Revisiting Beeminder, January 2017 #amwriting @ScrivenerApp

My Beeminder Goals

I’ve expanded my use of http://beeminder.com quite a bit.


Beeminder has undergone a few changes in the past year—they’ve cut back on their free options (though it’s still usable free—just not as generously as in the past.) As a result, I’ve started a $4/month subscription. It’s worth it to me, just to be able to run more than three goals at once.

As you can see above, I’ve actually got seven Beeminder goals active. I’ve stated previously that I know I can’t handle more than three or four—what’s changed?

First, I’ve gotten myself a Bluetooth blood pressure monitor (Withings) as well as a WiFi-connected scale (also Withings). With these in place, a lot of data entry has gone poof. Instead, I can look at the tracking in Beeminder and say, “Oh, [Deity of choice], have mercy! WTF caused THAT spike?” and do something about it, without doing anything more than actually taking the readings. As long as all I have to do to get data into Beeminder is take readings, wear my fitness tracker, and work on my Mac (RescueTime), I’m good.

In fact, all is good except my word count. Lately my word count, to use the old Saturday Night Live line, “really bites the big one.”

I can’t get my word count into Beeminder directly. Scrivener remains stubbornly unconnected to things like IFTTT and Zapier. While I can track the amount of time I use Scrivener in RescueTime, I consider it highly unlikely that anything more sophisticated than tweeting word count automatically will appear in Scrivener 3.0. (Prove me wrong, Keith! Please!) Still, tracking word count in Beeminder is pretty hopeless if I have to have the discipline to do data entry every. Single. Freaking. Day. Even if Beeminder reminds me. Pleads with me. Flat-out nags me…

BUT—I’ve realised that I’ve stopped tracking only activities directly related to writing (Scrivener use, iThoughts use, Wikipedia (maybe), Evernote in my Writing notebook (maybe)). I started broadening what I had RescueTime consider “writing” back in October when I started the publishing push for The Bully Trap. That information is valuable, but it’s not writing time.

So I’m splitting “writing” into two goals—“Writing” and “Business_Hours”. Business hours will retain a goal of 22 hours per week. Writing hours will cut back drastically to 3.5 hours per week (included in the business hours goal) to make it easier to get started again. If it looks like I might derail, I’ll scale back the writing hours goal further, until I can succeed—and then start increasing it again. As I do this, I’ll adjust the activities (websites, apps, etc.) which are allocated to each category—on a daily basis at first, until they’re mostly right again.

I have to fight off feeling discouraged. It feels like starting over again—but it’s not. It’s cleaning up my act.

Besides, I have some True Fans out there. I have to keep on keeping on—for them. I’ve promised.

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Of Draft (draftin.com), Scrivener, and Beeminder — or, Nerdly Editing Tools?

Screenshot 2016-02-28 12.34.02Draft is an online document processor, a web app with the stated goal of doing for writers — at least — what code version control does for developers. I haven’t yet used their paid services, nor their collaborative features; this review is of Draft as a document editor only.

Draft uses Markdown, and saves plain text files on its own servers. Rather than list its extensive feature set, I’ll let you read Draft’s documentation. I am most interested in its ability to sync to Dropbox and its ability to interface with Beeminder. As always, my primary interest is “How can I use this to expand Scrivener?” In this case, it’s secondarily, “How can I use this to manage my productivity in Beeminder?” As a result, my perspective on Draft is — how does it compare to using a plain text or Markdown editor on iOS, with Scrivener’s External Folder Sync function?

My baseline comparison is Editorial, my preferred iOS Markdown editor. I like Editorial for its fast sync to Dropbox, its ability to sync to multiple folders without my having to manually intervene, its ability to edit offline, its ability to sort a file list the way I want it sorted, and its simple interface.

Draft doesn’t show up too badly, here. I can edit offline (Draft only saves the fifty most recently edited files for offline editing, but that’s not a very restrictive limitation) and iOS browsers seem to handle most of Draft’s interface just fine. The only thing I really need to do from a desktop is to be certain that I’ve uploaded all the files I’m going to want for the present to Draft, as the upload interface won’t handle a long file list properly on iOS. I was a little put off by the lack of file sorting options at Draft’s root level, but all I need do is import my files into a Draft folder, and I have sorting options available. Editing and typing work just fine from either Safari or the ICab Mobile browser.

The one thing that spoils Draft for me as a tool to, well, create a draft, is that its Dropbox sync is one-way only. Once you import a file into Draft, the software assumes that you’re only ever going to edit it on Draft again — that you won’t make any changes with, say, Editorial, or Scrivener, or any other tool except Draft. So, while my Draft edits sync back to Scrivener just fine, my Scrivener changes do NOT sync back to Draft automatically. I need to re-upload to Draft documents within a Scrivener project that I’ve edited with Scrivener since I uploaded them to Draft the first time.

Bummer. That pretty much ended my interest in Draft as a primary writing tool. Even the fact that my word count in Beeminder would be automatically updated couldn’t get me past that one.

