Writing Tools

Protip for anyone having quality issues with Dragon Naturally Speaking on a bluetooth headset

Don’t use a bluetooth headset with Dragon Naturally Speaking.

No, seriously. Don’t use bluetooth with DNS. Get a wired headset or microphone, or a headset that has a dedicated wireless receiver.

Read on for a more detailed description of the problem and the two weeks of frustration and troubleshooting that led me to this conclusion. One of my most popular posts ever is about me being an idiot and forgetting to connect a cable on a Huion tablet, so here’s hoping this will help as many people!

Getting back into Dragon Naturally Speaking

I’ve been switching back to DNS and trying to make it work. I’ve discovered that talking into a recorder and then transcribing is never going to give me the accuracy that I need, I was spending way too much time fixing errors for it to be a productivity booster, but talking directly into the computer is surprisingly accurate.

At least it was surprisingly accurate on my gaming laptop. Not so much on my Mac. Which was a problem considering I’ve gotten used to the Mac ecosystem and rather prefer it to Windows.

I banged my head against a wall for a week trying to get Dragon to work on my Mac. I tried running it in Parallels, but Parallels kept crashing. On the rare occasion it would work I couldn’t get clean dictation out of Dragon. Then it would crash again and totally freeze my system.

I tried switching to Boot Camp and using a Logitech H800 bluetooth/wireless headset. I connected it to my Windows install using Bluetooth. I still wasn’t getting the level of accuracy I was getting on my gaming PC.

I was convinced for about a week that the issue came down to RAM. My MacBook Pro “only” has 16GB of RAM, but my Asus ROG gaming laptop has 24GB of RAM because I’m insane and an upgrade was cheap a few years back.

So I used the Asus laptop for a week, convinced I was going to have to bid my beloved Mac adieu. Until a few days ago when I was using my Logitech headset with the computer, and noticed that the quality took a nosedive when I stepped away from the computer.

The non-obvious blindingly obvious solution

I’ll give you one guess as to where this is going.

If you guessed that I was using the onboard microphone on my computer and not the Logitech headset then you’d be absolutely correct! I’d connected the microphone to my computer and set it up in Sound in Control Panel, but I didn’t tell Dragon to switch user profiles and use the Logitech microphone.

So Dragon was using the onboard mic. That’s what was giving me the pristine quality.

I still wanted to be able to get up and move around while dictating, so I made sure Dragon was listening through the Logitech bluetooth headset and started dictating. Immediately the quality of transcription took a nosedive. It was doing that annoying thing where it inserts stray articles in between words, or just not putting the right words on the screen at all.

I’d gone from pristine quality talking into the default laptop mic to terrible quality talking on a dedicated bluetooth headset that gets a five star rating from Nuance in terms of compatability.

Dubya. Tee. Eff.

The test

Curious about this development, I decided to get my MacBook Pro back out and see if the quality was any better using the onboard microphone versus using the Logitech headset in Boot Camp. I loaded a profile for the onboard mic, started dictating, and…

It was coming out just as nice as what I was getting on my gaming PC. Imagine that.

I also kept getting notifications that Dragon was getting low quality audio. That didn’t seem to affect the quality of the transcription coming through, it was looking good no matter what, but if I wanted to use Dragon without a constant annoying pinging from Windows clearly I needed a better Mic.

Even more curious now, I connected the USB wireless dongle that comes with the Logitech headset and tried dictating a few more paragraphs. Once more everything was coming out quite nicely. I tried walking around the room and dictating, and still the dictation was pretty close to pristine. There were a few extra words thrown in here and there, but it wasn’t every other word like on bluetooth.

Clearly the dedicated USB wireless connection did the trick.

The conclusion

After all this frustration I won’t be going back to dictating on my ten pound beast of a gaming laptop, but I also won’t be dictating using a bluetooth connection. I’d tried dictating using a pair of Powerbeats Pro before buying the Logitech headset and the quality was spotty.

I figured the problem was that the Powerbeats weren’t designed for dictation. That’s why I got the dedicated Logitech headset. I even thought it was working well, until I realized my dumb ass was wearing the headset but talking into the wrong source.

I told you this was going to be like the post where I forgot to plug in a USB cable on the back of a tablet.

The common factor is bluetooth. Connecting a 2.4ghz Logitech wireless USB dongle just works. I imagine the same could be said for a wired connection or any other headset that uses a dedicated wireless connection rather than bluetooth.

