Oct
04
2015
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Training my Dragon

Dragon_for_Mac_107x127

Hello readers. This post is going to be a little different, and I ask you in advance to please ignore all typos and mistakes. You'll get to see why in a moment.

a couple of years ago, I experimented with dictation for writing my books, instead of typing. I did so for about a month, and then return to the keyboard having found the dictation was too slow. Recently I have a chance to talk to other authors who were using dictation, and I learned from them that I should have persevered more to perfect the art of dictating the book. So over the last few weeks I've been trying again.

At first, like before, I found dictation frustratingly slow. Not because you have to speak really slowly, in fact you can talk at normal speed, but because it just wasn't natural for me to precinct my sentences and then say them out loud. Now, after a few weeks, I find the dictation coming more naturally. It does help to preformed each clause in my mind and then speak it, but I no longer have huge gaps between each comma, and I can continue dictating at a reasonable speed. Already I've noticed a higher word count per hour dictating that I achieve typing, and I'm not a slouch at typing either. Another discovery I made while dictating was that my back muscles became less tense, probably because I wasn't hunched over the keyboard. Now I can sit back comfortably, with one eye on the screen,. You might want to consider this if you suffer from carpal tunnel or other risk maladies.

Write about this point, you've probably realized that I am dictating this post. You can see some typos. This brings me to another point: dictation is best used for first draft, when you want to just keep going and not go back and correct mistakes. The first draft should be all about getting the story down, and you will edit it into shape later. So at this point you want worry about typos. Another relevant than point is that dictation breaks down easily if you're writing involves a lot of jargon, like sci-fi names, fantasy names, made up words etc. again, these can easily be fixed in the second, edited, draft. To stop myself going insane, I usually replace my fantasy character names with a name that the dictation software easily understands, like Thomas. It's just a simple find and replace later.

As you can see, dictation works remarkably well. I promised I haven't done any edits on this text whatsoever. This is exactly what is coming out of me speaking into the microphone, and speaking at a regular, fast, pace. For a quiet night touch typist like myself, (can you guess what I really said, instead of quiet night?) Dictation often have less typos than when I type.

There are two things you need to do before you can get stuck into dictation. First you need to train your software. You'll see this commonly referred to as training your Dragon, primarily because the leading dictation software is Dragon naturally speaking, by Nuance. Dragon software comes with training programs, Liddell versus and exercises that you can speak so that Dragon can learn the peculiarities of your voice. It's a painless process. Don't skip this step, because the better train your Dragon is, the better the results you get. As you can see, my dragon is trained to more than 90% effectiveness.

The second thing you need to train is yourself. Take the time to persevere. It will be slow and frustrating at first. Don't give up like I did the first time I tried this. Except that you will be slow in your writing, and make more mistakes, and so you begin to forge new pathways in your brain between your thought processes and your speech. Then you will achieve a much more natural flow between thinking up ideas and getting them onto the page by dictation.

There's another advantage you have with dictation: you don't have to be in your computer. Dragon has a smart phone app that allows you to dictate on the go, perhaps during your commute or on our walk, and then you can sync that digital file to your computer later, and it will create all the text at once. And as you can see, you can do a lot more things but dictation than just write your book, such as writing blog posts, or emails.

His a few techie details for those that are interested. I'm using Dragon three for the Mac, which is actually a really old version of Dragon, but it still works perfectly well, even on the brand-new El Capitan OS X for the Mac. Of course there are Windows versions too. Many authors have bought expensive microphones, claiming, and rightfully so, that better mics lead to better results. I just use the free USB headset that came with Dragon, and as you can see it does the job extremely well.

If you are interested in dictation, feel free to email me, drop me a comment below, and I can recommend a really neat Facebook group, and you can also find several books about dictating using Dragon on Amazon. I'll drop out of dictation mode in a moment and provide a link to one such book. Dictate your book, by Monica Leonelle.

I hope this post inspires you to try dictation. I promise that I have done no editing on this post whatsoever, it's entirely what came out from my dictation. Good luck, and have fun!

