Five Online Writing Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

Here are five online writing lessons I really did learn the hard way – by making the mistakes and doing my best to learn from them.

1st Writing Lesson: There is so much online for free, it seems most people will only take the free. p.s. I get it – I like free as much as the next person.

2nd Lesson: I only need 1000 True Fans who will buy everything I create to make a living.

3rd Lesson: I don’t have the above even after a lifetime of garden writing.

4th Lesson: #3 being accurate, I am free to do whatever the hell I want.

5th Lesson: I now do what I do – whatever that is – because it makes me happy. And not to make anyone else happy.

And there they are. Five writing lessons I learned the hard way.

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Facebook Wants To Host Your Blog

Facebook just announced they want to host your blog. Oh great news! Not only do they want to drive news outlets out of business, you can bet the small guys are going to struggle with this as well. They seem to be focussed on the big news operations so far but you know it’s just a question of time before they unroll this feature out to every “page” owner.

It’s called digital sharecropping.

When a creator builds a website on their own, they own the website and all the content.

When a creator builds a property on a site they don’t own (Facebook, Youtube etc) then they’re at the mercy of the property owner.

But this is the way things seem to be going.

And frankly, I don’t see a way forward around this given the power of Facebook and Youtube (and others).

On the surface there are two options

You can 1) stay independent or 2) you can go with the big boys and their dictates.

But I’m thinking of a third option

Or, as I’m going to explore, you might be able to combine the two by publishing your own work on your own site and then republishing it on Facebook with a link to the original published post. This link (including the date stamp) tells Google which is the original and which the copy.

This “may” allow readers to choose (current readers will choose the most convenient – Facebook) but also allow Google to rank your content on the search engines so that non-Facebook searches will continue to deliver traffic.

Advertising on Facebook

Naturally, once Facebook has your content, they will want to charge you to share it to your audience just as they do now with sharing links. “Boost this post” offers will abound.

And in conclusion ladies and gentlemen

This ain’t your grandmother’s Net anymore. It’s owned by the big boyz. This is the same thing that happened when Walmart took out the downtown stores.

And the same thing when the big breweries took out the smaller, when the bigger…

You get the picture I’m sure.

But also consider that smart specialty retailers and craft breweries are thriving.

The challenge now

The challenge now is to create interesting and compelling content that draws people away from these big sites.

To be the craft brewery of the writing and creating world.

Or not.

My decision about Facebook’s content grab

I’ll go with option three above for the near future.

But I’m also considering that content on the Net isn’t a profit centre for me anymore.

Ads on my gardening sites generally pay the hosting costs while ebooks are the profit centre. My fiction sites have a similar function.

Whichever way individual creators go, it’s an interesting world out there.

Review: Dragon Naturally Speaking Dictation Software

A year ago, I added a Dragon to my working repertoire. Before you raise your eyebrow at me, let me be clear I’m talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking the voice software recognition system. This software allows me to dictate words to a text editor rather than type them using my hands.

The Two Reasons I Started Voice Dictation

The main reason I added this software was to increase my word productivity. It’s that simple.

  • I wanted to produce more words, and
  • I wanted to do it safely and easily.

When it comes to producing words safely and easily, you may have questions. How hard and how dangerous can typing be? Well, when you’re producing over a half-million words a year, the issue is one of repetitive stress injury. I am reading about more and more writers who are struggling with finger and wrist problems and I’d rather not be included in their number.

My main concern was whether using software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking would increase my word count or whether it would be “one more thing” to complicate my life.

I Have Past Experience With The Mac Version

A few years ago, I installed this software on my Mac and it was an unmitigated disaster. The software was buggy, and after two weeks of trying to make it work, I gave up.

This time around, I did a significant amount of research about the topic, read some author blogs, listened to a few podcasts, and I even purchased an e-book. I was satisfied this software had developed enough to make it useful, but I took it one step further.

Even though I work on a Mac system, the recommendations were to use the Windows version of this software because the Mac version isn’t as good. (I don’t want to enter any conversation about whether Mac or Windows is better but in this case Windows wins any contest.)

The Technology

To run the Windows version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, it was necessary to first install a virtual machine on my iMac. While there are several options available, I went with software named Parallels.

After Parallels was installed, I then had to download and install Windows 10 to run the voice recognition software. With Parallels running Windows 10 I installed Dragon Naturally Speaking.

My Personal Reaction To This

  • Talking to a microphone instead of typing is an interesting change in work behavior. There are a few things that I need to do in order to become productive:
  • I need to relax when I’m talking.
  • I needed to work out a workflow so I know what I will talk about.
  • I need to learn the software commands so I can add it to the finish dictation and teach the software to be more efficient and accurate. I’m told I should be able to achieve a 98% accuracy rate after training.
  • I need to learn to know all the things I don’t know yet. Or, the things I don’t know I don’t know yet.

My personal sense of this is that I can type approximately 1000 words an hour of nonfiction. But I know 100 words is roughly one minute of a podcast. That means if I’m speaking at 100 words per minute, I’m producing significantly more words per hour than if I were typing them.

That assumes I can learn how to speak or create as fast by using my voice as I do when I am typing.

You’re seeing this in action, or rather reading the first output of this right now in this article. And it took approximately 20 minutes for me to dictate the (approx) 680 words.

Update After Several Months Between The Rough Article And Reality.

I confess that using Parallels running on a virtual machine on my Mac, was clumsy and while the software itself worked well, I decided I wanted something that would run as a native program. Frankly, I also resented paying $100 a year for the Parallels software. I did not try any other virtual machine and I did not use the Mac System of installing windows. Either of those two options would not have given me a native and smooth transition.