The bottom line is I plan on using Dragon a lot more now for my first drafts, but I’m not going back to bluetooth to do that dictating.

PSA: Vellum’s new EPUB for Kindle needs to be converted to MOBI before sending to advance readers

I’m always one for letting people know when I’ve screwed up so that you can learn from my mistakes. I ran into one this past weekend as a result of the recent changes to how Vellum generates files for upload to Amazon.

Picture it. Indiana. 2019. An author who’s never tried loading an epub file directly onto his Kindle sends out advance reader copies of a story to his Kindle readers. In epub format. Which they can’t read natively on their Kindles.

Oops.

Protip: Upload your document on KDP and download the file they provide you for preview, or use something like Calibre to convert it to a mobi before sending it out to your advance team if they’re using Kindles.

Bookfunnel has also announced that they will automatically convert a Vellum EPUB to MOBI when uploaded if you use their service, which is darn convenient.

I hope that saves someone a bit of the headache I had this past weekend when I got a bunch of annoyed emails from advance readers asking why their book files weren’t working!

Vellum is dropping KindleGen and switching from mobi to epub for Kindle

Are you tired of opening Vellum and getting the notification that KindleGen isn’t optimized for your Mac and will need to be updated? You should install the update that came out last Tuesday!

There’s a full post on the Vellum blog here, but the practical upshot is Vellum will now generate a Kindle-specific epub rather than a mobi file. If you’re a Mac user you definitely want to install this update before upgrading to Catalina next month, as KindleGen won’t work after the update.

Motivrite 2: What makes a career author?

In the second episode of Motivrite I do a dive into what it takes to be a career writer. There’s no one path to making a writing career, but there are some skills and habits that will make it a lot easier for you to take your writing from hobby to career. I talk a little bit about what it takes, and how you can get there!

Show Notes

0:27 – What makes someone a practitioner of an art?

Is it the act of doing, or is it getting paid? Is it getting paid or is it getting paid enough to do full time? Which gatekeeper is right?

1:40 – What is a career writer?

Career writers are working towards or making enough money to do this as a full time job. What does it take to hit this goal?

2:50 – What makes a career writer?

I talk about some of the skills and habits that career writers all have in common.

  1. Be a reader
  2. Be able to write
  3. Be disciplined
  4. Have a desire to learn
  5. Have ambition that’s paired with a work ethic and a desire to make it
  6. Treat writing like a job if you want it to be your job

13:20 – It’s not as difficult as you might think!

If you’re listening to this podcast then you’re taking the first step towards achieving what you need to make writing your career.

 

Introducing Motivrite

I’ve been wanting to do a podcast about writing since I first went full time back in 2015. I’ve dabbled in it here and there, but a variety of things kept me from actually hitting the publish button. Until today.

That’s right! I’ve finally got the time to put together some podcasting, and after a year of spending time here and there putting together a home studio, Motivrite is finally ready to go! You can hit play up above to listen to episode 1, or have a look at the show notes below. Thanks for listening!

Show notes:

Episode 1 is a quick introduction to Motivrite that talks about what I see the podcast covering, including:

Business tips

The career indie author has to be a businessperson on top of being a writer these days, and Motivrite will help with that.

Advice for newbies and pros

There’ll be advice in Motivrite that will help people just getting started and people who have been doing this for a few years and are old hands at the business.

Health advice for writers

Writers aren’t slaving away in the word mines, but there are health pitfalls associated with this sedentary job. I’ll have health tips, tricks, and advice for the career author.

Inspiration

Everyone needs a little inspiration, and Motivrite will occasionally feature inspiring stories of authors who made it!

Productivity

Productivity is tough. Motivrite will help with tips and tricks I’ve learned doing this full time for four years that will hopefully help you out and help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made!

Writing tools

Sure writing can be done with a pencil and a notebook, but the modern indie author is going to have to be a lot more high tech than that. Motivrite will cover all sorts of nifty tools from the absolutely necessary to the stuff that’s nice to have but not a must have.

 

Dragon 13 discontinued, Dragon 15 discounted

Do you use Dragon Naturally Speaking? Specifically are you on Dragon 13? Well I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news for you.

The bad news is Dragon 13 is being discontinued. Nuance is no longer going to support it after 2018. It’s pining for the fjords, and at some future date a Windows Update is going to break functionality and Nuance isn’t going to fix it.

