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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First Impressions: Blogo

I am testing a new blogging application called, appropriately enough, Blogo today. It’s a very nice looking piece of Mac software that comes very highly recommended (by Apple no less). I was intrigued enough to take it for a test drive on my MacBook and what you’re reading is the result.

Blogo is as easy to install as any other bit of Mac software. You can download a trial version from the developer’s site (which is what I have done) or directly from the app store.

Once you’ve installed it, you find yourself looking at a traditional OSX layout. There are a number of panels. On the far left is a binder with buttons for things like starting a new post, hiding your other panels, previewing your post, moderating your comments and so on.

To the left of that is a panel containing a list of all your previous posts that are available for editing.

The central panel is where you write your post, add categories and tags, save or publish it. There’s an information panel that contains your word count as well. There’s a little calendar in the top right of this panel that let’s you schedule your posts.

The furthest right panel has a list of your categories.

There are browser extensions that let you send links and videos directly to your post from your browser.

You can schedule posts from within it and you can deal with comments from inside the app.

Where it really scores is managing multiple blogs although that is not all that important to me.

It’s all clean, simple, efficient and pleasant to work with on a MacBook screen. You can drag and drop images into your posts and edit them. That’s a thing I rarely do so I can’t tell you about it. You can synchronise with Evernote and post pretty much directly from it. If you are a compulsive Evernote user this could be very useful. It all works very well indeed.

But would I pay $29.99 for it? Now that is the question. The little blogging I have done of late has mostly been written in markdown and posted from inside Byword and that has worked well for me. As far as I can tell Blogo does not use markdown which is a bit of a negative. (Update 16th October: I have since heard from Gisele, Blogo’s community manager, that markdown is coming soon. That’s a big plus.)

I do like the Evernote integration and the ability to moderate comments. If the scheduling really works I would be very happy since I have struggled to make that work on my WordPress site. (Update: I scheduled this post and it worked perfectly so score one for Blogo!)

I think I’m going to keep using it through the trial period and see how well things go.

Also while I am here I should mention that the Kormak books are finally available on Google Play. So if you have an android phone or tablet you can pick up Stealer of Flesh for free right now.


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Improving Writing Workflows

I changed my workflow a lot this year. The most important alteration was that I started using markdown as much as possible. I’ve talked about the advantages before so I won’t go into them again here. I’ll just say that I love the way I can work anywhere on anything when I am using it.

I am using Scrivener less. I know, I know– me saying that is one of the signs of the End Times. In the past I used Scrivener for pretty much everything I could. But all is flux as Heraclitus once said.

My workflow is now broken into five stages mostly defined by the program and text format that I use for them.

The first stage is outlining which I do in markdown.

The second stage is writing the first draft which is also done in markdown.

The third stage is revision. If only light revisions are necessary then I make these in markdown. If scenes need to moving around for a major structural edit then I import the file into Scrivener. In Scrivener I can still write in markdown. It is set up for it.

The fourth stage is editing. This is where the files get transferred to Microsoft Word for my test readers and editors.

The final stage for e-book that I happened to be publishing myself is to load the file into Scrivener for production.

When streamlining my revision process I discovered the advantages of using a checklist such as Folding Text. I found that I liked having a separate outline to the one inside Scrivener.

I used to write a synopsis and then transfer my scene by scene descriptions into the index card window in Scrivener. One side-effect of this was that I sometimes found it difficult to get a broad overview of my story. One limit of using the index card method is that you can only put a small number of words on them – at least if you have eyesight like mine. This can be an advantage when you’re sketching out the broad outlines of the story. It becomes a restriction when you need to see more detail.

One way around this was to put a brief description on the index card then put the rest of the information in the documents window. This meant that you could see everything but only when you were looking at that specific document. These days I prefer to keep my synopsis, character descriptions and scene by scene outline in a separate document. This lets me check everything at a glance. Since that document is in plain text, I can access it from pretty much anywhere.

One thing that has not changed has been my reliance on Dropbox. I jump around from computer to computer and operating system to operating system a lot. Syncing between the Windows and OSX versions of Scrivener via Dropbox can be problematical. Files can get corrupted. The problem probably occurred because I did not wait for the file on one computer to finish syncing before opening it on another. It happened often enough for me to be wary of doing this. I don’t like losing work.

These days I have a separate folder in Dropbox for every type of project that I am working on. I have one folder for novels, one for short stories, one for blog posts, one for interviews and so on. I have one folder for outlines as well. Everything that goes into these folders is stored in markdown. I can access these files anywhere, even on my phone.

I try and keep revisions to a minimum during the first draft stage, because I never know what I am going to chop out. Doing a lot of heavy editing on a scene that later gets dropped can waste a lot of time. I prefer to wait until I have a working final draft before polishing things.

I write my first drafts in markdown text processors. On Windows my favourite of these is WriteMonkey. On my Mac I use is Ulysses. Both these programs have excellent export capabilities. They are the only markdown-capable wordprocessors I know of that can export Microsoft Word styles properly.

