Thursdays in Santa Clarita, Or the Importance of Technology #amwriting

Today, like every Thursday, I’m spending the day in Santa Clarita, California. It’s not the most exciting place in the world, and it’s thirty miles from my home in the San Fernando Valley. But my husband works here, and every Thursday evening we have a date here. So I usually come up early.

I spend most of my time in one of the older sections of the community, Newhall. The Old Town Newhall library is lovely and a good place to do some writing. But until I had my February Blues SAD wake–up call, I ignored William S. Hart Park.

The highest tech movie star’s home in 1920s Los Angeles County—the William S. Hart ranch.

The park offers light hiking, wildlife, and lots of sunshine. I’ve even taken the ranch house tour. I found myself identifying with the old actor—Mr. Hart really liked his tech. In the 1920’s, he spared no expense to electrify everything in his domain—a radio in every room. An electric record player. A projection room. An electric buzzer to summon the next course from the kitchen in his dining room. A for-Gosh-sake intercom. Yes, an electric refrigerator. They didn’t have electric food warmers, so he had a lower-tech food warmer installed in his dining room (a fireplace with a very small firebox underneath a huge stone slab, called a French food warmer.)

My, my. Now I don’t feel quite so bad with my MacBook Air, iPad, Fitbit, and iPhone. And our own home intercom. And our smart thermostat. And every other member of the family also having a laptop and iPhone, and tablet if desired. And our cable TV and internet and HD screen and Apple TV (Mind you, all this while the plumbing needs… oh, a lot of work. And my wardrobe is… challenged. Tech comes before shoes or more than one working shower. Seriously.)

Time to go back to writing fiction on my tech. And yes, I have been writing fiction. I haven’t reached the daily word counts I’d like to see, but something is better than nothing. Heigh-ho!


A New Look for “A Study In Silver”

So, welcome to my renovated blog! I’ve chosen a simple theme, Twenty Sixteen. The color scheme is gray and silver, of course. I added a header with a silver dragon, partly hidden in mist. And of course, the blog still has two columns on wide screens (otherwise, how could I deal?) My fonts are still selected for legibility before beauty (but I think they’re quite attractive, nonetheless.) I’m pleased that this new theme underlines links—I always worried that links were hard to notice in my old theme, and manually set them in italics. No more need for that! And the adaptation to small (phone) screens is much more adaptive—no more one-letter columns of text beside the images.

Thanks for reading! I’ll continue to bring you writing productivity and writing technology information in my cool new web wrapper.

Time to Putter Around With My Blog Appearance


The theme I use for my blog, Able, is now “retired” by Grrr. That means, of course, that it won’t be kept up-to-date regarding new browsers, new mobile devices, et freaking cetera.

I’ve been putting off updating the blog appearance, but I suppose it’s time. If the blog disappears in the next week or so, don’t panic! I’ll be back online soon, and more legible than ever.

Okay, I Changed My Mind re: Setapp #amwriting

107 Mac apps for $9.99/month. A good value.

I’ve gone ahead and gotten a Setapp subscription. All it took to push me over the edge was two more apps.

I’m already paying a subscription for a password management app–and one is now included with Setapp. And then there’s the remote desktop app, for which I used to also pay a subscription. I’ve done without rather than keep paying for an app I seldom use–but as a remote desktop app is included in SetApp, well…

Bottom line, the Setapp subscription is now paid for with the subscriptions I formerly bought for Ulysses, password management (now covered by Setapp’s Secrets app), and remote desktop service (now covered by Setapp’s Jump Desktop.) Future paid upgrades for apps I already own (Aeon Timeline 2 and iThoughtsX) are gravy. And there are many special-purpose apps included that I no longer need to worry about. Project management? If I need it, I’m covered. SQL? Heaven forbid I should ever need it again, but if I do I’m covered.

And as for all those itty bitty utilities included in Setapp–there is a new one among them, Bartender, which provides a unique service. The Mac, of course, has exactly one menu bar, which starts getting cluttered with utilities rather quickly if you collect them at all. Bartender hides those menu bar utilities until you need them, so they’re no longer hidden behind the app menus in an app with tons of menus like Scrivener. I love using my iPad as a second monitor, and now I can both put Scrivener there and use all my menu bar utilities there. Woot!

The Demise of Dictation #amwriting

The first flush of dictation enthusiasm! How little I knew….

Yeah, dictation didn’t work for me.

