in dictating into my computer. The reason for this is very simple. I can’t go back and make corrections.

This is an essential process that part of the process when you are using speech recognition software, but it hugely interrupts you if you’re trying to write. You’ll be in the middle of dictating a scene, notice a mistake and go back and make the correction. This might only take a minute or less but it gets you out of the flow, and you have to get yourself back into the writing mindset.

When you’re dictating you just tell the story. It’s that simple. You’re never out of the flow state, and it’s quite easy to get into it. I find telling the story a bit like being a gamemaster in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s something I enjoy.

In case you are wondering whether I am missing out on Dragon learning how I speak, don’t worry. The other great advantage that the Windows version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking has over its Mac cousin is that you can go back and make corrections inside your recordings.

This takes just as much time as making corrections during a dictation session on a computer but has the great advantage of separating the two parts of the process. I can tell my story, make sure it’s written and then go back and do the fiddly administrative task of teaching my speech recognition software.

The other software I use during this part of the process will come as no surprise. Once my text is transcribed, I cut and paste it into Scrivener. I can then go through and edit it by hand.

It used to be that I could tell a huge difference between text I had typed in and text that I had dictated. The transcribed speech was usually much more discursive and far less smooth.This is no longer the case since I switched to transcription. I think interrupting the flow of my writing to make corrections also caused the quality of my prose to deteriorate. Nowadays I find it hard to tell the difference between speech I have dictated until recorder and speech I have typed.

A lot of people get very excited about the possibility of dictating text because you can speak a lot faster than you type unless you happen to be a trained typist. I still find that I don’t get the huge gains that many people report because I count the time I spend correcting my text as part of my writing time.

I definitely see some improvement in word counts, but I am not getting anything like the 4000 words per hour that many people report. I can hit 2500 to 3000 words using this method. On the other hand, on a good day, I can type 2000-2400 words per hour. So as you can see you’re looking at a gain of approximately 20% in my case. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, I appear to have drifted away from my subject matter and onto the subject of tech. Next time, I’ll try and write more about the process of composing and writing at speed.


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Portents of Doom Released

Portentsofdoom

Portents of Doom, the tenth Kormak book, has just gone live. In it, our monster-hunting hero finds himself hunting his most dangerous foe yet the sinister Shadow-worshipping sorcerer Balthazar and his shapeshifting allies. Here’s the blurb.

PORTENTS OF DOOM

Led by their lycanthropic shaman, mutated tribesmen emerge from the jungles of Terra Nova, slaying in the name of their demon god. Kormak must thread his way through the murderous wilderness as he attempts to solve a mystery that could lead to the end of the world.

The ebook is now available at the special introductory price of $2.99 or the equivalent in local currency. This will rise to $4.99 in a few days.

Portents of Doom is available at your favourite ebook retailer now.

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.de

Amazon.com.au

Smashwords

Kobo

Apple

Nook


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Flesh to Shadow

This week I have another cover reveal. It’s for the first Kormak omnibus and it’s the creation of the very talented Trevor Smith.

Flesh to Shadow Kindle

I have retitled the collection. It’s now called Flesh to Shadow, a reference to the fact that it contains the first three books of the Kormak saga, Stealer of Flesh, Defiler of Tombs and Weaver of Shadow.It also sounds a lot less dull than The First Kormak Omnibus.

You can pick up a copy at your favourite ebook retailer or you can get it for free simply by signing up for my mailing list.

Here’s the blurb:

To the world at large, he is a mercenary and assassin, a brutal killer with a deadly blade. In reality Kormak is a Guardian, one of an ancient order sworn to protect humanity from the servants of the gathering darkness.

FLESH TO SHADOW

This Kormak Omnibus contains the first three novels, the short story Guardian of the Dawn and many extras such as a map of the Kingdoms of the Sun and the author’s notes for all of the stories.

STEALER OF FLESH

The Ghul are the Stealers of Flesh, an ancient race of demons who possess the bodies of humans to work great evil. Now one of them has been freed from its ancient prison using Kormak’s own dwarf-forged sword and the Guardian must pursue it to a haunted city on the edge of the world to end its reign of terror.

DEFILER OF TOMBS

An open tomb, a dead child and an unleashed ancient horror send Kormak on a path of vengeance through the haunted northlands of Taurea. He seeks Morghael, a necromancer with a plan for resurrecting the dark empire of Kharon and the power to bring the dead swarming back to life.

WEAVER OF SHADOW

War brews along the border of the Elvenwood. The prophet of an ancient evil has corrupted the nation of Mayasha, reducing the once proud elves to feral slaves of the Shadow. Allied with the monstrous Spider Folk she is poised to sweep away the human settlements in the ancient forests and spread her Blight across the lands. Only one man stands between her and absolute victory; Kormak.

As I said above, you can find Flesh to Shadow at all good ebook retailers or you can get a copy for free simply by signing up for my mailing list.


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.

Portents of Doom Cover Reveal

This week I am finishing up the tenth Kormak book Portents of Doom. In it, Kormak, Rhiana and company pursue the sorcerer Balthazar through the blighted jungles of Terra Nova as the quest to find the source of Vorkhul’s coffin nears its climax. Mutant tribesmen, were-jaguars, demon summoners and the Lords of Skulls himself all seek to block their path and end their lives.

Clarissa Yeo over at Yocla Designs has done her usual bang-up job on the cover.

Portentsofdoom

Portents of Doom is at the final editing stage and is about to head out to my test readers and then editors. It should be available around the end of October/start of November.


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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.

Screenshot 2016 09 20 10 22 29

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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