Writing Out Loud
I love writing; it’s what I do and what I can do even when various parts of my body refuse to function. However, my hands and arms have deteriorated over the years. No amount of prescription medication or alternative therapy kept the loss of using my hands from looming on the horizon. Further, other physical problems conspired keep me from my desk, even if I could type.
Last fall, I invested in Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 Preferred and a new (second-hand) laptop computer – a considerable investment – to try and kill two birds with one stone. The laptop (an IBM T43 ThinkPad with memory upgrades, for the interested) was to get me away from the desk and the DNS9 was to get me to stop using my hands.
The learning curve on DNS9 isn’t steep, but it is considerable on both sides. Dragon has to get used to you as much as you get used to Dragon; it learns as you go, sometimes slowly. Nevertheless, voice recognition software has improved considerably over the years. If you’ve tried it in the past and been dissatisfied, as I had, the technology has improved.
First, a disclaimer: as with most software, the specifications listed on the box are the minimum you need to run the program at all, not the minimum you need for a snappy experience. I have exceeded the minimums by two or three times and plan to upgrade again soon. However, if all you have is the minimum, it will still work and is worlds better than not writing at all. Frustration only arises because we talk very quickly and a function we expect to be instantaneous isn’t once we put a computer into the mix.
In fact, I went on to write “All Hallow’s End” using voice recognition, start to finish. My hands were a wreck from making an elaborate Halloween costume for someone and the call went out for Sips. I never would have started, much less finished, except that I could sit back and talk it out. That helped to get me over the initial uncertainty about the process.
When my arms and hands healed up some, I put the headset away for a few months until my health caught up to me again. I pulled out the headset at the beginning of March and the first thing I said to Dianne Fox was, “Why did I ever stop using this?” I got right back in the saddle and it was smooth sailing.
Now, I’ve noticed a shift and I forget that I am talking. I am simply writing. This is very funny when the dogs misbehave and their scolding ends up in the middle of a scene. Fortunately, it’s easy to undo. I curl up in a comfortable chair with the computer on a nearby table and dictate. I find my productivity has increased greatly because I am not slowed by stiffness or entirely derailed by pain. On bad days, I can take my computer to my bed and I can follow doctor’s orders by resting while still getting my words in.
I’m fortunate that the worst of my disability is intermittent, but I’m teaching myself to edit with Dragon and surf the web with it. I have other things I can ‘spend’ my hands on like knitting and art. I figured, why not use the software for everything I can and save my hands for other creative ventures?
The initial investment was steep, for me, and it’s been frustrating at times, but the end result has been more than satisfactory. Advantages include more words written, fewer meals ordered out because my hands were sore from working, and bad days redeemed by being able to chat with friends and put in time on the stories that I love. That last part is the most important thing for me; my life is improved in a way that really matters.
Suggestions for success:
- find out from a friend or computer technician how to tell what kind of processor and memory you have on your computer before you go shopping for software, if you don’t know how to find it yourself
- check on how much an upgrade of memory will cost for your kind of computer; this can be a small investment with great results
- do all of the training modules available on your software!
- run your ‘language optimizer’ (the part of the program that incorporates your progress into the program itself) at regular intervals, even though it takes a long time
- keep water or non-caffeinated drinks on hand while you work since a dry mouth leads to errors and a sore throat
- check online and at the library for user guides specific to your needs; voice recognition software is gaining popularity and there’s lots of help out there
- see what else you can change about your work environment to make things easier like using a different chair, sitting back from the computer with your feet up, and increasing the font size on your screen