When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Start Dragon

Ever wonder what you'd do if you were suddenly incapacitated and unable to complete a deadline? After all, only a tiny minority of writers have disability insurance, and sugar daddies are in woefully short supply these days.

After injuring my dominant left arm and shoulder and finding myself unable to type, I quickly thought of a program I heard other writers discussing. Dragon NaturallySpeaking contains everything you need to get started with dictation. Included with the standard program you'll receive one microphone headset and a clear set of instructions to turn your computer into a voice recognition machine.

Yes, you will have to spend some time learning the software and training it to recognize your distinct voice. But within two hours of receiving the package, I was responding to e-mails and beginning work on my manuscript.

At first, Dragon was making many mistakes, and I was constantly forgetting the correct commands. However, in another day I was using the program almost effortlessly -- and that was under the influence of painkillers.

I've thought about trying out Dragon in the past, but I seriously doubted I could write creatively via dictation. However, when forced to make the transition, I found it far easier than expected. Yes, I still have to watch Dragon for mistakes and I'm new enough to the program that I'm forced to give it my full attention. I've also found it's a bit prudish about off-color language, but I'm equally determined to allow my characters to say what they want to say.

At the moment, I'm dictating this blog post. The only corrections I've made so far, outside of a couple of miscues, are the sort of normal tweaks I make any time I'm writing.

For certain, I'm writing much faster than I possibly could typing with one hand, and with far less frustration. I can definitely see why the software is popular among those with temporary or permanent disabilities. While I'm not sure I would've wanted to go through the bother and expense of learning and buying Dragon without a compelling reason, I'm definitely glad I have it now and would highly recommend it to anyone experiencing hand or eye problems.

My husband, a slow typist, is interested in training the software to his voice as well. I'll keep you posted on how that works out for him, though I'm betting without an injury to force him into it, he'll find it more frustrating than helpful.


Christie Craig said…

You are my hero. Nothing slows you down. Thanks for the info. I'm not sure I'll get it now, but you can bet if the need arises, I'll give it a shot.
Rhonda said…
Thanks for this blog Colleen. I've struggled for years with neck, shoulder and eye strain problems that cause me not to write on days that would otherwise be ideal. This may be something worth looking into for me.
Teri Thackston said…
It's good to hear about technology that works although I think I'd be a little uncomfortable dictating my work...I guess you get used to it, especially if no one else is around. But with your plots, Colleen, I'd be careful not to use this at Starbucks!
Suzan Harden said…
Glad to hear you're back in the groove, Colleen!
Ruth said…
Colleen, sorry to hear of your injury and glad that dragon speak works for you, I had the program a while back, just never did much with it, heck I can't even use the tape recorder- hate the sound of my voice being played back to me.
I'm glad a lot of you found this helpful. Teri, I can't imagine dictating in public. I'm way too shy for that. And anyway, dragons function well with background noise.
EmilyBryan said…
I love that you've jumped right back up, if not on the skateboard at least on the Dragon-style keyboard.

Happy Writing--however you get the words on the page!
Joni Rodgers said…
Wow, that's amazing. I tried to use Dragon to transcribe interviews, but because it trains to one voice/accent, it didn't do well on two or more speakers. They say it's being improved all the time.

Meanwhile, the technology boggles my mind. How on earth can that work?

It's all magic to me.

I do find that Dragon is boggled when I creatively use language. It's great for the straightforward stuff, but you don't want to go getting too poetic on it.

But it did just type my grocery shopping list, so I'm not complaining too much.

Hopefully, the software will continue improving to the point you can use it for multiple speakers.
Linda Warren said…
I'm so glad the software is working for you. You're a real trooper. Nothing keeps you down.
I'm thinking about giving it another try.
Bonnie Vanak said…
Colleen, so sorry to hear about your arm! But glad the software is working out well for you.

Thanks so much for posting your thoughts on it.

One question: Does it come with a digital tape recorder and if so, do you know if that works well, too? I've been debating buying this software for a while now.
Hi Bonnie,
Thanks for the warm thoughts.

There's a more expensive version that does contain a digital recorder. Or you can buy a digital recorder separately. I was thinking about doing that, but I like seeing the text as it appears so I can correct any errors. I wouldn't like to get too far ahead of myself before correcting the mistakes.
Jane said…
Colleen, I'm so sorry about your arm but so impressed with how you're handling it. Please let us know if you feel you still have your "voice" or if it changes a little with this new method.

Jane (Myers Perrine)
Hi, Jane,
Nice see you here and thanks for the kind words.

I've been surprised by how quickly I'm adjusting to Dragon. I never thought I'd be able to dictate my writing. Sometimes, however, my flow is interrupted by having to go back and correct errors. The software works great for normal dictation, but if I try to get too artsy, the program can't interpret words used in unusual ways. Still, I don't feel it's changed my voice, just made me more aware of what I'm writing.

I have found myself more eager to work and a little more engaged because I have to concentrate more closely on this new method. Since focus can sometimes be a problem for me, I consider this a asset.

Yesterday, I dictated five pages on my work in progress (which is a fairly normal writing day for me) and I'm still getting used to the program. In the coming days, I hope to increase my output and improve my productivity.
Eileen Wilks said…
Colleen, do you find any difference in your spoken voice and your written voice? I tried Dragon years ago, and it wasn't for me back then--mainly because I didn't have enough RAM for the program at the time. But I also found that I don't speak the same words, in the same rhythms, that I would write.

Or so it seemed at the time. Are you seeing a difference?

Hi Eileen,

I don't think there's much of a difference in the long run. At first I felt inhibited, and my descriptions were quite sparse. But now that I'm getting used to the software and firmly closing my office door, I find my "real" voice coming out to play more. As I mentioned previously, frequent pauses to correct errors are interrupting my flow to some extent, but that loss is offset by the necessity of focusing closely on the screen.
I would have to say the honeymoon's over with this software. I'm becoming more frustrated with a number of corrections I have to make while writing. It's really cramping my style in the flow department.

While it works far better for answering correspondence and it's easier than typing one handed, I'm still looking forward to the day I can go back using a keyboard as usual.

Also, I've learned that Dragon gets its feelings hurt when you lose your temper and curse at it. It goes into a pout and closes down Word. :-)

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