Wednesday, 3 June 2020

To dictate or not to dictate. That is the question...

The joys – and perils – of dictating. I need to say at the outset I have no affiliation whatsoever with Nuance or Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

At the beginning of this year, I took the very difficult decision to ditch my Apple computers and transfer everything back to Windows. Why? Because my hands are increasingly painful with arthritis, even though I continue to play the piano. I have become unable to type 3000 words of my books in one session as I used to be able to do. I tried the integral dictating software and free and cheap software and, to be blunt and honest, they are all rubbish.

Apple does not support the only decent dictation software - Dragon NaturallySpeaking, made by Nuance and that is what fuelled my decision. I sold my MacBook Pro and gave my iMac to my brothers. My husband also decided to switch back to a Windows machine, although he has kept his iMac.

On YouTube, he has been following a computer specialist who has been building and repairing computers for over 30 years. From watching these videos, my husband decided he would build himself a Windows desktop machine. Which he did, and during which he learned a lot. So much so, that when he offered to build me a new Windows desktop machine, I did not hesitate to say yes
I also bought an HP laptop, which I have to say, drives me crazy, and which I only use when I am working in bed. And once all that was done, I bought Dragon NaturallySpeaking. In all, I have spent almost £2000, but I now have a top of the range desktop machine, an adequate laptop and the best dictating software available. And yes, it is expensive.

But, as with all things, Dragon is not perfect. I became interested in Scott Baker’s books and blogs and followed his advice, ditto Chris Fox. Both authors dictate their books and have written about the hows and whys of it. So, what are the pros and cons?

I find the most useful thing about Dragon is that you can train it. It asks you regularly to update new words you have written in either your blogs, emails or Word or whichever software you are using. I use Scrivener and it is less accurate in that software, but I think I have worked out what I’ve done wrong and will experiment with it.

I find that Dragon is about 96% accurate, which, when you think of the different things that people use this software for and the number of accents it has to deal with, is simply amazing. I now dictate all my emails and certainly the first draft of my writing projects. The other huge advantage for me is that when I am walking the dog very early in the morning, I have a hand-held dictating machine into which I dictate ideas, to do lists and notes or text for the current WIP. This little machine has a USB which I plug into the computer and Dragon transcribes everything I have said.

This means I can work on the move, and, as is generally now agreed, moving around when you are trying to be creative is a good thing. The function that asks you to update new words is incredibly useful when you use peculiar terms or names. For example, in my latest WIP, the name Arimanius occurs and I have now trained my Dragon to recognise that name. High Cliff Nab, pictured right, which I can see from my sitting room window features in this book. The book is set in 1970 and the working title is "Shades of Menace". Watch this space!

Where Dragon falls down is usually the little connecting words, such as of, to, in, and of course, it is dependent on the quality of your speech. It cannot recognise the difference between “all” and “or” for example. It is ideal for first drafts, but very much less so when you are editing. Even when your diction is clear, as mine is (trained classical singer), it will still make mistakes and two amusing ones spring to mind.

In the first draft of my Wars of the Roses fantasy crime novel, one of the settings is a manor house in rural Lincolnshire called Eresby. Despite my very best endeavours, this always gets transcribed as “errors be”, so I have had to call it Manchester and then do a global find and replace in Word. In my latest WIP, I have a character called Neil Darke. This has provided quite a few gigglesome incidents because of the words “kneel” and “dark”. So much so, I am going to call him something else!

I have also learned that it is best to not look at what is appearing on the screen and also, more importantly, that to dictate up to 5000 words an hour, you only need to speak very slowly. Scott Baker in his book “How to train your Dragon” highlights this when he asks you to dictate a passage in his book taking two minutes to dictate it. If you dictate at your normal speaking speed, you will only take about 40 seconds.

You need to make extensive notes about to what you want to say and learn a few commands – (this is why editing is such a pain if you use Dragon – the commands you need to learn and remember to say to make the edit). Most people use the command that opens up quotation marks for speech, but I know Chris Fox just uses the command for the next line and put in speech quotes when he edits.

Has it been fun? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I can now dictate on the move and at my desk. Making more extensive notes than I am used to is useful as part of the outlining process. I am more productive. I now have 2 first drafts being edited and the beginning of a new series being dictated. Yes, you have to edit more rigorously then you may be used to, but that in itself could be an advantage, because you are looking more closely and mindfully at your text.

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To dictate or not to dictate. That is the question...

The joys – and perils – of dictating. I need to say at the outset I have no affiliation whatsoever with Nuance or Dragon NaturallySpeaki...