Have you ever been in a situation in which you knew you needed to write more, and FAST? Over the course of my career, I remember many of these incidents with a shudder. I over-booked myself; misheard deadlines and found that the real deadline was a month earlier than I thought; decided that I had to trash and rewrite a project the day before it was due… and more.
You have your own horror stories.
When you need to write more, right now, and you have no time
Voice recognition software — speaking words into a microphone, and seeing them appear on your computer screen — is a wonderful concept. In realization, not so much.
A couple of decades ago I reviewed the first release of Dragon Naturally Speaking for a computer magazine. In those days, I was a Windows user (I thought Macs were flaky. I was wrong.) I opened the package with excitement. Yes! The answer to my prayers. I’d be able to WRITE MORE, just by speaking. Happy days. 🙂
Just no. I wrote the review and forgot about voice recognition software for a few years. As the years went by, I’d have a sudden rush of blood to the head (real reason, I was overbooked and desperate,) and I’d try a version of Dragon again. Or I’d be asked to review some other hot new voice recognition program. Still NO.
Finally, around 2015, I made Dragon for Mac (Dragon Dictate at the time) part of my workflow. The software’s much, much better than it used to be. You can spend time on your writing, not on correcting egregious software errors.
It remains part of my workflow today, out of necessity, because today, writers need to write more to keep pace with all the added opportunities now available. We have more work that we can handle, and we need help.
After using voice recognition (VR) software on and off for 20 years, I’ve discovered a lot about myself, the creative process, and how to integrate VR into what I do. I hope the tips will help you.
1. VR is on your computer already; if you buy a version of Dragon, train it
Today, VR is built into Windows and Mac computers. Check your Help files. If you’re on a Mac, you can access VR in most apps by choosing Start Dictation from the Edit menu. This is sufficient to dictate a few paragraphs into an email message, but insufficient if you want to use it for your writing.
Should you choose to buy VR software, today it means buying a version of Dragon from Nuance.
Once you’ve installed your app, train your Dragon for your voice, and your dictating environment. You can add documents from your computer to train it — add a chapter of your current novel, or a chapter from your nonfiction book, or add a slew of articles and other web content. The app will bring up words it doesn’t recognize (character names and such) which you can choose to include or exclude from your current Dragon profile.
Expect to accustom yourself to dictation slowly. In essence, you need to go slowly, so that you can go fast eventually. 🙂
2. Your microphone counts, and so does the room you’re in: create a new profile when the software’s not performing
One thing I’ve learned. Your microphone counts more than almost anything else. I’ve tried a slew of wireless and USB microphones. Currently I’m happy with the two that I have, they’re working well, and they’re worth the investment.
A good microphone will ignore extraneous sounds. Nevertheless, if you’ve trained your Dragon, and find that suddenly it’s tossing out errors, try creating a new profile.
I’ve also found that on some days, Dragon will play nicely with other apps, Scrivener and similar. On other days, it’s a nightmare. I’ve managed to stop the nonsense by dictating into a plain text editor, then I copy/ paste the content where it needs to go. It’s an additional step, but less distracting than losing your train of thought when your cursor starts jumping to and fro in a document.
3. Use your software for non-critical tasks until you get used to it
If you’re new to Dragon, use it for your non-critical tasks. Everything will take longer in the beginning, because you’re learning the software, and learning dictation.
You’re used to writing using the keyboard. Using a microphone will seem odd at first. You’re more focused on speaking, than you are on what you’re trying to write. Dictate easy material like email messages and blog posts while you’re getting accustomed to dictation.
4. Plan what you want to say: five minutes saves frustration
Spend five minutes typing a few notes before you start dictating.
While dictating, pause when you need to, in between sentences. Speak as you normally do; don’t slow down, Dragon will keep up.
I find it’s useful not to read the text as I dictate. I might glance at the text occasionally to make sure that something’s appearing on the screen, but it’s too distracting to read the text and think at the same time.
5. Write more first drafts when you dictate
You can create first draft material much more quickly with a microphone than you can with typing. It definitely helps you to write more.
Some writers protest that they can’t dictate; they’re too used to typing. However, it’s worth experimenting with VR. It’s normal for your writing to flow on some days; on other days it’s a struggle. On days when writing is a struggle, it doesn’t matter whether the struggle happens on a keyboard or on a microphone.
It’s taken me around 20 years to integrate VR into my writing workflow. Today, I don’t know what I’d do without it. I wouldn’t be able to write as much, that’s certain. Experiment with VR yourself; let me know how you get on. 🙂
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