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Talk About Talking

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(@martin-l-shoemaker)
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I want to open a discussion on dictation. I dictate all of my writing these days, fiction and nonfiction. It's a viable technique, but with a learning curve like any other. With practice, it has led me to a steady productivity of 3,000 words per hour (with rare bursts of 6,000). A first draft of a novel is about 30 hours for me. The biggest barrier for me now is how many hours I put in.

Is it for everybody? Maybe not; but don't assume it's not for you. I didn't dictate 3,000 words per hour on day one. I was forced to stick with it until I got good at it. I'm here to tell you it gets better with practice.

And like with any writing tool, different writers will approach it in different ways. Contest judge Kevin J. Anderson dictates differently than I do. You'll find your own way if you stick with it.

But I wanted to start by giving you an example of how I dictate. This is a real example from this week...

On Sunday, I left ConFusion in Novi MI. I had sneezes and sniffles, so I left early out of consideration for others. (I'm fine.) So I resolved to get some use out of the driving time by catching up on some dictation. After I brushed the snow off my Jeep (the Aldrin Express), I got in and started the engine to get some heat. (We were under a winter storm advisory, and I was cold!)

Then I put on my Sennheiser ME3 cardioid microphone. The Sennheiser isn't what I recommend these days because of some connector issues (but it's a good microphone). I do recommend a cardioid mic. That means it enhances sound from the direction of your mouth, and suppresses sound from all other directions. It makes very clean recordings.

I plugged the mic into my Zoom F1 recorder. The F1 is high end, nearly professional. I got it largely because it works well with the Sennheiser mic cable. You might do just as well with a consumer recorder, but I'm happy with the F1 (though it positively drinks batteries).

Then I plugged the recorder into the AUX port of the Aldrin, and I turned the volume up. I like it just loud enough that O can hear my words as I dictate them. Sometimes if you have a bad connection or interference, you can dictate a lot of unintelligible noise. Listening through the AUX port has helped me avoid that.

Then I push the RECORD button on the F1. It makes an audible beep. I like that. I have had recorders that give you no indication when you're successfully recording.

And then I put the Aldrin in gear and started driving.

In a winter storm advisory...

You might expect that to slow me down, but it didn't. It took me an hour to drive out of the storm; and over that hour, I averaged 50 words per minute. That's better than I usually get when driving. For the trip as a whole, I dictated 6,108 words in 130.4 minutes, or 46.8 words per minute. This was broken into 4 files, roughly at scene or chapter breaks. I could've used a single file. I can't really explain why I broke up the session, I just did.

What did I dictate? Chapters 3 and 4 (and maybe 5) of Side by Side, my current novel. I'm mostly a pantser. I have some ideas where I want part 1 of the book to end, but I have no idea exactly what will happen. I just knew what had already happened in chapters 1 and 2, and I had ideas for the next two scenes. I started dictating those, and then I just kept going until I stopped for groceries near home.

When I got home, I used a USB cable to connect the F1 to my Surface, and I copied the four files over. From old habit, I always copy the files into two places: one folder for the Work In Progress, and one folder just called Dictation.

Then I launched Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional 15. (Professional is important for my process. The cheaper Home version won't transcribe files. It only transcribes while you speak.) One at a time, I transcribed each file. The result is a Rich Text Format (RTF) file that you can open in Word; but you can also open it in DragonPad, a special word processor that comes with Dragon and allows you to edit by voice. I never do, but you might consider it: editing a transcribed file in DragonPad can improve Dragon's accuracy. I'm happy with the accuracy as it is, so I just let Dragon open the file in DragonPad, and then I copy and paste the text into my Word doc (in proper SMF). Then I move the audio file, the RTF file, and a DRG file (that contains recognition data) into a Listened to folder, and I move onto the next file. When I'm all done, I start the cleanup process.

How does it look? It's a good first draft. Here's a sample:


Meanwhile, the kid continued, mentor had his suspicions that somehow organized crime was taking up the arts. He investigated that, before he… Again I saw his eyes clench back tears. Then he continued, I knew that much, and it started me studying the gangs and forces both here in the Midwest, and across the country in the world.

The world? Prohibition is only here in the US.

