Here’s the thirteenth episode of the Writing Talk Podcast.
A critical review of the experience of using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate a novel.
Plus this week’s writers’ toolbox tip and some listener feedback. There’s also a quick review of my news.
Hope you enjoy listening.
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There’s a lot of interest at the moment in dictation, and many people are currently recommending that you use software such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate your work.
Now, there’s a big difference between jumping on the bandwagon and keeping up with the latest trends. I always take a critical view and try to evaluate before I buy: look before I leap.
I’ve been using the Dragon dictation software for a few weeks now and here are my findings.
Firstly, here are some reasons why I think dictation is a worthwhile technique to pursue:
- it encourages the separation of different writing processes, lends itself to the separation of planning and drafting. When typing, the keyboard is so familiar, that it’s very easy to start writing a draft with only a half formed idea at the back of your mind. Sometimes that works well, but more often than not, the result is a draft that’s full of inconsistencies and plot holes. And that makes for more work in the long run.
- It’s faster. There’s no getting away from this: we can all talk much faster than we can type. Once you get over the initial hurdles and learn to use the software, and that should only take a few days, your output will skyrocket. This will give you the reward and encouragement of high word counts
- It’s accurate. At least, it’s accurate enough. Dragon NaturallySpeaking still makes stupid mistakes, but then I’m an awful typist so I make 1 million typos. On balance, the software is more accurate than I am. The downside is that while ordinary typos are easy to deal with, e.g. when two letters are transposed, the mistakes that Dragon makes can be harder to correct, e.g the software will miss out entire words or substitute words completely, turning a sentence into meaningless gibberish. If you dictated a long piece without noticing these mistakes, it can be frustrating to try and put them right. The answer is to keep half an eye on the text as you work, and then skim through it when you finish each short writing session, so that you can the intended version is still fresh in your mind.
- It’s better for your health. RS I and similar aches and pains can become serious health issues, and can develop into debilitating conditions. You must safeguard your health. When I’m dictating, I rarely touch the keyboard. I do correct some small errors as I go, but of course, a great deal of correction can be done with spoken commands. The downside of correcting with spoken commands, is that it takes you out of your flow, and that means that you may forget the sentences that you had already formed in your mind. A balanced approach is the answer. Sometimes, it’s just more efficient to quickly make a minor correction with the keyboard. However, the more frequently you use Dragon’s commands, the easier they become. Quite quickly, you’ll find yourself using the built-in correction methods without stopping to think about it. Unfortunately, there are times when Dragon has trouble deciding whether your dictating text giving a command.
This takes us into looking at the downsides of using the software.
- It can be frustrating, especially at first. It’s a new way of working, a new way of thinking. It isn’t 100% accurate, and it isn’t foolproof. It takes an investment of time and mental energy to learn how to use the software efficiently. Some people may find this quite stressful. The only way around this is persistence. The software adapts to your usage patterns, so the more that you train it, the more accurate it becomes. For example, it’s a good idea to train the software to recognise new words, unusual names, and technical terms that you use frequently. Similarly, if Dragon makes a persistent error, a few seconds of training can eliminate that error and do away with your frustration. The more often that you train the software, the fewer mistakes it makes.
- It’s expensive. The software is not cheap, and if it feels as though it isn’t absolutely necessary, and it may put you off taking the plunge. Always shop around. Check online prices, and consider buying the software directly from the manufacturer. This is an especially good idea in the UK, where software prices are artificially high. On top of the cost of the software, don’t forget that you will need a decent microphone. Nuance, the software developer, has a list of compatible hardware on their website, and they give ratings for accuracy for a wide range of microphones. Some of these are quite expensive, and the reality is that a cheap headset microphone may not be up to the job. Whatever microphone you use, check that it has noise cancelling capability so that your dictation will not be affected by background noise. Also, check that the microphone can be positioned so that could you can use it comfortably for long periods of time. I’m using an old desktop microphone, but a headset would be much more comfortable to use, because it allows more freedom of movement. Check the ratings on the Nuance website before you buy, and look for online reviews.