Jul
27
2013
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Dictating your Novel

MicI’ve been experimenting with Dragon Dictate software. This is usually recognized to be the best commercially available speech recognition system and you can buy it for Windows or Mac for under $100. I wanted to see how difficult it would be to dictate my novel. Wouldn’t it be great to lay on the couch with a headset?

I was extremely impressed with the quality right out of the box. The software took me through a handful of short known sentences so it can tune to your voice. I could keep doing this for as long as I wanted and even go back later and train it in phrases that it repeatedly got wrong, but for the sake of laziness I decided to do the minimum amount of training. It did remarkably well with my English accent and the fact that I’m not a clear speaker.

I spoke at a normal conversational speed, just as if it were another person. It’s very natural. Typically nothing appeared on the screen until I said comma or period, or some other punctuation. The recognition engine likes to obtain the full context of a sentence or clause before translating, A fraction of a second later, the entire text appeared. I didn’t have to pause – I just kept going.

Let’s look at a couple of samples. I actually recorded myself speaking these snippets from my upcoming book, but chose not to include them since I sound horrible when recorded. Ugh!  Maybe I need elocution lessons – or a better mic

Here’s the text I read:

Moving faster than a Djinn out of a bottle, one of the creatures leapt up onto the roof of a dormer window that overhung the street. Worn tiles slid and crashed to the ground. It sprang again, pushed off the wall and landed beside the man. Talon-like fingernails flashed in the lantern light, and the wight raked the man’s forearm, shredding it.

And here’s how it emerged from Dragon Dictate:

Moving faster than a gene out of a bottle, one of the creatures leapt up onto the roof of a dorm window that overhung the street. One tile Slate and crashed to the ground. It sprang again, pushed off the wall and landed beside the man. Talent like fingernails flashed in the lantern light, and the white rate to the man’s forearm, shredding it.

Not bad! You can see exactly why it went wrong, largely because of a lack of knowledge of a creature called a wight and the pronunciation of a couple of words.

 

Here’s another sample:

“I want to be a necromancer.” Her eyes locked on mine.

“Right. Do you even know what one is?”

She rolled her eyes. “Everyone knows what you do, though I bet only half of the stories are true.”

“It’s dirty and dangerous and not at all becoming for a girl.”

 

And how it came out:

 ”I want to be a necromancer.” Her eyes locked on mine.

“Right. Do you even know what one is?”

She rolled her eyes. “Everyone knows what to do, though I bet only half of the stories are true.”

“It’s dirty and dangerous and not at all coming for a girl.”

Almost completely perfect.

 

That second piece was trickier because I had to say open quote and close quote, and this is one of the things that made it awkward to use. After hours of practice,  I remembered most of the time (and went back and added the missing ones later), but it definitely broke my concentration. I had to say new line for paragraph breaks too. I could edit by telling it to select a word/phrase and then to replace or insert, but since I had to proofread it anyway, I found it easier to make fixes using the keyboard. It was fun dictating a page or so and then going back to clean it up, but it definitely took discipline.

This leads to my final point. Apart from the overhead of the extra words (which I think could be overcome after days or weeks of practice), I just couldn’t think verbally. Neural pathways have been strengthened between the creative parts of my brain and my fingers, and that’s how I have trained my body to write. It just wasn’t natural to dictate. I had expected it to be like having a conversation, but I suspect that during the act of transcribing our creativity, our eyes are subtly scanning the paragraph and lines we have written to retain context – sort of keep our mental place. Dictating took more conscious effort (perhaps because it’s unnatural) and I regularly lost my place or forgot what I had just said. I suspect this would be even worse if I had attempted to dictate into my iPhone away from my computer, without the visual cue of the screen.

So much for my dream of dictating my novel on my drive to work.

I have however found the perfect use for it. For me, it works great when I want to describe setting and mood. I put on my headset, close my eyes and just say what I picture in my mind. It works great for description like that. Dialog, not so much.

 

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