Can’t Type. Must Write. Now What?

computer keyboardIt started as a vague achy feeling in my left arm and, about a month ago, stabbing pain sent me flying to the doctor.  The diagnosis was tendinitis below the elbow to the tips of my fingers.  I think the dismantling a library of 3,500 volumes and drafting thousands of words a week probably caused it.  The remedy was rest and painkillers.

Not possible!  I have two book deadlines were hanging over my head.  It was time to unplug.

A friend recommended dictation.  After a long process of evaluating options, I called Dragon to find out which one of their many voice-activated software programs might work for me.  I found what I needed at the local Target (Target?  Not Staples??)

The software I’m now using to write this blog is Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Basics.

person speakingI was leery about several aspects of writing by dictation:  Would I be spending my time correcting the software’s mistakes?  How awkward would I feel sitting at my desk and talking to myself?  Would it be, all about the software and not about the writing?

I’m glad I set aside a block of time to load and work with the program.  I don’t know if it took a long time to load or it just seemed like it because I was so anxious to try it.  Then, it asked me to begin training the program and yes, it does learn.  I was afraid this would take hours.  I made myself comfortable and read a block of copy that took maybe one minute.  The screen flashed.  Of course, I thought I had done something wrong delete.  The little comment box thanked me for reading the material and directed me to the tutorial!

I strongly recommend taking the time to go through the tutorial.  It didn’t take that long.  It was very clear and interactive.  It’s worth it to learn the basic commands and you can always go back and review the more advanced material.  There is also a learning center available for quick help.

I’ve been using the software for five days now, much to the benefit of my arm, and here are a few tricks for writers that I’ve learned:

I like to write with music playing in the background.  Would the additional sound confuse the sensitive microphone?  I don’t know how, but it ignores the music, even the song lyrics, and listens to me.

As tempting as it is, it’s not a good idea to watch the screen while dictating.  I’m making technology work, but if I watch the words appearing on the screen, the writing suffers.  It helps to gaze out the window or look at a painting during the dictation process and then, at a natural stopping place, checking the screen to make sure the software is with me.

When I first started with the software, I was very self-conscious about dictating.  Then, a wonderful thing happened.  I was thinking about a new scene.  I glanced out the window and started running off at the mouth.  When I realized with a start what I was doing, I looked at the screen.  What if the software was too slow and I lost all of my wonderful words.  Sure enough, the cursor was sitting there and the little green icon was spinning.  Drat!  Then the cursor took off and words appeared in a rush!  There was only one mistake.  Amazing!

I always suspected that my brain worked faster than my fingers and now I have dictation software that works even faster.  My word count output has gone up more than 70%, when I’m not looking at the screen.  I can also edit quickly using the software.

The only problem is that when I’m done with a block of copy, the cursor sits there and blinks.  Do I hear little fingernails tapping along with a private message, “Well?”

For this writer, that’s a wonderful problem to have!


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