I still have the gaming headset and I’m glad I got it. But I wish I had the money back for Dragon Professional for Mac.

This venture into dictation… it sucked another six weeks of production time, and I have almost nothing to show for it.

Let’s start with the obvious: the Fool Proof Dictation method included 55+ minutes of warm-ups every single dictation session. Hello! ADHD here. I never made it all the way through. Not one. Single. Time. Without. Distraction. I don’t know why I thought I could.

It was mind-numbingly boring to read aloud ten minutes from a “best-seller in my genre” with punctuation in. Then dictate five minutes of “session goals.” Then do forty minutes of fiction dictation exercises (with punctuation in) not including five minute breaks in between.

The last was my downfall. A five minute break from one of the more boring things I’ve ever done? It was never five minutes, even if I remembered to start a timer. No, I didn’t start other apps, but so what? A half-hour of daydreaming later (or maybe an hour or more), I’d come back to this planet and realise that I’d lost momentum and I was no longer “warmed up.”

Sometimes I’d cheat and go ahead and dictate my scenes anyway. But there was a problem. I’m writing a historical-fantasy-mystery set in 19th century London. I want British spelling. My native accent is South Texan (perhaps it’s even a separate language.) Dragon Professional for Mac does not allow for the possibility that someone who speaks with a Texas accent might want to produce output with British spelling. It’s even worse with a speaker who inadvertently slips into bad British accents while dictating dialogue.

When it came time to transcribe the recordings I’d made (at last!) not even the simple exercises were transcribed correctly, not even to the level of typos I’d have made in typing it. I’d go back through the recordings, and yes my speech was clear. No background noise at all. But when I tried to train Dragon in transcription mode, it still made the same horrible transcription errors time after time.

I also had a problem with the lack of visual feedback using this method. I read very fast, so that reading is almost the only way for me to take in information without getting distracted. I really missed seeing my words appear on the screen. So, for about a week, I tried to dictate directly to screen.

In my favour, I’d largely gotten over the hesitation problem while dictating (the interminable reading from Conan Doyle did some good!) and Dragon is much more forgiving about pauses than the Mac’s built-in dictation. But the transcription errors persisted. I finally tossed in the towel last week.

Yes, it’s back to typing for me, or when the words are coming hard, back to a stylus and a handwriting keyboard. If I ever get carpal tunnel syndrome, I guess my writing career is over. Or I’ll use Mac dictation, because it’s too frustrating to use the best and get minimal traction.

Ulysses, Revisited #amwriting

I am finding some value in Ulysses after all…

Yes, I’m kind of beginning to like Ulysses.

The last time I picked up Ulysses, I rejected it because of its non-standard Markdown (Markdown ‘XL’), and the fact that it saves its iCloud Library in One Big File(TM), thus giving the lie to its vaunted “plain text” basis. But it’s getting a bit daunting to manage my blog on Dropbox with a true plain text editor (Editorial for iOS and TextWrangler plus Marked 2 for Mac.)

So I picked it up again, renting it for $5 for a month. And I am cautiously pleased. It looks like I’ll be able to keep tags and categories as Ulysses keywords, which will make searching for the last time I pontificated on a certain subject easier. Its WordPress publishing capability is very good. And I can even do tables (not that I’ve ever put tables in my blog, but hey, you never know) by using its “raw code” capability:

This is the source of a Markdown table:

| This  | is   | a  |
| :-    | :-   | :- |
| table | with | 3  |
| rows            |||

This is the result of putting that Markdown source into raw code blocks and uploading to WordPress:

This is a
table with 3

Not bad. The only thing the other Markdown editors do to make tables easier is put up that grid of pipes (the vertical bars) and alignment indicators (the colons and hyphens.) I can build a table in another of my numerous Markdown editors if I need one and paste it in.

I’m not going to switch to novel writing in Ulysses. There’s far too much that Scrivener includes that Ulysses doesn’t (compilation, index cards, folders that are also text files, the ability to split my writing into the tiniest possible increments, and so forth.) Where would I put my beats? My chapter cards? Oh, yes, now that Aeon Timeline 2 (AT) syncs with Ulysses, all that stuff can be kept in AT and will live in notes in my Ulysses project, but there’s no corkboard (!) in that workflow. Not OK. I’d be reduced to planning everything in advance, because I really can’t get that info into a place I can play with it during production.

And as for Ulysses being less distracting, bullpucky. There is not now nor will there ever be a piece of software that makes it the least bit difficult for me to become distracted.