But hold the phone — now I’m entering editing phase. Presumably, the time for writing large blocks of prose is past, and the time to tweak, to add a few words, delete a few, change a few, is here. Draft begins to be more interesting — because it can measure my editing productivity.

When Draft interacts with Beeminder, it sends the total of words deleted PLUS the total of words added for the day. For you math freaks, it works with the absolute values rather than try to net the number of words written. It reports, instead, the number of words changed — a much more useful metric for editing. Now, Draft’s other services — automatic simplification, copy editing, collaboration — start to become more interesting. And it still works just fine as a tool to add a new document to my Scrivener project, just as Editorial did.

At this point, I’m testing Draft to see if it will become my tool of choice for editing. I’ve marked things in my Scrivener project as “In Edit” status, and I will treat those as locked in Scrivener. I may modify the file names so I’ll see that they’re in edit in Editorial and not edit them there, either. I’ll have to update my structure documents in iThoughts (a detail I’ve neglected in trying to get a draft out) but that’s all to the good; it’s about time I updated that stuff, especially character and setting notes.

Cool. This should be interesting.

Scrivener v. Storyist – Why I’m Hanging On

It’s a good question: why am I hanging on to Scrivener when I do much of my writing on my iPad? Literature and Latte hope to have an iOS Scrivener version released . . . well, Real Soon Now. In the meantime, I develop ingenious workarounds and leave any number of Scrivener features on the table because I can’t access them from iOS. Storyist, on the other hand, is positioned as an alternative long-form writing program, and it works on the iPad right now. Over in the Scrivener forums, defectors, while not exactly legion, regularly post their disappointment and intention to use Storyist in the future.

I went ahead and downloaded the Mac demo version of Storyist yesterday. I can’t say I’ve given it an exhaustive test, but I have looked at the features that I use the most. Here are my impressions:

  • The overall impression I have of Storyist: It was designed to look like Scrivener when you first open it, by someone who dislikes Scrivener’s complexity, and who really misses WYSIWYG. As shipped, it’s very much aimed at the fiction writer or screenwriter who is submitting to editors or similar gatekeepers. If you want to self-publish, if you want to do non-fiction (Yeah, I did a convention program booklet in Scrivener because I really didn’t want to deal with Word…) you’re going to have to struggle a lot more. There’s no way to do footnotes, for one thing… By getting rid of Scrivener’s complexity designed to support all sorts of long-form writing besides traditional fiction/script submittals, a lot of Scrivener’s flexibility has been excised, as well.
  • I imported a couple of my dormant Scrivener projects into Storyist. I also exported a sample Storyist project to Scrivener. While it works OK, in that all of your body text will arrive at the destination, very little metadata (labels, statuses, keywords, etc.) arrives at either destination. After I got into Storyist a bit, it looks like about two days to massage a NaNoWriMo 50K draft from Scrivener into a form that’s really usable in Storyist, even without a lot of metadata. In short, not something I’m interested in doing unless I’ve committed to switching over.
  • Once there, I found there was no corresponding function to Scrivener’s “Scrivenings” view. If you’re not familiar with the software, this lets you look at any subset of your Scrivener project’s component files as if they were one document, and edit them as such. This is a lot of what I do on the Mac before I head out with my iOS devices – look at a Scrivenings view of what I did yesterday, spot stuff I want to fix (minor stuff – a misspelling here, poor grammar there), and decide where I’m going with it today. I find the lack of a Scrivenings-style view strange in view of the fact that…
  • … a Storyist project is just One Big File. In contrast, a Scrivener project is a folder full of little files. Storyist pretends that there are a lot of little files, each with its synopsis index card, but at the end of the day if you save a “version” before doing some changes, the whole dang Storyist project is saved (oh yes, it uses OS X versioning so as to save space, but still.) With Scrivener, you can save a “snapshot” of a single file. It may seem more confusing, but really, it’s simpler. If you’re only going to play with Scene A, you save a snapshot of Scene A. If you later also add Scene B, and then decide you like the older version of Scene A, with Scrivener you’re good – you can revert Scene A without affecting Scene B. With Storyist, you’re going to have to do some fancy stepping to save out Scene B before reverting Scene A if you’re not to lose Scene B. Blah.
  • Another difference: The Storyist manuscript is conceptually one file within the project, with your chapters and scenes as outline subtopics within. Scrivener has real little files for each scene and chapter. Even though it looks the same in the sidebar, it’s not. Storyist displays the entire manuscript when you click on a scene, with the cursor at the start of the scene you just clicked on. Scrivener opens ONLY the file you click on (or only the files you select – that’s what “Scrivenings” is about.)
  • WYSIWYG v. Compilation. Storyist is WYSIWYG – you’ll have to reformat your entire project if you want to output for print v. epub v. mobi v. Smashwords. By way of contrast, in Scrivener you format each document in the way that works best for you while you’re writing it, then compile to output each format with its little quirks. I think this is one of the “personal preference” features, but the Scrivener output is way more flexible.
  • For a big project, Storyist is noticeably slower than Scrivener.
  • (Further examples exist.)

