There have been some pleasant and unpleasant surprises using Dragon so far this week. I can see why people give up on it after a couple of weeks. The word speed is not up to where I wanted to be. But it takes time to “train your Dragon” so to speak. I’ve noticed I’m a lot more comfortable using the dictation function on my iPhone, and I used to have fun with it when I had Android devices. However, when you’re sending a text or a Facebook message, you’re not speaking very long. Over time, you don’t really have to correct as much. When you’re dictating an entire blog post or manuscript, your speaking for twenty thirty forty minutes at a time. That’s a long time for something not to go wrong, and things do go wrong.
But here are some things I learned in the first two weeks, including one that I’m still getting wrong as I dictate this.
- Dragon doesn’t like names – Naturally, I had to teach it how to spell my name. But that goes without saying. One of the reasons I went by Jim Winter was that you don’t have to train somebody how to spell winter. Winter is a season, and one everybody knows. What’s a Hottle? That’s my last name, and while I’m somewhat familiar with its two hundred fifty year history in America, and I still don’t know. How about that? I know my own genealogy, and still don’t know what my last name means.But it doesn’t like other names. The novella Broken Skies takes place partially on a world called The Caliphate. Naturally there are some Arabic names. And Dragon doesn’t like spelling them. Maybe it was programmed by Donald Trump. But if my own name is a mystery to Dragon, and my default language is English, a lot of foreign names are going to be a mystery to the software. Plus, I write speculative fiction. Many of the names are just made up. I pulled them out of thin air. I read one author explaining where she had to use substitute names and then do a search and replace to get around this. So some of her characters with weird names actually have common names when she dictates her draft.
- Capitalization – One of the things I have to get used to is saying “cap” before formal names. I can’t even use the word “cap” in a sentence. I’m dictating this blog post. I had to type”cap” every time I said it because Dragon thinks I want to capitalize something. But I don’t use that word very often in my writing. It’s just remembering to say “cap” every time I use a common word that’s being used as a formal name. Also, without rhyme or reason, Dragon sometimes forgets to start a sentence with a capital letter. I don’t know why it does this. I do know that in Word or Scrivener, it starts every sentence with a capital letter. I’m dictating this in the WordPress, and the idea of starting a blog post with a capital letter utterly baffles Dragon. Not sure how to train my way around that.
- Dragon doesn’t get some words – I have losing arguments with Dragon over the word “thought”. In fact, when I just dictated that line, it put the word “slot” in its place. No matter how many times I hit “train”, and tell it “thought”, it refuses to render the word. “Slot” is one of the more creative things it’s come up with. Usually it comes up with something close to “thought” (which it just got right, much to my surprise), but very seldom the exact word.
- Dragon has a limited memory – Sometimes I need to correct something in a long sentence. Unfortunately, Dragon can only go back so far. It takes me some time to highlight and retype the word or phrase because I keep getting the error message “cannot find matching text.”
- Numbers confuse Dragon – When I use a number or time, Dragon has trouble trying to figure out what I mean. I suppose this will diminish with use, but it’s really annoying when I have to go back in and type in the time. For instance, in yesterday’s blog post I said “7:30” and later “six to six-and-a-half.” It rendered both phrases as “seven thirty” and later “66 1/2” which is not what I wanted it to write. I’m going to have to accept the fact that numbers will require a lot of editing. It’s just a fact of life.
- I probably shouldn’t have music on in the other room – As I write this, or rather dictated, I have the Stevie Ray Vaughn channel on Pandora going. Now it’s pretty awesome to hear some modern blues playing why you write, and I’m one who likes to write to music. Unfortunately, Dragon doesn’t like music. Nothing against music, it just makes it hard for it to understand what I’m saying. This is resulted in some hilarious miscues. I get a little frustrated at it, and then realize I’m the idiot that decided I was going to mourn for David Bowie by cranking up the Bowie channel all while dictating the latest chapter of Broken Skies.
- You get no speed when you edit on-the-fly – I need to learn to quit correcting Dragon. This is something I need to do after I finish dictating. Hey, this was good enough for Mark Twain, who only had wax cylinders and a secretary who apparently had a drinking problem, so it’s probably good enough for me. So what I need to do is learn to relax and just speak what I want to say. Monica Leonelle says it does change the way that you write. You don’t put words down the same way when you type is when you speak them. And she does most of her writing while walking, using a specialized rig to record sound files into her iPad. I’ve debated about using the voice memo function on the iPhone to dictate, but whereas Monica takes long walks, I run. That’s my outdoor exercise, and one not conducive to dictation. I also don’t want to get into the habit of writing while I drive. The smart phone is distracting enough while I’m on the road. And since I’m a single guy who isn’t dating at the moment, I have no reason to be looking down my text messages, let alone trying to set up the voice memo function so I can sit in traffic and make up stuff about spaceships and aliens.
- Sometimes, it hurts your voice – People say I talk a lot. But I talk in short bursts, and eventually I run out of gas. I’m an introvert with ADHD, which lets me socialize, but is its own special kind of hell. So to recite a novel as I’m writing it puts a lot of strain on my voice. My throat’s been pretty sore off and on since I started doing this, and I’ve been sipping from a mug of coffee the entire time I’ve been doing this week’s blog posts. One habit I have to get out of is to quit talking in that halting way I use when I’m dictating text messages. Dragon is optimized to listen to you speak, not write text messages for you. I noticed, when I go faster and speak more naturally, first of all my jar relaxes a lot more. Second of all, I can speak longer passages, and Dragon seems to get more of it right. So if you’re new to this, one thing you want to avoid is talking to Dragon like you sending your wife a text. You’re not. You’re writing prose. (You’re also not writing poetry, though if anyone wants to use Dragon to write poetry, I’d like to see that. That would take some technical wizardry.) Also, it’s like typing. Your voice, like your wrists, can be strained. If you use them too much, they get sore, they develop problems, just like any other part of your body. So Dragon is not a reason to get rid of your keyboard. The only reason I can see using dictation software instead of the keyboard exclusively is if you have a problem with your hands and you can’t type. Or typing is just sheer agony for you. But for most people, they really should go back and forth. I say this, though, is one who can type up to a hundred and fifty words a minute. That’s just something that developed over the years.
The experiment is not over yet. I plan to continue using this until I get more comfortable with it. If, by then, I still don’t get my word speed up, then I’ll ditch it. I’m using version 12 right now. It was only a $45 investment. So if I get a couple months out of this, I’ll still got my money’s worth even if I use the keyboard exclusively from here out. But so far, I am getting more comfortable with it.
I just hope my neighbors don’t think I’m too weird talking about alien sex and ray guns and whatnot. If I get a knock on the door for my landlord, I know I may have to invest in some acoustic tiling.