So the question is: Does Ulysses have enough utility to me as a blogging tool, to keep renting it for $5 US per month (or $40 US per year)? That’s a question I haven’t answered yet. The answer depends, in part, on my investigation of the Setapp Mac software subscription service. I’ve started the 30-day free trial–and will report back soon.

Using Scrivener 3 with Aeon Timeline 2 @ScrivenerApp @AeonTimeline

Scrivener 3 and Aeon Timeline 2

The very best news about using Scrivener 3 with Aeon Timeline 2 is that it’s working! Not only will Aeon sync with new Scrivener 3 projects, but if you update your project from Scrivener 2 to Scrivener 3, the timeline you synced with your Scrivener 2 project will sync with your updated Scrivener 3 project.

The only difference I’ve been able to detect is that now, if you sync a timeline with a project, and let Aeon create a “new custom field”—if that field is a date, Aeon will create a field in the Scrivener project that uses Scrivener 3’s new “Date” data type.

The good news:

  • It’s much easier to change dates and/or times on the Scrivener side–the usual Mac date/time controls are available.
  • There’s a wide range of date/time formats available through Project Settings. I was especially delighted that Scrivener 3’s “Custom” date/time format provides full support for Unicode standard date format strings. Wow! I can actually display dates in my preferred format. (“1880-11-15 14:00 Mo”)

The not-so-good news:

  • When I let Aeon create the metadata date fields for Scrivener, they displayed using Scrivener’s default date format, Short Date. Maybe this is fine for you. But Short Date will strip both century data (“1880” transferred as “1980”) and time information (all times were set to midnight.)

For me, this was problematic, as I am writing a historical mystery—both century and time are important to me. To work around this: (N.B. The instructions that follow are intended for a user who has experience in both Scrivener 2/3 and in Aeon Timeline 2!)

  • First, use Project Settings… to set up your date fields in Scrivener 3.
    In Scrivener’s Project Settings, set up your custom metadata date fields.
    • If you are using standard dates, choose a format that contains the century, the time, or both (if this is important to you.)
    • Alternatively, if you’re using something non-standard (as for science fiction or fantasy that doesn’t use standard dates and times) use a text field in Scrivener 3 just as in Scrivener 2.
    • Tick the checkbox that says “Ignore time zone changes” (unless you really want your events to display a different date and time depending on whether you’re writing in Sydney or San Francisco today.)
  • Next, in Aeon Timeline, use Sync > Settings… to set the event start date and end date to sync with the new fields you created in Scrivener 3. Go ahead and run a sync to get your data into the new fields in Scrivener.
Connect to the new fields in Aeon Timeline Sync > Settings
  • Finally, delete the old fields (if any) in Scrivener 3 Project Settings.

Happy Scrivening! (AND Timelining!)

Upgrading To Scrivener 3 Mac from Scrivener 2? Don’t panic! Installation & Startup Suggestions @ScrivenerApp #amwriting

Scrivener 3.0 for Mac is here!

Scrivener 3 for Mac is here! It has styles! It has a wonderful new compiler! There are bookmarks, work history and much more. It’s mostly familiar, and it’s awfully tempting to just plunge in. Yet there are road hazards for those who just want to upgrade right now, dammit, and why doesn’t it work just like old Scrivener 2? What happened to my compile formats? What are these ‘style’ things you speak of and how will they help me?

I spent two days down that rabbit hole. Learn from my mistakes. Scrivener 3 is a Major Upgrade. It contains seven years’ worth of pent-up new features. Treat it with respect, and you’ll be up and running in a few hours. Treat it like a minor upgrade, and you too may be crying on the Scrivener forums.

Take a deep breath. Before you download that software, let’s tidy up a bit, and get those Scrivener 2 projects all spiffy and ready to be updated.

First, open your applications folder on your Mac. I suggest renaming the Scrivener app to ‘Scrivener 2’. This will keep Mac OS from getting confused when you install the new version. I strongly suggest keeping both versions active until you are confident to go forward with Scrivener 3. In particular, do not use Scrivener 3 for a project that is running on a close deadline for which you will need to use Compile! Scrivener 3 compile is vastly improved, but it has a learning curve associated with it. You’ll need to unlearn how you used Compile in Scrivener 2, and relearn the simpler, more powerful, Compile in Scrivener 3. Doing this under time pressure equals misery.