He shook his head. It's larger than that, but that's not what I mean. The opportunities that it creates, for commerce and power, spread across the world in ways that are in lines that are often difficult to track. Much like my lensing – – the way I bent the light down in the wine cellar – – these lines of power passing between artists and targets are not straight in the geography of the world around us. They are difficult to trace. If you cannot work with higher dimensions. So it was a complex study of businesses that were illicit in one country and legitimate in another. Even government run. In some cases. I am, I was… Continuing that study as best I could. When I saw this convergence of threads on the estate of a purple gang chief. Trouble was coming.


Dragon encourages you to speak your punctuation. That seems awkward at first, but you get used to it. I skip quotation marks, though.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : January 27, 2022 11:21 pm
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Posts: 837
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The idea of doing this does fascinate me, and I wonder how well it would work for me. On one hand, I feel like my natural way of writing wouldn't translate as well to this--but at the same time, there are spells where the words and phrases that I had in my head just somehow don't quite type out the way that I was hearing or thinking them, and something ends up getting lost. I think I'd be very curious to give this a go, and see what kind of results I might get.

That being said, there's definitely a cost outlay to doing it all this way, especially with pro or near-pro software and equipment--not an insurmountable one, but definitely a goodly chunk to consider for a maybe without any experience of trying it out as an approach. I think I'd love it if I was still doing a lot of commuter driving, and I could definitely see the advantage of the setup you've described here for that purpose. Once you're used to dictating, I think it'd pay itself back tenfold in little time at all. But I'm a working-from-home chap these days, which gives me some different options--and I find myself keen to look into some alternatives that may allow me to try out writing-by-dictation on more of a budget.

Because I can probably better control the environment and noise than I could in a car, I wouldn't need to worry as much about hardware, at least at first, I hope (though I'm tempted by looking into a cardioid mic anyway, as those seem like they'd do double duty in support of things other than writing by dictation). But on the software front, I dug around and found some alternatives that I could use to at least try this out. Dragon Professional appears to be the best dictation software out there, but not cheap, by any stretch--these options, meanwhile, have a free version available, and both are pretty well reviewed. So I'm optimistic that they may be great to let someone try it out, and see if it's for them.

The first of those is Otter (Otter.ai), and the second is Braina, and I have no idea which one I'll prefer, so I'll likely get both on their free version and see how they shake out. I can pair that with the hardware I already have at my writing station, and use all of this to put together a kind of mickey-mouse trial, and see if this kind of approach may be something I'd like to think about investing more effort or money into later.

It does sound like it has the potential to be a wonderful way to get first drafts down, probably doubly so if it lets you write while you'd otherwise be occupied (the same kind of time that commuter-me used to fill with audiobooks). I don't know how much I'll like it for home use, but I'll at least give it a whirl, and see what I find. 

 

DQ:0 / R:0 / RWC:0 / HM:15 / SHM:7 / SF:1 / F:1
Published prior WotF entries: PodCastle, HFQ, Abyss & Apex
Currently on a writing hiatus

 
Posted : January 28, 2022 1:54 am
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
Posts: 2146
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Those are some good alternatives. Thanks!

Cost is a concern, though it's easy to justify in the long run. Human transcription through iDictate.com is an excellent service, the best value I've found at 1.25 cents per word. I highly recommend them if you need transcription of audio that you can't transcribe with software. But the 6,100 words I dictated in two hours on Sunday would cost me $76.25 to transcribe. That adds up! I spent $1,100 to transcribe my first published novel.

Dragon has, sadly, raised their prices. (But keep an eye out for sales.) Even with that, and with my Zoom F1 and Sennheiser mic, my investment would be around $900. In the long run, that's still less than I paid to transcribe my novel. It's about the cost of 72,000 words. At my current rate of productivity, that's 24 hours of dictation.

But knowing it pays for itself in the end doesn't make it easy to pay for up front! I understand that.

As far as free alternatives, there's another one that many people already have, though it only transcribes as you talk, not from recorded files: Microsoft Word. Transcription has been built into Word for nearly two decades, but most people don't know it. As of last year, I believe it's also available on Word for Mac.

And another free option is Windows itself, built in since Windows Vista. Again, many people don't realize it's there. I believe similar functionality is on iOS and Mac. Again, these only transcribe as you talk. They don't transcribe recorded audio.