Now for the good news. If you own Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Professional they’re offering Dragon 15 Professional at a steep discount of $99. Check the software notifications you probably ignore every time you open Dragon 13 and you’ll see a notification and a link to where you can get the discounted rate.

It’s only good through October 31, 2018, so be sure to act fast. This is a great deal on 15 and well worth the upgrade. Especially if you’re using it for a business purpose!

Get Book Report

Are you an indie author? Primarily publishing your stuff through Amazon? Are you interested in up to date reporting on what you’re earning?

You need Book Report.

What is it?

Book Report is a third party reporting software that takes all the sales and page read data Amazon gives you and puts it in a readable format going back for as long as you’ve been at the self-publishing game. It looks a little something like this:

As you can see it gives you a nice daily readout of what you’ve earned that is way better than what Amazon offers. It also gives a dollar amount based on sales and page reads. The good people at Book Report update the page read amount very month to reflect last month’s number, or you can go in and custom define the page read payout amount based on what you think Amazon is going to do.

What does it do?

I remember the bad old days of trying to figure out my numbers. This was in the 1.0 days of Kindle Unlimited when there was a fixed amount paid per borrow. Back in the Wild West of KDP when erotica and short serials reigned supreme and authors of longer works griped mightily.

Every month when the sales numbers came out I’d go through my spreadsheet and then type in the amount I got into Google so it could do the conversion from all the various currencies into USD. Which was, understandably, very annoying and inconvenient.

Book Report eliminates the need for any of that. It allows for a ridiculous level of customization in reports. If you want to know what you earned daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or going back to when you started writing that information is all there based on existing Amazon reports. There are a large number of customization options beyond date ranges including by book and pen name. Mostly I just use it for the current or previous month, but there are times when it’s useful to go back and learn at earnings over all time or for a particular month and pen name.

What does it cost?

The great thing about Book Report is it’s free! Or at least it’s probably going to be free if you’re just starting out. Anyone who makes less than $1000 a month gets to use it free of charge, and if you make more than that then you’re charged the very reasonable $19 a month. That’s up from $10 a month that it was until June of 2018. Either way, it’s a steal for the reporting information you get.

I remember the bad old days when you had to dig through spreadsheets and do currency conversions yourself. The small cost of Book Report compared to the annoyance of having to do that mental conversion and never being quite sure exactly what I was making in a month is well worth it. If you’re at all interested in becoming a working indie author then you need Book Report.

So what are you waiting for? Get Book Report!

Note: I’m not being paid by the good people at Book Report. I’ve merely been using it since some of the early builds and find it to be an invaluable tool that everyone should be using. This is all a personal recommendation based on how much I love this thing.

A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking

There are times when I feel like I’m not giving Dragon Naturally Speaking a fair shake. I see so many people out there who swear by it. Who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

My experience with the software has never backed up those glowing recommendations, but I figured maybe I should give it a try. So I was going to do a new feature. A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking. A year where I used the software and really dedicated myself to getting the most I could out of the software. See if it made a difference in my productivity.

So with that in mind I busted out my recorder over the weekend and dictated some stuff. I did it in four minute increments which I’ve discovered yields about 500 words when I transcribe the file. I plugged those in and got to trying to correct them.

The only problem? Nothing was working correctly. I started correcting one four minute file and everything was fine. Then I did a second file and started working, but the whole thing froze. Dragon refused to respond for a couple of minutes. Everything else in Windows worked fine, and clicking out of Parallels showed that my Mac was working just fine as well. It was only Dragon that had completely shit the bed.

Finally it came back up and ran through all the commands I’d given it while it was frozen and I was trying to get things to work. Which resulted in a mangled mess. Dragon told me it had encountered a problem and I needed to restart.

No fucking shit.

So I restarted Dragon. I tried using it again. Only this time after doing some transcription I ran into an issue where I couldn’t correct anything. A weird error manifested that I’ve seen a couple of times now. The upshot is that I’ll tell Dragon to select text, but it selects the wrong text. It’s as though where Dragon thinks the dictated text is and where it actually is in Dragonpad gets out of sync because it always selects a part of the text that is the same distanced away from what I’m trying to select.

Needless to say this renders any corrections completely useless.

