Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Voice recognition software and my novel

I have a lot of explaining to do about what's been going on with my writing the last few months. Another time, perhaps. I have been writing, I promise.

I have not been typing, though.I've been using a voice recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking eleven.

Starting from right here, in fact, I'm going to use it to dictate and edit this blog entry.

It definitely takes some getting used to. I got it to help me save time and effort typing in my handwritten manuscript. My usual way working is to write longhand and then to start my edits by typing it into the computer. The software isn't really designed for that purpose — it's more for the kind of dictating that professionals use in medical offices and legal offices, and a lot of the examples in the promotion materials and instructions have to do with dictating e-mail. When you're using it that way, similar to how I'm using it now, it really requires that you compose a complete sentence or a complete phrase at least in your head before you begin to speak. That doesn't sound much like much, but once you try it you realize it really is a different way of composing. I assume it would take some getting used to enough not sure I could do it. I know that some people use software to actually compose new fiction this way. (I believe I read an interview with Richard Powers the said he used this kind of software for drafting his most recent books.)

So, in a way, what I'm using it for perhaps is even more effective. The thoughts are already composed, pretty well I hope, on paper, and I just have to read them aloud. However, one drawback is that it doesn't seem really suited for dictating dialogue. One of the inevitable drawbacks of this kind of softwareis that you have to pronounce aloud all the punctuation and formatting commands. That includes periods and commas, which applies to almost anybody and any use of this software. And it includes starting a new line and entering quote marks, which a fiction writer has a lot more of that other users perhaps. Rita couple pages of dialogue allowed while pronouncing every new line and quote Mark, and you'll see that it can be pretty tiresome.

Still, I think that the software is saving me a measurable amount of time on my particular process.I ran a test— one hour of typing and one hour of dictating – and I think I increased the speed by about 14% using the software. That's measuring my fastest typing speed against relatively amateur use of the software. I assume that all get faster at it as I get used to it. Comparing the errors in each version is a little bit more subjective, but I believe they will require similar amount of correction.

The require different kinds of correction, though. Most of the errors that come from typing are a result of typing too fast and my word processor marks them as spelling errors, so they are easy to spot. The software, however, won't allow itself to make a spelling error. Instead, it makes it choice inputs and something that is at least spelled correctly. So, for example, and that last sentence, it input the word inputs when I said "and puts." That error will be harder for me to find, because it is not flagged as a spelling error. In some cases, what results is so nonsensical that I can't figure out what I actually said originally, so I have to flip back through my manuscript and find before I could correct it.

Still, I think it will keep trying to use it for this purpose.

There are several other ways in which it has been frustrating, but I think a lot of that will diminish with practice and as I develop strategies to use it more effectively.

For example, I think that I will end up using a combination of dictating and typing. I find that if I at least keep my hand on the mouse while I am reading from my manuscript I can quickly correct errors as they are made. More aggressively, when he came to the long passages of dialogue I have experimented with keeping my fingers in the home position on the keyboard and typing the quote marks and the hard returns (enter key) and dictating the actual speech. This saved my voice a lot, I think. Also, as I used it more I found faster and faster ways to make corrections. For example, it's pretty good at getting vocabulary right, but it often doesn't get capitalization right. Especially in dialogue. The formatting for dialogue and fiction follows different capitalization rules then in other writing styles, so I had to go back and capitalize a lot of words, and I eventually discovered some quicker ways for doing that. (Dragon should think about allowing a setting that would make this come out right to begin with.)

I don't think I mentioned at the beginning – and I don't have confidence in my ability to use this to go back and enter this word makes more sense like I would do if I were typing them –that I use this for a lot more than just the one hour test. I estimate it was about ninety pages of typescript that I dictated over a few days last week. Maybe about 20,000 words.

Okay, going to finish now and leave this raw. I made minor edits as I went along, but I have not gone back to read this and correct errors that I did not notice as I was going along. This took me about 15 min. to compose this way. I'll report more when I know more!