If your environment is relatively quiet, you can get by with a cheaper microphone, even just what's built into your computer. Cell phones have great microphones (though not as good as a cardioid for noise elimination). There are also cell phone apps for dictation, some free, some with a fixed price per month.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : January 28, 2022 3:56 am
pdblake
(@pdblake)
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I think it's my Yorkshire accent and maybe the fact that I'm using Word XP (yeah that old), but I just tried out the speech option by reciting the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

 

Word heard:

Very than quite how can a family man moral film about 1/4 on low

I think I'll stick to typing for now. giggle  

 

 

ETA: While I had Word open I wrote 1k words that normally wouldn't have been written that time of day, so it helped after all. grinning  

R:6 RWC:1 HM:9 SHM:3
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Small Gods and Little Demons - Parsec Issue #10

 
Posted : January 28, 2022 5:03 am
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
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Posted by: @pdblake

I think it's my Yorkshire accent and maybe the fact that I'm using Word XP (yeah that old), but I just tried out the speech option by reciting the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

 

Word heard:

Very than quite how can a family man moral film about 1/4 on low

I think I'll stick to typing for now. giggle  

 

 

ETA: While I had Word open I wrote 1k words that normally wouldn't have been written that time of day, so it helped after all. grinning  

One of the ways in which Dragon excels is its wide selection of accents.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : January 28, 2022 6:30 am
(@morgan-broadhead)
Posts: 453
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Posted by: @pdblake

I think it's my Yorkshire accent and maybe the fact that I'm using Word XP (yeah that old), but I just tried out the speech option by reciting the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

 

Word heard:

Very than quite how can a family man moral film about 1/4 on low

I think I'll stick to typing for now. giggle  

 

 

ETA: While I had Word open I wrote 1k words that normally wouldn't have been written that time of day, so it helped after all. grinning  

OMG that is hilarious! laughing   Funny/not funny.

 

"You can either sit here and write, or you can sit here and do nothing. But you can’t sit here and do anything else."
— Neil Gaiman, Masterclass

Drop me a line at https://morganbroadhead.com
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Posted : January 28, 2022 6:48 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
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I want to try this someday, when the twins are older/in school and can't randomly shriek into my microphone. laughing I suppose I could try it when they're napping, now, if it weren't for the cost thing. (All my spare writing money this year--and then some--is invested in Superstars.) Maybe next year, after taxes...

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain
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Posted : January 28, 2022 11:11 am
storysinger reacted
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
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Posted by: @disgruntledpeony

I want to try this someday, when the twins are older/in school and can't randomly shriek into my microphone. laughing I suppose I could try it when they're napping, now, if it weren't for the cost thing. (All my spare writing money this year--and then some--is invested in Superstars.) Maybe next year, after taxes...

This is where a good cardioid microphone makes a big difference. It won’t pick up the shrieks!

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : January 28, 2022 11:34 am
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Posts: 837
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Posted by: @pdblake

I think it's my Yorkshire accent and maybe the fact that I'm using Word XP (yeah that old), but I just tried out the speech option by reciting the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

 

Word heard:

Very than quite how can a family man moral film about 1/4 on low

I think I'll stick to typing for now. giggle  

 

ETA: While I had Word open I wrote 1k words that normally wouldn't have been written that time of day, so it helped after all. grinning  

Oh, this should be interesting...I have a wandering accent, painted with a Californian colour these days, but rooted in a Durham accent that occasionally drifts in a Sunderland direction. Honestly I want to try this now, just to see what it makes of me...

DQ:0 / R:0 / RWC:0 / HM:15 / SHM:7 / SF:1 / F:1
Published prior WotF entries: PodCastle, HFQ, Abyss & Apex
Currently on a writing hiatus

 
Posted : January 28, 2022 11:37 am
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Posts: 837
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Posted by: @martin-l-shoemaker

But knowing it pays for itself in the end doesn't make it easy to pay for up front! I understand that.

Definitely! If I was already recording and transcribing my work, I think the cost wouldn't be off putting, but when it's something I still need to try out, it'd be a lot to drop and then find out that it didn't work well for me.

I'll definitely add Word to my list of software to try out, though, if only for the added fun. (Autocorrect tried to change that to Weird, and I wonder how wrong it really is...)