I figure maybe the problem is that I’m trying to do all of this in Parallels on my Mac. Maybe there’s something about the virtual machine that isn’t playing nice with Dragon. So I dust off my old Surface Pro and try to get it working, only to be confronted with the same out of sync text/dictation error I was getting on the Mac in Parallels.

Huh.

Finally, in desperation, I trued running Dragon for Mac. It gamely loaded up and then promptly crashed and asked if I’d like to send in an error log.

The one bit of text that I managed to go through and edit/correct using Dragon took me about twenty minutes to get through on top of the four minutes I spent dictating it into a recorder in the first place. I could’ve typed that out in twelve minutes. The errors and troubleshooting I went through trying to get Dragon to work correctly on my Mac and Surface ended up wasting a whole morning.

Needless to say my “year of Dragon Naturally Speaking” has ended before it could really get started.

Calculating the time I would’ve lost using Dragon Naturally Speaking

Someone was asking about Dragon Naturally Speaking in an author group this evening and I was the dissenting voice urging caution. As part of that I sat down and figured out exactly how much extra time I would’ve spent writing if I’d used Dragon Naturally Speaking rather than typing a draft.

I wrote close to two million words in 2016 and again in 2017. Let’s just round it up for the sake of simplicity.

I’ve calculated that I add ten minutes of production time for every thousand words written using Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Take two million and divide it by one thousand to see how many thousand word increments I wrote. The math is easy and we get two thousand. Now take two thousand and multiply that by ten to get how much extra time would’ve been added by using Dragon instead of typing.

The result? Twenty thousand wasted minutes. Divide that by sixty and we get roughly three hundred thirty-three hours that would’ve been lost in a year. That’s almost fourteen days. Two weeks of time.

The ability to write fast, clean drafts is one of the superpowers that has allowed me to make it as an indie author. With a little simple math it’s easy to see that Dragon would’ve cost me a lot of that time rather than helping.

Dragon might work for you. All I ask is that you sit down and figure out how much time you’re actually saving by using it. You might be surprised at the answer you come up with.

Why I don’t use Dragon Naturally Speaking for writing

The way you hear people talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking in writing circles, you’d think it was a magic productivity bullet that lets people write tens of thousands of perfect words a day. Well I’m here today with a dissenting opinion.

My Dragon background

Let’s get something out of the way first. I’ve been using Dragon Naturally speaking for a long time. Like we’re talking my dad used the first versions of Dragon back in the late ’90s for dictation in his law practice. From those early days and on through college I worked with the program fixing transcriptions for extra money here and there. When I started self-publishing in 2014 I used Dragon as a productivity booster that allowed me to bang out rough drafts by dictating into a recorder on my commute.

The point is I’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a long time. Whenever I say a bad word about the program there are inevitably people who come along and tell me I’m not using it correctly or I’m not training it or blah blah blah. I’ve been using this program since the beginning, and I spent a good year training it when I first started making money from my writing.

And I’ll never use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate something that will eventually land on someone’s ereader as a finished draft I’m selling.

Why not Dragon?

I have a few reasons. Some are particular to me. Some are things that every writer should think about before using Dragon to create a finished product.

Dragon will never be perfect, and you’ll never catch all the errors it introduces

This is the big one and this is the dealbreaker for me. Dragon is great and it’s always getting better. What you get today is so much better than what it was back in the good old days. It is impressive.

The problem is it still isn’t close to perfect. I spent a year working with Dragon and training it. I’d dictate on my drive to and from work and then I’d spend my lunch hour and evening hours after the wife and kid went to bed going through and painstakingly correcting all the errors Dragon made.

I’m not talking about things like homonyms either, though that was an annoyance. No, Dragon had an annoying habit of inserting random articles into the text. So I would say “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and Dragon would give me “the a quick brown fox the jumps over the lazy a dog.” No matter how many times I corrected these errors, no matter how clearly I enunciated into my mono mic placed at a uniform distance from my mouth attached to a recorder with six stars of compatibility on their list, they cropped up.

Errors like that are a real bitch to ferret out on an editing pass. I have stories that I’ve gone over a couple of times, sent to alpha and beta readers, had an editing pass done, and I can still go back and look through them and find Dragon’s random words inserted here and there. Compare that to typing where I can bang out a clean draft on the first try and it’s a no-brainer to move away from Dragon for anything that’ll ever see the light of day on a paying fan’s ereader.

Are you really saving time?

