Somewhere back in the late 1900s, machines began to be developed to aid in dictation. At first it wasn’t very good at all. Most decent typists could out-type the dictation machines of the time, making it useless for most computer users. As personal computers didn’t really appear widespread until around 1980, the dictation software was pretty lame.
Then around the mid-2000’s the dictation software got better and better. It still had its problems, but we could see that soon we were going to talk to our computers and have our words appear flawlessly.
I remember an episode of Star Trek, the original series, where I believe it was Capt. Kirk sitting down at a keyboard and started talking, and it typed out every word he spoke. I may be wrong about that, but I remember it driving him crazy because it typed every word he said, including the ones he didn’t mean. Even though he was in the twenty-fourth century, so to speak, it was amazing to him to see his words appear like that.
Then around 2015 or thereabouts, the software started to get really good. Now, Dragon Naturally Speaking came out in 1977 and as stated before, it was hit or miss for accuracy. But within the last five or six years there has been a marked increase in the program’s ability to understand what you’re saying and get it on the screen perfectly.
What I want to go over today is how to train your Dragon. I have talked to many people about using this software and have heard all kinds of stories about how they couldn’t get it to work and they just gave up on it. So let me go over what I think is the proper way to learn to use DNS.
First, train yourself to use the program. You can’t train your dragon until you know what your dragon is capable of. It is not something you will take to right out of the box, unless you’ve had prior experience using dictation software. I know some people have used small dictation recorders in the past and that can be helpful, but sometimes it can also hurt.
So how do you train yourself to use the program?
First, start by learning to use the program and all its commands.
The easiest way to do that I found was to read four or five chapters of my favorite book into the dictation software. I chose Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. I read four or five chapters of the book, using punctuation and all the commands that were needed to make what appeared on the computer screen, look just like what was in the book. Sometimes it was hard, not knowing the commands by heart, but by the time I reached the third or fourth chapter I knew the program inside and out. Use the cheat sheets to learn the program.
After you have reached the point where you are comfortable using the program without the command cheat sheet, it will be time to use it to dictate your stories.
But hold on there! The first problem people will run into is they try to dictate a story that is much too long. They try to jump into the middle of their 100,000 word magnum opus and find it not as easy as when they were reading someone else’s words. This is the biggest mistake most people make when they first pull the software out of the box and install it on their system. They bite off too big a project before they have become comfortable telling the story verbally.
We are born storytellers. Humans have been doing it since humans began. Some of us will need a little practice to get back into the swing of things.
What I suggest is finding a writing prompt that catches your fancy, but find something that you can write out in about 500 words.
One place I find writing prompts is the Reddit.com writing prompt sub-reddit. There will be hundreds of writing prompts go through there every single day and you should be able to find at least one that will appeal to you.
Start with 500 words. Most people can speak 500 words in just a couple of minutes, but if you’re trying to tell your story off the cuff, it may take you considerably longer. But that’s okay. As you get more and more comfortable using the software and telling your stories, your speed will pick up.
You may find it helpful to jot down a VERY brief outline or cheat sheet to cover the topics you want to say.
After you become comfortable at 500 words, and I would suggest writing three or four 500 word stories, step it up to 1000 words. Do three or four at 1000 words each. Then move up to 2500 words. This may take you a week or more to get through this. Do not do it all in one day. What you will find is, once you can speak your story comfortably, it will become easy to spit out 5000 to 10,000 words in an hour.
Now, you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to start doing your novel.
I would suggest that you take breaks during the dictation. Work for ten minutes and then take a five minute break. Do not try to dictate an entire chapter in one go. If you work for ten minutes, then take five minutes and continue this way, you’re going to find that you can put many thousands of words on the screen every hour. But it will take time for you to reach the point where you can go for thirty minutes or more without a break.
That brings up one point that needs to be made, and that is to keep some water handy so that you can take a drink and keep your voice in good shape. Trying to speak for long periods of time will dry out your mouth. That is why you see public speakers keeping a glass or bottle of water right at the lecturn.
As with anything like this, it will be difficult at the beginning, unless you’re one of those that has always been good at telling stories verbally. But, with time, you will find this method of getting your words down will become almost magical.
Now some quick ninja tips.
Try not to pay too much attention to what is on the screen when you are dictating. One thing that will slow you down more than anything else is to be speeding right along with your dictation and mess up a word or a sentence, and you stop and go back to fix it. Try to keep your editing to an absolute minimum while you are dictating. It would be best if you didn’t do any editing at all during this time.
One of my favorite tricks is to turn around and face away from the computer while I’m dictating. That way I can’t see any mistakes that might come up, and I will fix them later when I do my editing.
As for the editing, I would advise you to do your editing almost immediately after you finish a dictation session. Now I don’t mean to do a full line-by-line copy edit or anything like that. But what you need to do is just read through what you dictated and make sure that it makes sense.
I don’t know how many times I’ve done a dictation session, finished it up and turned off the software and didn’t look at my results until one or two days later. What you will find if you do this is sentences and words that make no sense to you whatsoever. You cannot remember what it was you were trying to say. It’s best to do a quick read through and edit immediately after you finish the dictation session.
And last, do not expect to dictate publish-ready words. You will find as you go along that you don’t tell the story verbally the same way you would if you were typing it. There will be errors, there will be lots of things that need to be changed before you could ever think of publishing the words. What I find this dictation software good for is getting my story on the page as quickly as I can. I know there’s going to be mistakes, I know I will need to rewrite parts of the story, but I will have gotten it down as fast as I could.
Just as an example, this blog post is being written with Dragon Naturally Speaking. I’ve been speaking now for about forty minutes and I am sure I am going to spend probably about thirty minutes editing and then it will be ready to put up on the blog.
One last thought about this software. If some of you have already looked at it online, maybe at the Dragon Naturally Speaking website, you’ve probably suffered some sticker shock when you saw the price. Let me give you a little advice to help with that. I bought this copy of DNS a couple of years ago off eBay and I paid twenty dollars for it. It was not the latest version (ver. 12), it was a couple of versions older than the newest version, but it was brand new, still in its wrapping, and it could be registered. It is the home version and it came with a headset microphone that I used for quite awhile. Now I use a nice set of gaming headphones with microphone and it’s perfect. The home version of this software will probably do everything you need it to do.
I have looked at the higher-priced, current versions on the website and see that they are aimed more at the business user than those of us that write novels, and I am speaking as a novelist, not a non-fiction writer. I would venture to guess that most authors do not need all the bells and whistles that will come with the most current Professional version of the software. I have found nothing I needed to do that DNS could not do. So check for some new-in-box DNS packages on eBay and you will probably save well over $100. And it won’t be subscription software, you will own it.
If you have questions, please leave me a comment. I love the software; I love the fact that it is saving my arthritic fingers and getting me back to putting out thousands of words a day instead of just a few hundred.
Take care and happy storytelling.