Thursday, June 26, 2014

Some Technical Issues

James O. Born

I thought we could take a break from the seemingly endless list of rules and techniques about forming your story to talk about some of the nuts and bolts of putting it on the page.  I've seen plenty of posts in the past requesting writers to send in photos of their workstations and asking about any rituals they go through while they write.  Raising a family and holding a job kept me from any rituals I might've been inclined to use.  Basically, if I had a few minutes, I would work on a book.  Now-a-days, with my kids out of the house, much of that work actually takes place on my porch overlooking the water.  It makes for a better atmosphere and puts me in a decent mood.

What I really want to talk about today is how you physically enter your prose into a computer.  I'm not even going to consider that you're using a typewriter.

About four years ago I had shoulder surgery and was having a difficult time comfortably typing on a keyboard.  As a result, I purchased a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking software; A voice recognition program that is widely accepted as an industry standard.  And while I dictate virtually everything I write, from blogs to police reports, as well as novels, I'm not sure it saves me a great deal of time.  There is much more editing involved and my guess is it's all about the same time-wise.

What it does save is carpal tunnel syndrome.  I used to type endlessly on computer keyboards, portable computers, anything I could find that would transfer my thoughts to a page.  Now, I spend more time thinking about what I'm going to write, making notes about it then setting up specific times to sit down at a computer, not an iPad or an Android tablet, and dictate using Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Overall it is a fairly good program.  Its claims of accuracy are wildly exaggerated.  It also is temperamental as to how quickly it will transfer your speech to text.  I still can't figure out what slows it down.  I used to think it was if the computer was doing other jobs, but I have exited out of all possible programs and sometimes Dragon is fast and sometimes it is not.

From this point on in the blog I will not touch the keyboard, even in editing mode.  What ever you see in this blog was produced by Dragon naturally speaking software.  I am set up comfortably on my couch on a cloudy Sunday afternoon with the computer focusing only on Dragon and one copy of Word for Windows.  The computer is not crunching numbers or doing anything else in the background.  Dragon is reasonably responsive today and making this paragraph look respectable.  This is not a bad selling point for Dragon but it doesn't always work this well.  I wish that it did.

You can by Dragon at drastically reduced prices online and at Tiger direct stores.  Usually they sell and out of date version but I have seen very little difference in the four years of constant updates.  I will say there customer service and technical assistance is not very good and they want to charge you for any extended technical help.  I find this distasteful.  I dislike it so much I would use a foul word at this point but I know it wouldn't come through on Dragon and I've already given you my word that I would not edit the text.

So think about how you would like to input your novel.  There is something to be said about sitting in front of the keyboard and picking out your words as you think about it carefully.  On the other hand, sometimes you hear your dialogue better when you have to say it out loud and then spend extra time looking at it while you edit over and over again.

I have no idea what will go into next week but I intend to keep this blog updated every Thursday until every one of you is published or I get tired of doing it.

This week's quote is:

“Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad – including your own bad.” ― Doris Lessing


  1. Well, this explains a lot. I just shared on Facebook. Really good information for when my body starts falling other people I know. :O)

  2. "I have no idea what will go into next week but I intend to keep this blog updated every Thursday until [A] every one of you is published or [B] I get tired of doing it."

    Here's hoping A wins the day!

  3. James O. Born6/26/2014 1:26 PM

    Thanks, Patty. It's tough to read unedited Dragon text. I'm not a good proof reader, but that is ridiculous.

  4. I used to dictate my appellate briefs. I think most lawyers did, back when everyone had a secretary instead of a computer.

  5. James,
    Is Dragon similar to the Siri program on the iPhone? I saw tv commercials about the Dragon software.