Something New

Jessie: in New Hampshire hunkering down for the long winter slog.

One of the best things about being a writer is the built in necessity of trying new things. You expect to be asked to create new books, imagine new characters, describe new settings. There are new themes to explore, new voices to use, even new publishers to partner with. But some parts of the process seem set in stone . They appear inflexible and unlikely to invite new methods or ways of doing things. Which is why outside influence is so important.

I’ve noticed from my friendships with other writers artistic types often find life partners who are tech savvy. It’s a pattern I’ve followed. My beloved husband is one such man and he is always delighted when I show the slightest inclination to be interested in technology. I should’ve known that when I mentioned I had read an article on dictating novels he would pounce on the notion.

I should’ve realized when I was handed a light weight box from under our Christmas tree that my life was about to change. On Christmas morning I slipped the wrapping from a beautifully packaged gift to reveal my very own copy of dictation software. Truth be told, I felt as though I’d been offered a dare and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.

I kept the box, unopened, in a credenza next to my desk, until today. I had put it off for  long enough, I told myself. It wasn’t as though I had no idea how to speak. It wasn’t as though I was a particularly good typist. I’m still not sure what made me wait so long.

I think I felt as though my stories came out my fingers, as if they couldn’t find their way past my lips. But it turns out they could. This afternoon I wrote an entire outline for my next Beryl and Edwina novel. I at least doubled my word count per hour compared with my typing speed on the first try. I can’t imagine what it will be like when I’ve mastered the technology! I feel like a whole world has opened up in front of me.

As a matter of fact, I dictated this entire blog post. I may never type anything again!

Readers, which things have you tried lately that have surprised you? Writers, have you ever tried dictation software?


40 Thoughts

  1. Jessie, I’m so pleased it worked for you so well right out of the box! I was employee #16 at a small company working on voice dictation software in the early and mid-eighties. In fact, i was the first human whose voice Kurzweil Speech Systerms recognized – because I had trained it on 8000 words, each recorded twice! These days I often dictate my texts or emails if I’m on my phone because I hate pecking around for the letters, but I have to correct quite a few words. So I’m curious about the error rate in your new productivity toy. Please tell? Also, is it Dragon Speaking? Two of my fellow first employees at Kurzweil still work at Dragon (in rather high positions in Engineering).

    1. Linda, I didn’t think it would work well for me either but I am focusing a lot this year on increasing my productivity. For my outline project I read from some notes and I think that gave me something visual to latch on to. I definitely recommend giving it a try. There are a lot of free options out there if you wanted to play with it without making a commitment.

  2. Oh Jesse I’m so proud of you for daring to open the box. My dear husband has gently mentioned that I might benefit from such a contraption. So far, I’ve said I didn’t need it. But then, I’m the one who didn’t want a clothes dryer–a dish washer–a microwave for God’s sake! I got a pressure cooker for Christmas. . an electric automatic one–which promises not to explode and blow baked beans all over the ceiling as one did many years ago. I have used it once, timidly. Please keep us informed about the new gadget. I may yet enter the twenty-first century!

    1. Thanks Carol! Why not give it a try? After all, I bet you love your clothes dryer now that you have one. I hear you about the pressure cooker. When I was a child my mother had one that exploded dramatically. As an adult I’ve learned to use one but I usually ask my kids to leave the kitchen when it’s on the stove!

  3. This is the kind of post I need to read! I’m tech savvy but doubt my own ability to speak a story without making an unintelligible mess. Keep us posted!!

    1. Kate, I had the same sort of worries. But what I ended up deciding was that it couldn’t hurt to try and also that my first drafts are messy anyway. If you have any particular reason that this might improve your lifestyle I highly recommend giving it a try.

  4. Congratulations, Jesse, on using this new technology for your new book! Do you plan to use it throughout the writing process, or for specific tasks such as the outline? I have never tried any voice recognition software, except on my Android smartphone (“OK Google…”). No Siri, and although Amazon’s Echo/Alexa sounds interesting, it is not available yet in Canada.

    1. Thanks Grace! I’m planning to write the first draft of my next novel using dictation software. I don’t plan to use it for revising because I understand that that can be frustrating and inefficient. I’ve also been using it for emails and I’m even using it to send this comment to you.

      I have an Amazon echo and Alexa is quite shocking in her level of sophistication. I think my success with that encouraged me to try dictation software.

    1. Hey Liz, give a go! There are errors but I believe that they are no more than my terrible typing already yields. And I understand that as I use it, it improves. I’m remarkably pleased considering how little effort I’ve put into making it work.

  5. Oh, such fun! In years past, I’ve used a tape recorder (now voice memo on the phone) to get things down quickly on the road before I forget (best ideas come while walking, driving, etc.)—but this sounds like a whole nother level, of course. So glad you’ve found it useful and productive!

    1. Art, I’ve never used a tape recorder to get things down quickly and I already love this. I’m sure someone like yourself, who is already so inclined, might find it and even more natural fit.

  6. I’m not a technophobe, but I think my writing process involves channeling what’s in my head, through my hands and a keyboard, to the page. I have to see the words. But I’ll look forward to your reports!

    1. I know just what you mean Sheila. I really do feel the same way. I really thought the story only came out my hands. But I’ve been remarkably pleased and I like the ability to walk about the room. I’m also interested in the fact that I could knit while dictating. For years, I’ve kept a ball of yarn on my desk to use to jog things loose whenever I get stuck. I’m curious as to whether I could manage to never get stuck if I knit while dictating. I’m looking forward to finding out!

  7. Very interesting, Jessie! I always think I’d feel foolish saying out loud what’s in my head. I wouldn’t want even my family members hearing me. And what about the no wait, that’s not right moments? I’m intrigued!

