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Not Sure Yet. Maybe Next Week?

So here we are. If only I knew where that was. Or do I mean where that were? And even if I do (did?), you might reasonably ask why I bother. Oh, this post isn’t about a new release.  If you were wondering. Instead…

WARNING: This is a nuts-and-bolts kind of post, or it would be if nuts and bolts had a tendency to hang up in mid-air, and it’s very likely dealing with a bunch of goofy and unrealistic expectations. And badly at that. Read at your own risk. Or, if possible, have your computer read it to you. That would be at least semi-appropriate.

Lots of goals going on in my neck of the woods. Lots of aspirations. Lots of hoping. Mainly, though, I just want to make sense. And it’s harder than you might think–though of course that may be a result of a peculiar mind. Meaning, of course, mine. ’Cause frankly I can’t tell what’s what anymore.

Here are the issues I’m currently allowing to take over said brain:

  • I want to write new fiction on a regular basis.
  • I want to learn to dictate that fiction.
  • I want to dictate that fiction remotely, without being remotely near a computer.
  • I want to use software for transcription–meaning that I don’t want to have to hire or train someone to transcribe my dictation.

Frankly I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I am dictating this, right now. But…I’m having trouble with the dictating-new-fiction bit. It works, but it’s very slow. And even making the attempt may well be flying in the face of lessons I would like to think I’ve learned about writing fiction. To wit:

  • I generate fiction much more quickly when I don’t stop to edit as I go. Weird tricks such as unreadable fonts and an audibly ticking timer encourage me to rush forward.
  • I seem to generate better fiction when I write more quickly. I’m constantly amazed at how few typos I create. And the story moves quickly, in more than one sense,  possibly because I’m focusing on just that: the story. Rather than the words or other odd characters (?) thereof.
  • Dean Wesley Smith, among others, writes about the creative mind versus the critical mind. The idea seems to be that we can operate either one way, or the other.  Thus, we shouldst not mix our editing-crap activities with our writing-crap mission. All of my experimenting thus far seems to back this up.

So…what’s the problem? Here it is: as I dictate, I have to verbalize punctuation marks. Hmm.

Okay, that was fun to say (rather than type, and how’s this for a bit of extraneous punctuation?), but there may actually be something worse than the obvious awkwardness involved here. Verbalizing punctuation, and thus visualizing individual sentences, definitely slows me down, which is at least a mild problem. But it may be that even thinking about punctuation interrupts the creative flow–which, yeah, it clearly does–but in a way that is not actually amenable to training.

For contrast: when I blindly type a story, as quickly as I can, I’m not thinking about sentences at all. I’m thinking about the story. About what’s happening at the moment, and what might be happening next. So…clearly this means my fingers are well-trained to manage the details for me. I am therefore considering two possibilities:

  1. This (by which I mean dictating sentences, punctuation and all) is a new skill, and it will take time to learn to do it well.
  2. All this fussing with the details of punctuation means what I’m trying to do is fundamentally stupid, and I should therefore quit messing with it as soon as possible.

I guess a reasonable person might at this point ask: what’s the point? Why even bother with all this? And I’m not sure I have a good answer.

I really, really want to teach myself to write fiction in some setting other than sitting at my desk. I love the idea of wandering down a trail and muttering into a microphone. But does this make sense at all? Wouldn’t learning to dictate while hiking be yet another new skill?  And don’t I live in a freaking rain forest? So…what kind of equipment do I expect to use, exactly?  A waterproof microphone? Plus a waterproof recorder? Am I in fact doing this only for the new-toy factor? Because: yes…I’m like that. Sometimes.

FWIW, I have figured some of this out. I use an Android tablet rather than a dedicated recorder. I use software called “DictaDroid,” after experimenting with approximately 10 alternatives. I use a Plantronics USB headset. When I dictate as I stand at the large-type (?) computer, the transcription software works very very well. It’s getting a lot better at transcribing my recordings too. But the limiting factor doesn’t appear to be hardware or software except in the sense that software doesn’t usefully handle punctuation for me–the problem is me.

And it’s extraordinarily stupid of me to let this become an issue just now. For Crom’s sake, I only recently figured out how to write new fiction, both quickly and regularly. Or, actually, either. It’s a mind-blowing level of success. And yet I’m messing with it. Instead of using it.

Yes, I got sick and the fever did strange things to my mind. But no, I don’t have a fever now. Except metaphorically.