My biggest mistake in 2018

I then made a serious error in judgment. I purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking for the Mac.

For the life of me, I cannot see how any company can put out a product so bad, and one that is so buggy and full of errors as to make it unusable, and charge money for it. I reviewed it on Amazon, which is where I bought it, and my only regret is that I had to give it one star– I could not give it zero.


Nuance — the makers of Dragon — have discontinued the updating of Dragon for Mac. Those of us who own the software may continue using it but it is no longer supported. There will be no new versions.

Side by Side Tests:

I will not post the data here, but I then ran a series of the side by side tests with Dragon Naturally Speaking versus the native Apple Dictate. (if you have a Mac, enable Voice Dictation in System Preferences>Accessibility and then press the function key twice to enable Dictate and again to close it.)

I found the Apple software to be as good as, if not slightly better than the Mac Dragon. But it’s not ready for a writer’s demands as it still makes too many mistakes.

The only advantage the Dragon had was that it would do transcription from my iphone recording software Voice Record Pro. I note the transcription on the Mac was as bad as the direct dictation results.

The Windows version works fine from transcription.

Moving Forward

I am committed to a dictation software system.

There’s a learning curve to dictating and the best advice I can give you is to “just do it.” Cut yourself off from the keyboard and rely on the dictation system for the rough words. Use the keyboard for editing.

Check out Scott Baker’s page as he’s one of the experts in using this software.

He’s written a book here on Amazon (not affiliate link)

Before you buy, ensure your computer has the technical requirements to run the software. Seriously — do not screw up here as Dragon is a power hog.

My Current Work System

Given that I write for a living, and that it is important to me to push the words out:

I bought a Windows laptop,

Installed Dragon and use the laptop as a dictating system.

Cut and paste the words into Evernote to easily transfer it to my working Mac (and Vellum for layout if needed.

Update again (May 2020)

I now use an iPhone app called Just Press Record It works well enough, is really inexpensive compared to Dragon. I dictate, share/upload to Evernote inside the app and then copy/paste from Evernote to Scrivener.

Scrivener Software Issue

Scrivener is my writer’s word processor and for large projects it can’t be beat but…

I also experimented with dictating into the current version of Scrivener for Windows, saving to Dropbox and then opening it on my Mac.

But the Mac and Windows versions of Scrivener are no longer compatible. If you open a Windows Scrivener file on your Mac, the software modifies it such that Windows can’t open it again. That’s why I moved to transferring files via Evernote. (As of June ‘19)

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a serious productivity improvement as a writer, dictation software is the way to go but the state of the art is in flux.

Update March ’21

I’m now using the native Mac dictation that’s available by pressing the Function key (fn) twice. It works well enough for first drafts.

I continue to use the Just Press Record if I’m using my iphone for notes.

Divorce The Enjoyment Of The Creative Act…

You have to divorce the enjoyment of the creative act from the business and outcome of that creation. That image really says it all.

But every now and then I have to pull myself up short to remind myself I am a writer. A storyteller.

And if I’m not enjoying being a writer and telling stories, I’m doing something wrong.

If I’m honest with myself, most of the problem lies between my ears.

When I find myself planning what I’m doing based on a desired outcome rather than the sheer joy of telling a story, it’s time take a deep breath and sort “stuff” out.

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Your Author Website Does Two Critical Things

Your author website fills two important functions in your career. These are (imho) general principles and while I know of authors who are breaking both of them, they hold true for the average writer.

Author Websites Aren’t Sales Systems

Author websites aren’t book selling machines. Seriously, there’s a lot of work and potential hassle to set up a system to sell your own books. Not only is the selling part technologically “interesting” but you’ll also be your own support system when a reader can’t get the ebook into their reader or can’t find the download on their computer (seriously, been there and helped with that.)

From a business standpoint, I think authors have to focus on the important thing – the words. That’s where the money is – more words.

When we get sidetracked into “maximizing” profits or doing tech stuff or social media recommended by gurus, our productivity goes down. And those recommendations are the “sexy” stuff rather than the slogging for days and weeks to write a book you can be proud of.

ps. But, it you think you’ll make more money and want to do this, BookFunnel has what I think is the simplest system I’ve seen.

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What Purpose Does An Author Website Serve?

I believe they are anchors to display your humanity and competence.

To achieve those two objectives, you can:

  • post some examples of your work and
  • write posts about things that matter to your reader and to yourself.

To the extent your author blog does these two thing, you as an author can be satisfied.

But Never Forget

It’s easy to be sucked into the black hole of technology (raises hand with guilty look on face) and think you’re moving forward when you’re really treading water.

Write, I tell myself every morning. Just write

You can read more posts about writing here

Creative Retirement Planning Alert

I’ve struggled with the concept of retirement planning for almost a year now and just decided this will be a creative retirement. I can hear you asking, “What’s a creative retirement and how is it different than any other retirement?”

Retirement Planning Isn’t One Of My Strong Points

Many folks plan for their retirement and continue to do so even after they’ve slowed down.

My experience doesn’t makes me feel productive because there’s *always* something that comes along that interests me more than slowing down. I note that some of my “slow down” appears to be genetic and age-related. For example, “all-nighters” are a distant memory, I avoid “late nighters” most of the time, and “early to bed” is an effective coping mechanism for my early rising.

I Eliminated The Production Schedule.

I intend to release my new projects when I finish them. There’s no schedule, just a monster to-do list (thank you Evernote) that I edit from time to time.

I add projects when they intrigue me and delete them when they’re finished or I’m no longer interested.

In short, instead of really working, I can plan on working.

Stay tuned for the next project because it’s lining up right behind this decision. And who knows whether it will be a real project or a planned-project. 😉

You can read other posts about retirement and aging here.