Readback with Scrivener on iOS

On the Mac, text-to-speech is built into the operating system. This means you can highlight just about anything in most programs, right click, and go to Speech->Start Speaking and at once a flat Skynet robot will begin reading to you. As mechanical as the voices tend to be, I’ve found readback an indispensable part of my editing process. I catch spelling errors, strange phrasing, and all sorts of things that just don’t stand out on the written page.

Furthermore, writing is currently a backseat passenger in this runaway train that is my life, so I am often trying to squeeze it in amidst other things. The fact the computer can read to me while my attention is (ostensibly) on other things is fantastic and it lets me get some actual utility out of various chores, such as cleaning the dishes, cooking, etc.

Mobile

I’ve kicked out a couple blogs about Scrivener for iOS. Long story short, most of my writing is on mobile (iPad specifically). Were it not for the mobile app, I’d get hardly a word down these days. For a long time this has meant no more readbacks, or so I thought!

Turns out the same functionality is available on iOS, it just takes a few steps to turn on.

To begin, navigate to your Settings -> General -> Accessibility

Then find the menu item called Speech

Turn on “Speak Selection” then click on “Highlight Content.”

Here, choose to highlight both sentences and words. This is very helpful when you hear your device read something wrong and you need to see where it is in the text to correct it.

Finally, you can click on voices if you want to adjust how the robot sounds. I’m reasonably happy with Samantha Enhanced (which is a separate download, all managed right from the voices screen. The enhanced version has a bit more natural tonal variation as she speaks).

How to use it

Ok! Your iPad or iPhone is ready to go. Using the feature is simple. Pull up Scrivener and press and hold to get the context menu, then select all for the chapter/scene you want to hear (or highlight just the part you need).

Now you may notice a new option comes up in the context menu called “Speak.” Go ahead and give that a tap, and you’re off to the races:

As you can see it highlights the sentences as it goes, with the currently spoken word in blue.

Pronunciation

I found one other cool trick with this feature. I noticed it doesn’t say some of my made up words properly — an unsurprising problem, in a fantasy book. If you return to the “Speech” screen under Settings->General->Accessibility, you will notice at the bottom is a section called “Pronunciation.” Click into there.

What this lets you do is enter words and provide a phonetic spelling for the readback to use instead. I did it for one of my main characters, as well as an in-world term I created for doctors, both of which the default voice botches.

To add one of your own, hit the little (+) icon and you get a screen like below. Put the word as it will be found in your Manuscript in the “phrase” section, then under substitution, enter the same word phonetically. Use the “Play” button in the upper right to test it out until you get it right. Once this is setup, the readback will use these pronunciations automatically as it moves through your Scrivener documents. Quick aside: I’ve noticed the sentence highlighting sometimes gets quirky when it hits a word for which you’ve defined a replacement. I’d keep this feature’s use to a minimum.

Hopefully someone out there finds this helpful.

All right then, back to procrastinating!

On Motives and Failure

A recent post on The Guardian has been making some rounds in the writing community, and a few of the forums I frequent (including Chrons and Fantasy Faction). The short depressing tail from “anonymous” is stirring up frustration from some, and sympathy from others. It got me thinking about this thing we do called writing and the lofty goals we hold so dear: getting published.

Haven’t ranted in a while, so here I go.

Firstly, if you didn’t want to read the link, here is the summary: Anonymous showed every sign of being a writer, even from a young age. She called writing her destiny. She excelled at the craft, finished a manuscript, secured an agent… and then floundered. In her words:

I defiantly started a second novel. It was my masterpiece, but it bombed, too. Years of work and emotional investment wasted, I finally gave up, to save my sanity.

I have two comments I’d like to make about this, the first regards process and the second regards motivation.

Process behind success

A couple years ago I read the book the Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco. It is one of these self-empowering, feel-good books but with a few more practical actionable items for thinking about and achieving success. On the whole, the book isn’t particularly relevant to this discussion except for one bit: the author spent a great deal of time talking about process.

Success is the end result in a long unseen process of trials, errors, headaches, hours, and investment. It is very easy to look at someone else’s moment of success and fixate on that event itself, and think the event is what made the person. The moment an author is signed. The moment an author reaches the bestseller list, etc. It is natural to see that event wonder why the same thing isn’t happening to you.

Success isn’t the result of an event, it is the result of a long-unseen process marked my a multitude of failures. Maybe an event pops up along the way, maybe not. This is true in business and it is true in writing as well. Would-be authors ought not forget this. Getting an agent is great, but look at it as just another step in your ongoing process towards success. The moment you fixate on the event itself and lose track of the journey, you set yourself up for disappointment.

That friend of yours who self-published and is selling 50K books a month may have a million+ words in failure novels under their belt. Success was only the very last step.

Ok, enough about that. I think Anonymous made the mistake of assuming an event meant success, and when they signed an agent, they lost sight of the process. This is the wrong mentality to be successful. Every up might have a down and you either keep pushing, or you are better off not even getting started.

Motivation

Another issue with Ms. Anonymous was thinking publishing was her fate. This immediately signals a problem: was she in this just to be published? Was she in this just because she wanted to “be a writer?”

Unfortunately, that is not good enough. The wrong motivation and the wrong reasons won’t carry the day. It is like picking up a guitar because you want to be a famous musician, not because you have music to share with the world.

You’ve probably heard people say they write because the love it. Maybe you agree, or maybe deep down you think, I enjoy it, but I really just want to make money at it. If so, best of luck to you, but I think you are in the wrong game. Breaking out is a huge amount of work and the only way you can possibly keep the momentum going is if you genuinely love what you are doing. There are easier ways to make money.

