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Bartleby, For When You Prefer Not To

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Almost everyone has heard of writer’s block: that debilitating condition nearly every writer suffers at one time or another when the words just won’t come. Gene Fowler may have expressed the condition best when he said that “Writing is easy: All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Few people, however, are aware of the opposite, but very real, problem, which can be just as debilitating: writer’s overdrive.

Take Control Editor in Chief Tonya Engst, however, knows the problem all too well: At least one of her authors has had episodes of over-productivity that have put her in the unenviable position of being in the middle of producing one of his books only to find out that he has submitted the manuscript for the next edition, along with a detailed outline of the one to follow. “I have a business to run, a child to raise, and a husband to keep in running shoes; I don’t have time to be this person’s personal publishing lackey, regardless of how good his books are!” That’s why she was more than happy to buy her hyperactive wordsmith a copy of Literature & Latte’s newest writing aid:

Built upon the well-regarded and versatile foundation of Scrivener, the company’s flagship content-generation tool, Bartleby can best be described as a content-generation governor. As a Scrivener add-on, Bartleby monitors a writer’s productivity moment by moment, and provides helpful prompts and distractions when it looks like productivity has begun to edge into logorrhea.

Bartleby relies upon a complex collection of carefully tuned algorithms, dubbed the “Interocitor Engine.” The Interocitor evaluates both writing rate and quality, the latter evaluation derived by comparing the current session’s work to a database of both the writer’s own previous works and well-regarded similar works of other writers. When the matrix of evaluative results edges into what the program calls “the danger zone,” Bartleby swings into preemptive action, which, depending upon the writer’s previously
learned behavioral patterns, can either be explicit alerts that remind the writer to slow down or more subtle and creative distractions.

While using Bartleby in the process of writing this article, I discovered that the software, as advertised, remained unnoticed while I was struggling to compose the opening of the piece, but that it quickly activated when I experienced a creative burst that had my words tumbling out faster than I could type. When I ignored Bartleby’s initial reminders to slow down, Bartleby began to take more obtrusiv… oh, wait, look at this great Web page that has singing cats
riding dolphins
!!! BRB!

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