Aw, heck. I am a self-admitted techno-geek, and if I’ve used a tool for more than six months, I’ve customized that puppy beyond recognition. My Scrivener setups are as personal as my toothbrush. Despite my restricted use of research, keywords, custom metadata, et-freaking-cetera, I use enough of the Scrivener-only stuff to make contemplating a move to Storyist painful. I’m scrubbing Storyist off my Mac, and going back to the Scrivener for iOS cheering section (“Write That Code! Write That Code! Yay SCRIVENER!”)

Trello! Its Impact on GTD, ADHD, the Universe, and Everything

Screenshot 2015-08-11 10.30.12“…Or, The Silver Dragon Discovers Kanban…”

Indeed, I have not been living under a rock for the last three decades. The term “kanban” has entered my ears, mostly in connection with my husband’s factory (he’s plant manager for a (small? medium?) manufacturer.) It never occurred to me that it could simplify my life.

I came across Trello when looking for something to help me collaborate with my son, Andrew (also a writer, also ADHD) on a story. We needed something that was visual because both of us aggressively filter auditory signals and distractions and/or quickly learn to ignore them. We needed something that didn’t look or smell like specialized email (I’m looking at you, Asana, and you, Evernote Work Chat) because email almost never gets Andrew’s attention (if I want him to see an email message, I text him to look at his email.) Messages had to look and smell like specialized texts, be controllable so that the level of interruptions is minimal (for me), and the project management had to be very visual for either of us to be able to work with it.

It also had to be cheap or free.

Trello met all those criteria. The fact that it is the tool the many collaborators of Habitica (formerly Habit RPG) use to coordinate their efforts is an impressive endorsement. After all, many of those who find Habitica useful have attentional challenges…

I set up my current writing project rather easily using the project management information I’d already captured in iThoughts (another post for another Tuesday.) While researching Trello, I’d come across references to it being a kanban-style project management app. So, I researched kanban, kanban for knowledge workers, personal kanban, and picked Hubby’s brain.

Net result: I now have a personal kanban board (On Sandra’s Plate), separate from my writing projects. New stuff I put into my writing projects is automatically pushed into my GTD collector column, “Unprocessed,” with an IFTTT recipe. Reminders from Siri — another IFTTT recipe, straight to “Unprocessed.” I can still use Evernote to collect, because I’ve automated that with a Zapier script to stuff everything in my ToDo notebook into, you guessed it, “Unprocessed.”

Once a week, I go through the Unprocessed stack and categorize the stuff therein more or less as in “The Secret Weapon” and move it to the “Unscheduled” stack. I look at my Google calendar (via Pocket Informant) where my periodic non-daily items live, and move things from “Unscheduled” into “Scheduled,” with due dates that don’t overload any one day with more than 5 things to do (appointments count as things.)

Yet another Zapier script moves all those periodic non-daily items into my “On Deck” stack on the day they’re due.

Every morning, I move anything left over from the “Doing” stack yesterday to “On Deck.” I pull stuff due today from “Scheduled” into “On Deck.” Periodic items due today have already landed there courtesy of Zapier. I look at the pile, reschedule if I need to in order to limit the “On Deck” items to five (change their due dates and move them back into “Scheduled.” Or maybe delete them if I decide they’re not that important after all…)

I then pull ONE item out of “On Deck” into “Doing.” I do that. I move it to the “Done” stack. Then I pull another item out of “On Deck.” There’s never more than one item that I’m “Doing” at any time. Even when I get distracted (never “if” I get distracted. I’m ADHD; distraction happens) it’s hard to avoid that glaring one “Doing” item. It never gets lost in the visual murk.

For those of you who were wondering, yes, I still use Habitica to provide myself with incentives, more for daily routine checklists (I loathe their non-repeating ToDo handling.)

So, more detail on iThoughts, and possibly more detail on how I automate recurring tasks to show up in Trello, next week.

The Motivating Power of New Toys

2015/01/img_2536.jpgWell, I seem to be done for now as far as new toys tools for writing are concerned. The fancy Adonit Jot Touch with Pixelpoint stylus was a Christmas gift. I love it to the point of keeping it under my bed at night along with my iPad, so I can write down wee-hours inspiration. The apps that I’ve been blogging about since November have been joined by the updated version of an old occasional flame, iThoughts.

iThoughts is a mind-mapping app for iOS that has everything I could ever want for visual outlining. It’s a lot less linear than traditional outliners–a good thing as I tend to make “outlines” that look like this:
2015/01/img_2533-0.pngThe odd circular thing–well, I could do that freehand in Noteshelf, or in Scapple on the Mac, but I have some auxiliary chunks that import well as classical outlines. I don’t feel like typing them in by hand, nor like drawing them by hand with all their little boxes…

Anyway, having gotten tech out of my system for a while, I’ve been making progress on actually writing. Good progress. I hope to keep it up.