If you use iOS Scrivener, take the time right now to be sure all your projects are properly synced to your Mac. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now, open Scrivener 2. Open each project you wish to bring forward into Scrivener 3. If you use External Folder sync, do one last sync. Make sure there are no loose ends.

Once you’ve done this for each project that you plan on updating to Scrivener 3, you have one last task to perform. Open Scrivener preferences from the Scrivener menu. Down at the bottom of the dialog, click on the “Manage…” button. Choose “Save all preferences…” and save your preferences as a file on the desktop, or anywhere else that you’ll be able to find it quickly. Once you’ve done that, please quit Scrivener 2.

One final thing: Shut down your Mac and re-start it. It seems silly, but at least 75% of the complaints on the Scrivener forum regarding Scrivener 3 installation are solved by a simple restart of the Mac in question. Why take a chance?

At last! You’re ready. Go ahead and purchase your upgrade (or get your free upgrade!) and download Scrivener 3. Install it, but before you fire it up, open your Applications folder. Again, to help Mac OS keep the two applications straight, rename the new Scrivener app to ‘Scrivener 3.’

Now you can open your new software! Enter your registration number, and you’re rolling. But don’t convert those projects just yet. First, let’s visit the Preferences pane. Go ahead and click the “Manage…” button. It’s in the same position that it was in Scrivener 2. Click “Load all preferences…” and select the preferences file that you made in Scrivener 2. It won’t cover everything, because there are new things to prefer in Scrivener 3, but it will keep you from exclaiming, “Oh my [deity of choice]! I already told it not to do that…”

Still in the Preferences dialog, click on the Backup tab. Choose a different backup folder from the one you used for Scrivener 2. Seriously. There will be no easy way to tell the difference between your old Scrivener 2 backups and your new Scrivener 3 backups unless you set up a new backup folder. Also, Scrivener 3 might well start writing over your old Scrivener 2 backups. Let’s not go there.

I know you’re itching to open one of your very own projects, and see it in Scrivener 3 glory. Don’t do it. Instead, select File > New Project… and click on the hated, boring Tutorial icon. You need not go through the entire thing. But I strongly suggest that you take the time to click on the What’s New collection and follow the instructions there.

Yes, it will take an hour or three. It’s a small price to pay to avoid hours or days of struggle. You may even want to view the video tutorials. To find them, select New Project from the File menu and you’ll find the icon right there next to the tutorial icon. I’m happy to wait some more. Take your time.

Now open a Scrivener 2 project. I suggest you choose one that you don’t care about much. Perhaps it’s on the back burner, or its deadline is quite far out. Note that you get an alert asking if you want to update the project. Click the the “Update Project” button. Now, Scrivener makes a copy of your Scrivener 2 project, and rename it to something like “my-project.backup.scriv”.

Personally, I find the naming convention confusing. it makes me think that the file is a real backup rather than an old version copy. If you find it confusing as well, you’re free to change the name to something more meaningful. I’d also suggest taking it out of the iOS sync folder on Dropbox if that’s where you’re keeping your projects.

By now, your updated project is open on your Mac screen. Right now, import your old compile formats, if any, by selecting “Compile…” from the File menu. Click on the gear menu at the bottom of the Formats column. From there, select “Import Scrivener 2 preset…”. You’ll be shown a list of the presets that were available to this project under Scrivener 2. Choose one that you think will be useful, and import it. Repeat as needed.

Please don’t think you will be able to use those presets as they came from Scrivener 2, however. You’ll need to connect them to section types and section layouts as you learned in the tutorial and in those videos. But at least the formats will be close to what you were using in Scrivener 2. Also, you will need to develop section layouts and section types for things in your front matter and your back matter. (A full description of the new Scrivener 3 compile system is way beyond the scope of this blog post. Use the tutorial and the videos, please.)

Other hazards:

  • If you use External File Sync, start a new sync folder. Scrivener uses a new naming convention for these files, and “crossing the streams” is Bad. Trust me.
  • If you sync to iOS, then prep your iOS device by moving your old Scrivener 2 projects to the “On my iPad (or iPhone)” area without syncing. Rename them so that you don’t confuse them with the Scrivener 3 projects (or just delete them.) Remember, these are already saved in the old format on your Mac.
  • When you sync, the entire converted Scrivener 3 project(s) will upload to iOS. Every single file inside the project(s) will have been updated. Make sure that the upload from Mac to Dropbox is finished, and allow plenty of time for the iOS download to complete as well.