I’m meticulous about tracking everything I do for work. I’m constantly looking to improve my process so that I can maximize the amount of work I get done when I’m writing. I’m usually juggling a couple of projects at once and writing thousands of words a day so a good workflow is a necessity for me.

So I tracked how long it took me to dictate something via Dragon versus how long it took to type something out. With Dragon I spent roughly eight minutes dictating for every thousand words put to the page. I dictate into a recorder because I find it’s better to get my thoughts out without worrying about going back and correcting them, and that going back and correcting adds about another ten minutes per thousand words.

So already we’re talking eighteen minutes spent to get a thousand words down on the page. Then there’s another editing pass eventually which takes roughly another ten minutes per thousand words. So I’m spending roughly a half hour for every finished thousand words of product before it gets sent off to readers.

For some people that might be fast. For me it’s not. I can bang out a thousand words on my keyboard in ten minutes, and I know it’s clean copy that doesn’t have any of the aforementioned Dragon-induced typos or homonym errors. Add on another ten minutes in an editing pass and it’s twenty minutes per finished thousand words. An extra ten minutes per finished thousand words might not seem like much, but if you’re doing this as a living day in and day out for years that starts to add up and hit you right in the productivity.

Of course I’ll be the first to admit I type ridiculously fast and I write very clean first drafts. That’s not going to be the case for everyone and there certainly are authors who would benefit from Dragon. If you’re a fast typist then you’re probably not one of those authors. Getting your butt in the chair and hitting the keys will be a far greater productivity boost than using Dragon.

Dragon for Mac is a terrible overpriced alternative

I switched to Mac a couple of years ago. Most everything in the creative-industrial complex seems designed for Mac first, plus I love Vellum, so it was a no brainer. I love my Mac and for the most part everything is better than the PC version.

With one exception: Dragon for Mac. It sucks. It’s overpriced at $300. It’s not even a shadow of the program that’s offered on PC for twice the price. I got it for $150 since I called Nuance and told them I’d purchased a previous version for PC and switched to Mac, and even then I feel like it was too expensive.

Here are a list of some of the frustrations, though it’s not a comprehensive list by far:

  1. Dragon for Mac won’t accept DS2 files from digital recorders, which is pretty much the standard for dictation.
  2. Dragon for Mac doesn’t have the ability to train a mobile voice profile so your recorder transcriptions are never going to get better.
  3. Dictating directly into the computer is slow and prone to errors. I have a top end MacBook Pro with plenty of RAM and a powerful processor. Nothing should be lagging on this machine, yet Dragon does.
  4. As of their most recent update (from 2017 to when I’m writing this in mid 2018) the transcription functionality is completely broken and the program crashes every time I try to transcribe something. Yes, I’ve done all the usual troubleshooting stuff including reinstalling. It doesn’t help.
  5. The correction learning process when you’re dictating directly into the machine isn’t nearly as robust as the version you get on PC.

Seriously. If you have a Mac and you want to use Dragon Naturally Speaking you’d be better off buying the latest PC version and investing in Parallels. It’d still be cheaper than buying the seriously hobbled Mac version.

What is Dragon good for?

After throwing all this shade on Dragon I feel like I should give it some props. I still use Dragon, but as I said up above it’s never used for anything that’s going to make it to someone’s ereader. No, I use Dragon for doing outlines.

Dragon is great for outlines. I can talk into my headset while I’m driving and squeeze a little productivity out of my drives instead of listening to podcasts. The stream of consciousness stuff I get from dictation is perfect for working out an outline. I try to dictate at least a couple of chapter outlines a day, sometimes more, and being able to do it via recorder is great.

The beauty of that is no one is ever going to see my outlines, so I don’t have to worry about errors being introduced to the draft. I don’t even bother to go in and correct them. Sure some garbled Dragon speak is output when I do the transcription, but why do I care if that text is never going to see the light of day?

The takeaway

Dragon Naturally Speaking is a wonderful program. If you suffer from a Repetitive Strain Injury or aren’t the world’s best typist and have no interest in learning it’s great. Although if you are in the writing business and not interested in improving your keyboarding skills you should seriously reevaluate that decision.

If you are a good typist, though? If you don’t have some extenuating circumstances like a long commute that makes Dragon worth the hassle? Stick with the keyboard. It’s not the productivity magic bullet some claim it to be, and you might end up wasting more time than you save if you keep spending time trying to make it work.