Am I asking too much, not only of myself but also of the world of possibilities? Am I essentially being a spoiled brat? Is it just that proceeding to write normally is too much like, for God’s sake, work? Maybe so.

OTOH, if this works…well, maybe I’ll be very happy. Or maybe I’ll use it as an excuse to go off on another ridiculous adventure of some sort. Maybe this sort of reality-denying behavior is endemic to writers of fiction.

Beats me, folks. I’m giving myself through Friday of this week to figure it out. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, have fun out there. Or else I may punctuate you unmercifully.

Published inPersonalPublishingTechnobabble


  1. Maybe consider non-sentence-ending punctuation as an editing task, rather than a writing task? I’ve not used dictation software before, so I have no idea if that would work or not. But maybe if you only enunciate the sentence-ending punctuation that would help your creative flow, and then you can go back later to add the mid-sentence punctuation when you do your first editing pass. Just a thought that may or may not be in any way helpful. 🙂

    • David

      Ah, the sweet voice of reason! It’s probably a brilliant suggestion, actually. I may just be trying too hard. Even if I end up including punctuation as I compose verbally, I don’t necessarily have to do it that way to start with. So I think you’ve changed my plan for the rest of the day. Thanks!

      Thing is…I want to figure out not only a way to do this that works, but a way that’s actually better/faster than typing. Which is probably dumb of me, but it’s how my brain works.

      Assuming, arguendo, that this is a reasonable goal? Editing to put in punctuation takes lots of time. Especially stuff like adding quotation marks, you know? And the software makes editing (verbally) both easy and hard. I can say stuff like “Select ‘No way’ thru ‘period.’ Quote that.” (only without voicing any of the interior punctuation in this case), and it works. But…it uses straight quotes when I use that command, and I need ’em to be curly. I’ve modified the software to use curly quotes when I say “open quote” or “close quote,” but for the all-in-one command? No dice. So that means I need to figure out automated rules for straight-quote replacement, right? Which I can totally do, and then ignore the issue until I finish a draft. Just as soon as I force myself to give up on getting it right the first time. {8’>

      This stuff bugs me, is all, and I should get over it. Or I should rewrite that command within the software, which is actually possible–but I think doing so will require me to pay another couple of hundred bucks for the “pro” edition.

      There are other things that don’t quite work for fiction writers. The software thinks paragraphs should be followed by two carriage returns. This matters, ’cause if I either change the “new para” command to use one carriage return or use the “new line” command instead (either approach is fairly easy) and then try a command like “select paragraph”? It then selects the entire document. This glitch alone messes up a surprising number of commands, actually. So this means I need to either rewrite a lot of commands or just do a post-processing carriage-return removal.

      There are other issues–basically I think the software works a lot better for writing email than writing fiction, and definitely takes a non-pro approach to spacing before and after some punctuation (though I’ve managed to fix these issues so far). It surprises me that it’s so backward with this basic stuff, while simultaneously so good at the hard part (meaning voice recognition).

      Actually the software will put in commas and periods (only) for me if I want it to. Which would be a nice feature if they were anything close to reasonably placed. Though it does yield amusing results, so if I’m writing self-referential comedy it may turn out to be a nice feature.

      So…either I need to teach myself to voice the punctuation, or I need to spend lots of time editing, or I need to get the software to do a few things better, or I need another solution (short of giving up, I mean). My most likely solution is to dictate everything as plain text, and write an app that will do a lot of my formatting for me afterward (meaning it could fix straight quotes, fix double carriage returns, curlify straight apostrophes, and possibly deal with capitalization issues and end-of-paragraph punctuation I may have left out).

      Theoretically I could dictate and create an RTF doc, which would then remember stuff like italics, but…that’d be harder to code my first-pass editing app to deal with. And what the heck, adding italics later is fairly easy and doesn’t come up all that often. Other than italicization, plain-text is probably all I need.

      Then there are other issues that have come up–the software occasionally crashes, and if I’m doing my editing (or dictating!) in its dedicated word processor that means I lose whatever hasn’t been saved. And there’s no auto-save feature. If I’m doing my (voice) editing in another app, that means a lot of the (awfully convenient!) voice commands don’t work very well.

      So…I guess these are all just workflow issues, really, and I should figure them out somehow but probably separate that from the learning-to-dictate-fiction bit. Just as you suggested.

      Thank you! {8’>

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