On balance, the software is a very worthwhile investment. The cost is offset by the health advantages, and by the increase in productivity. But there is another advantage that you may not have thought of. The software needn’t just be used for your writing. You can dictate everything: blog posts, emails, online comments. Even, the show notes for your podcast. It all saves time and energy and reduces strain on your joints. You can use Dragon to operate your computer, for example, you can use it to launch a program. But that means leaving the software running and having it listen to everything you say, including your conversations with your spouse, your dog, your goldfish, and yourself. It’s almost certainly better to send Dragon to sleep when you’re not using it for dictation. All it takes to reactivate the microphone, is to say, “wake up.”
Many people worry that they will find it difficult to say the punctuation out loud, but that should come very quickly. A much bigger challenge, is that you must know exactly what you’re going to say before you say it. The way around this, is to scribble some notes before you begin dictation. Make sure that you understand what points you are going to hit, and note down any significant events, description, dialogue.
Get Featured in Next Week’s Show – Comments Needed
Have you tried dictation? If not, what’s stopping you from taking the plunge? If you have tried it, how did it work for you? I’d love to hear your triumphs and disasters, your plaudits and your dire warnings. Please leave comments on this post or email them to email@example.com. Alternatively, you can put your message in a bottle and throw it into the Facebook ocean at facebook.com/writingtalkpodcast or tie your message to a tweet sent to @mikeycampling
Tell me about your experiences with dictation, and I will endeavour to give a shout out in next week’s podcast in the listener stories segment of the show.
In the last episode of the writing talk podcast, the topic was tracking your word count and increasing your output in order to meet your writing goals. Here’s an interesting comment that came in:
P. Mattern said: I call myself a turtle writer…I rarely write more than 1,500 words a day. I stopped comparing my word output with other authors a while back because compared to their braggadocio about cranking out 10k in one sitting I felt like a loser. My strong suit is that I am consistent about writing every single day
Thanks for your comment and I can see that you have a great back catalogue over on Amazon.
Writer’s toolbox tip
The Dragon NaturallySpeaking software doesn’t integrate directly with every piece of software. Instead, it uses a dictation box or a dictation pad and the text can then be copied across to the software you wish to use. For example, NaturallySpeaking does not integrate with Scrivener, and if you try, the dictation box will pop up. However, do not use the dictation box for more than a few words, e.g. a short email is fine, but a short story is not. Why? Because the dictation box has no facility to save your work, and it certainly does not provide any form of backup. I had a power cut when using this method and lost 500 words. Those words were gone for ever, and that effort was wasted. It’s much safer to dictate using Microsoft Word because Dragon integrates directly with word, and it makes for a very pleasant writing experience. Dictating into word gives you instant access to all of words tools. Words autosave feature can be set to save very frequently, for example every minute. And if you have a power cut, word will at least try to present you with the option of recovering an unsaved document. Having completed a writing session in word, it’s a simple matter to copy your text into scrivener, using the paste and match style option. I believe that dragon integrates with other word processing software but you must check that carefully before buying.
It takes me a good chunk of time to put each episode of this podcast together, but I want to make this information freely available, and I don’t want to have any adverts or anything like that. But there are costs involved in hosting a podcast, and it takes me away from my writing, so it would be much appreciated if you would subscribe to the podcast. I want to keep on giving back to the writing community. I never forget that there are lots of people out there who are just starting out, and if I can inspire them a little, and perhaps save them a few heartaches, then I will go for it. But I do need subscribers so that I can see there’s someone out there listening, and I could certainly use some help in getting the word out. So if you could be kind enough to tell your writer friends about the podcast, and perhaps share it with any writing groups that you’re a member of, or even share an episode of give it a mention on social media, then I’d be very grateful. I’m determined to make this podcast better and better as it goes along, and I want to build it into a resource for writers, but that can only happen if we share the podcast around. Thank you for your help.
Dragon on the Nuance website http://www.nuance.co.uk/dragon/index.htm
Compatibility list: http://support.nuance.com/compatibility/
Evaluate whether dictation could help you achieve your writing goals. Check your joints! Could a wrist rest help? Fingerless gloves can also help to keep your knuckles warm and add a little support. Many people find that glucosamine helps with joint problems but if you have any worries, get some medical advice.
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