Most programs seem to spray on header styles locally. They change the appearance of specific paragraphs to give the illusion of coherent styles. They do not insert actual styles such as header one or header two. Ulysses and WriteMonkey can give perfectly formatted Microsoft Word documents if I need them.

I only switch to Microsoft Word when I need to send a document to an editor or to my test readers. Even then I use markdown formatting inside the manuscript instead of local style formatting. The reason I do this is that sometimes Microsoft Word adds many strange and corrupt codes to my text during the editing process. At the end of the editing process if I need clean code all I have to do is save the file as a text file. All of my chapter headings, scene headings, italics and bolds will be preserved.

I use Scrivener either for heavy structural editing or for final production of my indie ebooks. The program does a brilliant job of importing markdown files. It stores them all in one folder and breaks them into scenes based on the header type. It has a compile setting that automagically translates markdown into the correct formatting for the final output version.

When it comes to e-book production I still find Scrivener the way to go. Not only does it produce Kindle and EPUB formats easily, I now have it set up so that it can produce PDF files for CreateSpace books.

Using this system I get all the advantages of Microsoft Word and Scrivener. And I get to keep my files universally accessible for as long as possible. This has been the biggest change to the way I work in years and I just wanted to share it.

Starting A Mailing List

Every writer should have a mailing list. That’s one of those of those bits of advice that you will get sooner or later if you hang around writers’ boards on the internet long enough. It also happens to be true although it took me a long time to realise it.

I started my mailing list a few years back. To be honest, for the first year or so, I made no effort to attract folk to my mailing list whatsoever. And, oddly enough, it never seemed very useful.

Then I read Your First Thousand Copies which made a pretty convincing case not only for mailing lists but for using the much-hated browser pop-up to get people to sign up for them. Which is why many of you who visit this site get to see the aforementioned pop-up every couple of weeks. Since that time I have collected a couple of hundred names. That is still pretty small as mailing lists go but much better than it was.

So what are the benefits of mailing lists? Well, it depends on the kind of mailing list you want to run. Your First Thousand Copies recommends using your mailing list in the way most writers use their websites – to promote reader engagement by sending out articles, extracts from your books and other stuff, as well as sales links.

I’d love to do that but I am a bit too lazy, and by the time I had this information I had already spend a lot of time getting this blog rolling and, much as I enjoy writing it, I did not feel like setting out to create something that involved just as much work.

So, in the case of my list (which you can join here if you are interested), people who sign up get to hear about my new releases before anybody else and also get occasional freebies and special offers.

Often I release my new books at a low introductory price and then raise them after a few days and being on the mailing list gives you a head’s up about this.

Last month I gave away free copies of A Cold and Lonely Place to everybody on the mailing list. Amazingly enough a large number of people went off and bought it anyway. So thanks to everyone who did that. I’ll be doing similar giveaways in the future.

What benefits does the mailing list give me? Well, it gives me a bunch of initial sales, which is always gratifying and more to the point, that bunch of initial sales, even with a mailing list as small as mine, gives me a chance of getting onto some of the less important charts at Amazon. This visibility in turn leads to more sales. That’s the theory anyway.

Does it work?

As far as I can tell, yes. The past few times I’ve done a new release I’ve managed to hit the the charts for sea stories, short stories and a couple of others which I can’t be bothered to check my records of right now. My average sales per new release have been higher as well even after the initial introductory price has gone. As time goes on and my list gets larger, I might start to appear on the more important charts which in theory should lead to even more sales creating a virtuous loop.

Now you’re probably thinking that’s all very well for an indie writer but what about folk still with traditional publishers. Well, I reckon there is an even stronger case for them using a mailing list, particularly in the US where, if your book does not take off in the first couple of months it will be stripped and returned.

Having a mailing list means that you can notify your fans that your book is out and that they should go get it. You have a short window of opportunity to make your mark and you need to do everything you can to take advantage of it. It’s a bit like turning the voters out on election day.

Why use a mailing list? Why not just advertise it on your blog or website? Because there is no guarantee that people will be checking those out when you need them to be doing that. Your email will arrive in their inbox, and you can provide them with a handy-dandy sales link to click on which makes the task of buying your book easier. And hey there’s no law that says you can’t also use your website to make these announcements.

So how do you go about setting up your mailing list?

There’s all manner of laws concerning spamming and holding people’s personal data on your computer, so I recommend using a service like Mailchimp or Aweber who have already jumped through the legal hoops for you.

Mailchimp is free until your list reaches 2000 addresses (by which time you probably won’t be too worried about paying). Aweber costs money from the get-go but a lot of marketing professionals swear by it. There are a number of other services which I don’t know much about but which a swift Google search will turn up. I use Mailchimp myself and I’ve never had a problem with it.

