Karen Ranney does a lot talking when there’s no one around:
About a dozen years ago, I had a high-powered job at The Big Bank that required I work long hours, and sometimes over the weekends. At the same time, I was contractually obligated to HarperCollins/Avon, and I was facing some pretty fierce deadlines.
In desperation, I started using IBM Via Voice, then went to Dragon Naturally Speaking, beginning with Version 3. (For the purposes of brevity, will call it Dragon from now on. Also, while Dragon allows you to surf the web, dictate emails, and function hands free, my main use for it has always been dictating my books.)
My initial foray into the world of speech to text technology was not a fun experience. It took me months of dictation before Dragon could learn my voice well enough to transcribe what I was saying without a lot of gobbledy gook. Most of the time, I stared at the page, wondering what I’d said. Maybe it was because of my voice. I’m an Air Force brat, but I live in South Texas now. Consequently, my accent is all over the place. I pronounce some things with a New York flavor, and others in a down-home Dixie twang.
I constantly used the Speech Optimizer functions of Dragon, and dictated until my lips were blue. I experimented with different settings, and grew adept at knowing which days were not good days to dictate – days in which I had an allergy or a sinus infection, and my voice sounded different. The worst day of all was when my user profile became corrupted – two years of work lost.
But yippee, the early days of speech to text technology are gone, to be replaced by Dragon 11 and 11.5. Within five minutes, Dragon had my accent down pat.
Some writers have told me that they could never use a dictation program to write. Initially, I had the same reaction. The act of writing an intimate thing – from your brain to your fingers. But just as my fingers are only a tool to convey the words, so is my voice. And, even though I’m a fast typist, I’m an even faster speaker.
I think the transition is a mental, possibly even a psychological one. I have always read my manuscripts aloud as part of the final editing stage. Perhaps it wasn’t that much of a leap for me to dictate them.
In addition to Dragon on my computer and my laptop, I also use a digital voice recorder (The one I’m currently using is a Sony ICD-MX20 Memory Stick Pro Duo Digital Voice Recorder). With that, and the software that integrates with Dragon, I can dictate in weird places, like in my car at rush hour, in the backyard with my feet up, in the bathtub, on my chaise, at the kitchen table, and scrubbing the bathroom. Yes, I’ve actually dictated in all those places and many more.
I especially like to dictate when I’m working out and my dog is on the treadmill beside me. That thirty minutes in the morning and thirty minutes at night is not wasted time. I dictate blog posts or parts of the new book.
Several writers have mentioned to me that they could never use Dragon because of dialogue. I actually think dictating dialogue is better than writing it. Hearing it aloud eliminates those clunky info-dump paragraphs, or the “As-you-know, Bob” sections. But one of the drawbacks is the punctuation necessary.
In the newer version of Dragon – 11 or 11.5 – you have a choice whether or not to use punctuation while you’re dictating, or allow Dragon to do it for you. It’s listed under Tools/Auto Formatting/Automatically Add Commas and Periods. You’re still stuck with quotations, however.
After so many years of doing it, I never hear the punctuation I’m saying. If you were to listen to me, a paragraph of dialogue would sound like this:
OPEN QUOTES I can’t understand what you’re saying COMMA CLOSED QUOTES he said PERIOD OPEN QUOTES You’ll need to calm down COMMA first PERIOD CLOSED QUOTES NEW LINE
OPEN QUOTES How can you say that EXCLAMATION POINT You never hear me regardless of my mood PERIOD CLOSED QUOTES NEW LINE
Here’s what it looks like as you dictate:
“I can’t understand what you’re saying,” he said. “You’ll need to calm down, first.”
“How can you say that! You never hear me regardless of my mood.”
Surprisingly, it was easy to get used to saying the punctuation and even easier to ignore it. The only drawback to using Dragon with punctuation is that you have a tendency to speak that way to people for the first few hours after a marathon session.
Now that I’m no longer at The Big Bank, I still use Dragon for my first drafts. I have a goal of 7000 words a day, and I’m not sure if my hands could stand that kind of pounding.
Here are my tips and tricks for Dragon:
- Buy the best microphone you can afford. (I’m currently using a Plantronics DSP400 Foldable Multimedia Headset which is soft, comfy, lightweight, and folds up and fits in a pouch.)
- Always back up your User Profile. I’ve had to restore mine twice, even with this new version of Dragon.
- If you’re having a problem with Dragon recognizing your speech, and you’ve used the tools under Audio, create a new user profile. Make sure you select the available accents if they’re applicable.
- Train Dragon for words that are uncommon. For example, I write both Scottish historical romance and murder mysteries, and have a varied vocabulary for each. I use the Vocabulary/Import List of Words and Phrases command, which also allows me to train Dragon.
- Train Dragon for your writing style by going back and having it analyze documents you’ve already written (Vocabulary/Learn from Specific Documents.)
Dragon is a tool, one that I’ve found to be very helpful for three reasons:
- I’ve never had the dreaded blank page syndrome with Dragon. I’m forced to start talking about the book and before I know it, I’m writing it. (Besides, if I remain quiet for too long it picks up the sound of my breathing.)
- It also enables me to maximize time. Granted, there are places I can’t use Dragon – for example, standing in line somewhere. But there are more places where I can use it, and I take advantage of those.
- Using a speech to text program forces me to know what I’m about to say/write. Dragon helps me stay on target.
And, yes, this was dictated on Dragon.
Passive Guy thanks Karen for taking the time to dictate her thoughts about using voice recognition for her writing.