    1. Sherry, I’m alone in my house most of the day so no one is hearing me. And in all honesty, I already have a disturbing tendency to talk to myself. So far, so good!

  8. I’m also curious about the error rate. I used to be an almost flawless typist and now – yeah not so much. My hubby has suggested dictation software, but 1) since I do most of my writing at work I don’t think my co-workers want to hear me dictate a novel and 2) my experience with dictation has been less than stellar. Doesn’t save time if I have to correct a gazillion words. So please be sure to share!

    1. Liz, sadly I’m one of those writers that has to look at their keyboard. Sadly, I am already correcting a gazillion words when I type.One thing that really helps is a high quality microphone. My husband happened to have one he lent to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s part of my easy success.

  9. Jessie’s husband told me about this gift before the holidays, and his reason for giving it. I was intrigued, and got a copy of Dragon Speak home for myself. I didn’t install it until this past weekend, and didn’t take it for a real test drive until yesterday. It is a very different skill set, for sure. The error rate on names is high, but other than that it is pretty good so far. Like Jessie, my test run was a huge success. I knocked out a scene in far less time than it would have taken me to write it. I’m a plotter, so I know where I’m trying to go in the scene. I’m going to continue to master this for first draft–the part of my process where I need to puke the words onto the page so I can edit them.

    1. Julie, I couldn’t agree more about the error rate with names. And my work In progress I have two characters named Beryl and Edwina. Every time I spoke their names the software wrote “barrel and a weiner”. At first it was very funny. By the 19th time it was truly aggravating. By the 20th time, I remembered I could just use the find and replace feature in word. Totally worth it in my book.

  10. Ooh, Jessie, how cool! I love the idea of dictation, but fear it wouldn’t work out for me. I’ve stopped talking to Siri because she often doesn’t understand me and it drives me nuts! Maybe it’s my Southern accent 🙂

    1. Vickie, I suggest poking around on the Internet and looking for reviews of different programs. Dictation is not exactly talking, you do need to be more precise. However, I understand that many of the programs take regional accents into account. Dragon is sort of learning software which improves its accuracy the longer you use it. I believe there are free trials for it, which might be worth a try.

  11. I have tried the dictation software, but it was a few years ago. I had trouble with my Bawlmer accent and found it took double time because I needed to repeat myself so often. It helped in the way that it encouraged me to be a better typist.

    1. Kim, I think things have improved a lot over the years and if you are still interested I’d consider giving it another try. Since nothing has encouraged me to be a better typist, this is been a godsend!

  12. I’m also fascinated, Jessie, and the idea of boosting productivity is seriously tempting. Please tell us about how you fix errors, or go back to change things? Plus I talk fast. do you change the pace of your speech with this tool?

    1. I do find I speak more precisely than I would in conversation. So far, I’ve been practicing enunciating rather than learning the directions for fixing things so I’ve been making corrections manually. Like Julie said it’s a new skill set. And mastering all that it has to offer will take time.It may not be for everyone but I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.

  13. Bravo, Jessie, for being so brave and trying new things. I’m a visual person and very self-conscious about my story-telling, so I think I would be terrible at this. (I can’t even read my final drafts aloud the way so many do, and I’ve never listened to my audiobooks.) However, your braveness makes we want to experiment. Maybe for a short story or something.

    1. I don’t read my drafts aloud either, Barb. And I don’t think I could listen to an audiobook of my own work. But domehow this just felt like talking to myself. I think the ease with it may also be because I was one of those kids with a host of imaginary friends with whom I spoke constantly. Even if imaginary friends weren’t your thing, I’d still recommend giving it a try for a short story. Or even email.

      1. I have listened to both the first two Country Store audiobooks. It was fascinating to hear how the narrator interpreted my character’s personalities into voices.

  14. I’ve never tried dictation software, but my uncle did years ago. It was a struggle to get it set up correctly, but he wound up loving it. I’m sure the technology has improved since then.

    So more words per hour means more books from you, right?

  15. I have never tried dictation software, but after reading this, I would love to! Can you please share the name of the software you’re trying? Thanks so much!

    1. Susan, my husband bought me Dragon Professional as a Christmas gift. My understanding is that it has all the bells and whistles but I think for a trial run there are a lot of quality choices available for free. My Mac has dictation software built right into the operating system. It works with most applications and is remarkably easy to start to use. In Microsoft Word or even in the browser I simply look under the edit tab in the navigation bar. I’m not sure what is available for PCs but I would expect that there is something similar. One of my sons tells me but there is something from Google that also works remarkably well. I’d love to hear your own results.

      1. Thank you so much for the specifics about the software! I’m going to do some research on this. I’ll let you know if something works out for me. I am pretty excited about trying this! Thanks again!

  16. Oh, there must be something in the air. Dictation software has been tugging at me for a while now. I did try it back in the stone age (when I typed a clean 180 wpm) and found it couldn’t keep up. But I’ve heard it has improved tremendously since then, and trust me on this, my typing skills have degraded tremendously. I figure it should all even out :). One thing does concern me – punctuation. It’s an automatic thing when I type, I see it, but not when I talk. How did that workout? I don’t remember how it was handled back in the days of Hammurabi and the early Dragon.

    1. Kait, I would hate to give you any information that would discourage you from giving dictation software a go with so little experience under my belt. I really did use it fo rthe very first time yesterday. Also, I am a terrible typist so your mileage may vary. I plan to report on things like punctuation and indentation commnds etc… when I have more experience. For me, so far, so good. I think I will do my post next month on this same topic and report my findings since it seems there is interest in this from readers. Stay tuned!

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