Reputable services use what is called the double opt-in system. This means that once somebody signs up for your list they get sent an email and they need to click on a link within that email to opt-in. This gives them a chance to rethink signing up if that’s what they want. Of course, this also means there is a chance that the confirmation email might get caught in a spam filter so if you sign up for my list and haven’t got a response please check your junk mail filter.

Once you’ve uploaded your books to Amazon and whoever else you publish them with, you just need to wait a day or so until the books are live then you can cut and paste the links from the website into your mailing list newsletter and you’re good to go.

The nice thing about having a mailing list is that the list grows organically once its started. Just put a link to the sign up page at the back of your books and on your website and you are set.

Bonus Tip. If you decide to go with Mailchimp the web interface can be a little fiddly. It’s WYSIWYG but to create links you need to select text and cut and paste stuff into boxes. Making headers involves selecting text and clicking on buttons. It’s not difficult but it does take time and getting out your mailing list is one of those things you want to make as easy as possible.

I recommend using markdown and signing up for a free account with Draft. This has a nifty feature that allows you to send your markdown text to Mailchimp and have it transformed into fully functional HTML complete with links.

For those of you unfamiliar with markdown, it’s a simplified version of HTML meant to be easily usable and readable by ordinary folks. You can find out more here

You can learn enough markdown to create you mailing list in two minutes. In fact here is all you need.

To create a header in markdown you enclose your text in hashtags. The more hashtags you use the deeper the header level you get. One hashtag means a level one header, two hashtags means a level two header and so on.

Thus ####This is a level four header#### gives you

This is a level four header

You get italics by enclosing text in asterisks like so *asterisks*.

You get bold text by enclosing your text in **two asterisks**.

You create a link by enclosing the word you are intend to be clicked in square brackets and then placing the target of the link in normal brackets immediately thereafter. The format is [linkword](www.targetlink)

And there you have it. You now know enough markdown to create your own Mailchimp newsletter using Draft.


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Invisible Software

For the past couple of weeks I have been living in a strange alternative universe where proprietary formatting for applications never happened. I have been storing my to do list on my phone and editing it in my word-processor on both Windows and OSX. My phone happens to run Android but I could just as easily be doing this on an iPhone. I’ve been taking notes on my phone when out in the playground with the baby and been able to edit them in my word processor, add them to my Evernote stack and/or do whatever else I want with them. I’ve been writing blog posts that I can send directly from my word processor to this blog knowing they will format correctly. I’ve been running my project management software everywhere.

I’ve been doing all of this courtesy of working in plain text/markdown files and it really has been a wonderful experience. For someone like me, who works on a variety of operating systems and a number of strange devices, including an Alphasmart Dana, markdown has been a real boon. Using an open standard (and it does not get more open than plain text) means I can use anything I want, any time I want, anywhere I want. If I feel like editing my work in progress on my phone (don’t laugh it occasionally happens) I can. What it means is that the software I use becomes effectively invisible. It gets out of my way.

I’ve been working on Byword on the Mac and the extremely wonderful WriteMonkey on my Windows machines for word processing. I’ve been using todo.txt for my to do lists and Taskpaper for my project management/ Getting Things Done Stuff. It all works together extremely well.

It was what I was going to write about today, but when I came to think about it, there’s another sort of invisible software that holds everything together. Dropbox. When I stopped to consider it, I was amazed at how stealthily and completely this program has infiltrated my life.

For those of you who have not encountered it, Dropbox is an extremely simple looking idea, extremely well executed. It is a folder that sits on your desktop and when you put something into it, it gets stored in the cloud on Dropbox’s servers and from there is synchronised with the files on any other machine you happen to have Dropbox installed it. I’ve been using it for years and it works really well. It even stores versioned backups of your recent files, so if you accidentally overwrite something you can go back and retrieve what you wiped.

Dropbox is where my ToDo.txt file lives and my markdown drafts and blogposts and even the Scrivener files for my big writing projects. It’s useful in that not only does it provide an effortless method of synchronising my data between machines, it gives me an off-site backup for my work. (I also use Google Drive, Amazon’s S3 cloud and OneDrive for this as well as a USB stick and Time Machine backup– I know it sounds paranoid but I lost a bit of work once and I never intend to have it happen again.)

Recently Dropbox has allowed me to automatically back up the photographs from my phone’s camera onto my computer. It happens invisibly in the background while I am doing other stuff. I am experimenting with using the speech recorder on my phone to take dictation. Dropbox makes transferring the dictation files from my Galaxy to DragonDictate 4 on the Mac an absolute breeze. I just save the file in Dropbox and, boom, it’s there on my computer ready to import into Dragon when I want. This is the way that software should work. It should just get out of your way and let you do stuff.

I think Dropbox is in many ways the wave of the future, capitalising on the Cloud’s strengths. It’s not something you really notice because you don’t work in it the way you do with a program like Scrivener or Microsoft Word, but it has definitely changed the way I work and I imagine it will continue to do so.


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