I hope that this little upgrade guide has gotten you off on the right foot. Happy Scrivening!

The Gaming—Writing—Dictation Connection: The Making of a True Dictation Believer #dictation #amwriting

The awesome HyperX Cloud II gaming headset in a fierce dictation session. Zap those adverbs!

It’s all my fault that I’ve been silent on this blog so long. The most damaging incident was two months of being missing in action with CPDTFG (Can’t Put Down The F___ing Game) syndrome.

(I won’t name or link to the game—you’ll have to find your own addiction.)

I’m over it. I had to deal with withdrawal symptoms for a while. And I learned some stuff about human nature which will make its way into my writing (Thank you, D4rk W4rriors Guild: Capidava, Cajocu, Funnie808, MoonCat546, Boberg, et. al.) But it has led to a new set of writing productivity tools—which, thanks to CPDTFG, I desperately need.

I’ve looked over dictation software in the past; in particular I even bought a book about dictation for writers (The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon (Scott Baker)), and gave the Mac/iOS versions of dictation a try (why not? After all, they’re licensed from the same people who make Dragon Professional Individual for Mac 6.0, Nuance. Right? Even though Mr Baker recommended against it…)

Each time I came to the conclusion that

  1. I pause in the middle of composing to think up what comes next. The Mac/iOS dictation software figures that I’ve stopped talking and it’s time to transcribe. Aaauuuggghh!

  2. The more I try to correct the software’s understanding of my speech, the worse its transcription gets. I got more stressed, my childhood accent came back, and Mac dictation became yet more confused. (You do not want to know what happens with Mac dictation when it tries to transcribe rural Oklahoma pronunciation, especially when it started transcribing a voice speaking decent Californian. It’s not pretty.)

But thanks to CPDFTG syndrome, I became desperate, so when I got an email from Scott Baker recommending Fool Proof Dictation (Christopher Downing), I downloaded it. This book is saving my writing life.

Mr Downing starts from the concept that talking to a computer and expecting it to take dictation is an unnatural act—and that just as we need practice to handwrite and we need practice to type well, we also need practice in order to become good at dictation. He details a training regimen—for the writer—to use computer dictation and use it well, emphasising the mental rather than the technical side of dictation.

I’ll list just two of his precepts which have made a big difference for me:

  1. Don’t live-dictate; instead, record and transcribe after. This simple step has turned me from a throw-the-machine-out-the-window hater of dictation into a dictation believer. Seriously. Not watching my words appear on the screen in real time calms me down and lets me avoid the “it didn’t understand me” frustration. Also, transcription doesn’t care if I stop for 30 seconds to think about what I want to say. Right away, my primary frustrations with computerised dictation vanished.

  2. Speak slowly—aim for a 5,000 words per hour (83 wpm) pace. Implementing this has improved both my pre-recorded dictation and my use of voice commands on my phone and tablet. Before, I’d get wound up and start speaking faster when Siri didn’t understand me—now I slow down and use simpler words and sentences. Much better.

He also details extensive exercises designed to improve both the writer’s “machine-understandability” and her ability to compose while speaking, both of which are critical to productive dictation.

One last connection with the gaming world—my technical dictation setup. I broke down and bought Dragon Professional for Mac, for its transcription capability. I can record on Mac, iPhone, or iPad using a cheap voice recording app, and transfer the file to Mac if needed for transcription. But the microphone…

Both Mr Baker and Mr Downing agree that having a good mic is critical. The mic on my active noise cancelling earbuds was woefully inadequate. It seemed like it picked up everything except my voice! The mic on the headset that Mr Downing recommended was inexpensive and worked well, but the headset had no incoming noise mitigation. There went my ability to focus while working in a coffee shop!

But my gaming, er… episode caused me to consider—PC gamers need both superb microphones to communicate in noisy environments, and headsets with excellent noise mitigation so they can hear the tiny rustle in the “bushes” to their left that heralds an ambushing enemy. They also need comfort for hours-long gaming sessions, and they need all this at a reasonable price.

I need both a superb microphone to dictate in noisy coffee shops, and a headset with excellent noise mitigation so I’m not pulled out of the “flow.” I also need comfort for hours-long dictating sessions, and I need all this at a reasonable price.

Therefore, I went to a local Best Buy and asked a nice man a third my age about gaming headsets. I am now the proud owner of a HyperX Cloud II which lets me dictate clean copy in a crowded Starbucks at 4 pm.