Anonymous seems to have fallen into this trap somewhere along the way. Anyone writing only with an end goal in mind is missing the point. Write because you love it. Write because you’d do so anyway, even if you’d seen the future and knew nobody would ever pay you a dollar for it. If you do this, and you end up making money, well that is about as good as it gets. If you don’t end up making money, who cares? You are doing something that makes you happy.

/End rant

Those are the ingredients I think almost all successful writers must have:

  • A true motivation to want to share stories, no matter what.
  • An understanding that success in any field is the result of a very long process, and not the result of achieving any one event

Anonymous, if you are out there, don’t give up. Rediscover what it was that first excited you about writing, and return to that. Forget about being published, forget about the rest of it. Feed on the excitement of telling stories, and see what comes.

Oculus Rift

I had my first foray into the world of virtual reality with an Oculus Rift, and I thought it warranted a few words of review. I’ve been unusually tight on both time and energy to work on writing, but VR turns out to be another easy way to slip into a secondary world when I’m just too spent to be creating my own.

The Rig

Quick origins story: I built my first rig as a freshman in college. My buddy and I decided we didn’t have enough to do, what with a full load of courses, so we started a (now defunct) hosting company. It was a modest venture, but we did have about 300 customers billing monthly at one time. I don’t have much tangible to show from all the time I sank into that, but it did provide the funding for the first rig I ever built. I don’t even remember the hardware I used, so much having changed since those days. In any case, ever since then I’ve always carried the itch to build my own gaming system.

I fell out of touch with such things for many years, in part because I switched my home and work platform to OSX, in part because gaming fell by the wayside between my later college years and the corporate working world, and in part because I didn’t have the money to maintain a dedicating gaming machine. The itch remained and festered for well over a decade, then finally last Christmas I decided to scratch. I spent more than I should, but what the hell, it’s only money. Or maybe, hash-tag y-o-l-o? Business write-off as long as I develop on there too? Whatever, it’s done now.

Got a snazzy SSD PCI-e HDD that I’ve deployed in some of my database servers, got a Titan X Pascal in there, intel i7, and a gigantic case because I’d forgotten what “full ATX” meant. Wired it up nice and clean to my OCD’s delight, and fired it up:

Virtual Reality

So I had this thing since Christmas and I’ve been utterly amazed by how far games have progressed since the early 2000s, particularly when played on a curved 21:9 monitor (which actually was a work purchase. If you are a developer, look into one of these… seriously). Maybe I should have been content there, but it got me thinking… what else have I been missing in the world of gaming? The last console I owned was an early PS2. The most advanced game I ever played on my iPhone was Bike Race. What else has passed me by?

These idle musing came to a point over on the Fantasy Faction website, where I sometimes dwell in the writing forums. One of the users on there is a VR enthusiast. I’d heard of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t really know if they’d matured as products, or if they were just expensive gimmicks. In any case, a thread led to a few PMs which led to a few YouTube videos which led to yet another slap in the face.

This VR thing is widely adopted and quite mature, and everyone who has used the hardware swears it is the future. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and others are all fighting to win this market… the following is unusually dedicated, and the reviews unusually unanimous. Well, who am I to argue with the might of the internet? Thee command and I obey.

Oculus Rift

I decided to grab the hardware for this thing and see for myself. It arrived last week:

It took an hour to setup and configure, and just going through the initialization steps, I knew this thing was going to blow my mind. Next I downloaded a few games (Steam has a VR module so it all works pretty easily… you just have to enable “all sources” in the Oculus app). The first one I tried was called Eve: Valkyrie. It’s a space-ship flying game.

And it absolutely blew my fucking mind.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. You start out sitting in the cockpit of your little ship. You can look down and see yourself… well your virtual avatar. Your legs, arms, chest. If you move your head around, your body moves too as if your head is actually attached. You can look down and see the foot pedals, look left and see the glass beside you, even turn around and see the back of the pilot seat and the equipment stashed in the back. The response to my movements was 100%, completely natural. As you turn your head, the sounds even track left to right, as they really should. I was THERE.

Then outside the ship the lights come on and the controller starts vibrating. I’m in a launch bay and it’s counting down. When it hits zero my ship gets jettisoned down this enormous track and out into space. It felt like an actual rollercoaster, everything moving all around me. This thing was worth it just for that experience, though of course I’ve played several games since then to try and get the full experience. Some are better than others, but one thing is clear to me: this is the future of entertainment consumption.

Sim Sickness

There is one drawback I’ve noticed, that I can only hope improves. It is very easy to get motion sick using this thing. I’m not one easily pushed to the spins… I made it through a flight in NASA’s Vomit Comet without blowing chunks, after all. I’ve never been car sick or ill from a rollercoaster.

Yet Oculus almost got me there. After an hour, my stomach feels weak and my head is spinning, and I have to get out. Even the next day I felt a little off-balance. I’ve since learned that you need to acclimate to VR, start with games that let you stay stationary, and limit the extent to which you swivel your head around. More frequent breaks are also required, compared to conventional games. This is certainly a disappointing side effect that keeps breaking me out of the immersion, but it is a minor nit to pick compared to the overall experience. I still highly recommend Oculus to anyone, gaming enthusiast or otherwise… just make note of the “comfort level” rating on games, and be sure to start at the low end of the spectrum.

Well anyway, that is my little rant of the day. Hopefully I can get myself back on track with Lunhina, but for the moment I’m allowing this little diversion.

Oh, and Happy new year to y’all. Hope 2017 has great things in store for everyone.