DQ:0 / R:0 / RWC:0 / HM:15 / SHM:7 / SF:1 / F:1
Published prior WotF entries: PodCastle, HFQ, Abyss & Apex
Currently on a writing hiatus

 
Posted : January 28, 2022 11:43 am
storysinger
(@storysinger)
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This discussion is very helpful. When I decided I could learn to be a competent writer I turned to a Dragon program.

At that time, I used my index fingers to type, it was vewy, vewy, slow. Learning to use Dragon sped my writing up exponentially. 

After a couple of years, I got so frustrated at the constant misheard words, when I had to backtrack and correct each instance, I learned to type.

Now I write without the distraction of misheard words, but my word count is way less than it was with Dragon.

It might be I need to upgrade to Dragon Professional and give it another shot. Thanks for the heads up on that Martin. shades  

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
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Posted : January 29, 2022 6:36 am
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
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I ran through testing some of these yesterday evening, and... 

- My version of Word (2016) doesn't support dictation. They trialled a plugin for it, but then only rolled it out for Office 365--and even if you can find the plugin (which I did, after searching), you actually need an Office 365 subscription for it to work. So while it's available in older versions and in the latest one, I have struck upon an unfortunate no-man's-land with the version I currently have.

- Braina might work well as a dictation tool, but not the free version--it'll dictate into your app (eg, into Word) if you have a pro subscription, but the free version is limited. Dictation isn't really its primary purpose (it's more a kind of independent voice control app), but it did look to do a decent job when I tried it out.

- Otter.ai is not bad. It looks like it's mainly intended for transcribing meetings (and reflects that in its structure), but the free version allows for 600 minutes, so whether or not I want to use it long-term, it's probably my best option for trying out writing-by-transcription.

DQ:0 / R:0 / RWC:0 / HM:15 / SHM:7 / SF:1 / F:1
Published prior WotF entries: PodCastle, HFQ, Abyss & Apex
Currently on a writing hiatus

 
Posted : January 29, 2022 1:50 pm
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
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I love Dragon, but I think it's a marketing mistake that they don't offer a free trial.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : January 29, 2022 7:46 pm
James (Ease)
(@ease)
Posts: 485
Gold Star Member
 

I used Otter.ai on my previous phone, an iPhone. No fancy hardware, just connected my phone to my car and started the app and spoke while I drove. It's accuracy was amazing (though I found I had to Americanize my British for really good accuracy). My only hiccup was fantasy names... So I picked common modern names to substitute, and then just Find And Replace when I get to the files on my computer.

It blew my mind how much I could do completely for free.

Still deciding on a replacement app now that I've switched to Android.

VOL 40 2nd Quarter: Third Place ("Ashes to Ashes, Blood to Carbonfiber")
Past submissions: R - HM - HM - HM - HM - HM - SHM - SHM
www.jd-writes.com

 
Posted : January 30, 2022 8:06 am
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
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@ease Just to note, Otter is available on Android--I tried it out initially using a web-only interface on my laptop, but was planning to give the app a go as well. I have it installed, but haven't tried it out yet.

DQ:0 / R:0 / RWC:0 / HM:15 / SHM:7 / SF:1 / F:1
Published prior WotF entries: PodCastle, HFQ, Abyss & Apex
Currently on a writing hiatus

 
Posted : January 30, 2022 3:29 pm
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Posts: 837
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@martin-l-shoemaker I think Dragon trades somewhat on historical reputation. For a long time, it was the only decent transcription software out there, so it wasn't like they needed to push against anyone else's competition significantly. It's a little different now, but established companies can be slow to change strategies--and sometimes are so slow that they end up disappearing.

DQ:0 / R:0 / RWC:0 / HM:15 / SHM:7 / SF:1 / F:1
Published prior WotF entries: PodCastle, HFQ, Abyss & Apex
Currently on a writing hiatus

 
Posted : January 30, 2022 3:31 pm
James (Ease)
(@ease)
Posts: 485
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Thanks Doc. I actually had a look today and saw it was an option! Will try it out and see if it's as good as the Apple version.

VOL 40 2nd Quarter: Third Place ("Ashes to Ashes, Blood to Carbonfiber")
Past submissions: R - HM - HM - HM - HM - HM - SHM - SHM
www.jd-writes.com

 
Posted : January 30, 2022 6:24 pm
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