[cancer|writing] Why I don’t use dictation software (yet)

In various discussions of my issues with hand-foot syndrome, people have asked if I would consider using Dragon or some other dictation software. The short answer is, “Not yet.”

Here’s why:

I am in no wise philosophically opposed to using such a solution. In my Day Jobbe life, I have more than a passing familiarity with Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. It’s wonderful stuff and can be quite powerful. I like the concept plenty. ASR can be liberating on a number of fronts, from the narrowly technical to the profoundly creative. There’s only one small problem.

I don’t talk like I write.

For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that if you stuck a professional writer’s head into an fMRI machine (presumably whilst still bolted to the rest of the professional writer in question), you’d find that the speech center which lights up when composing fiction is distinct from the speech center used for ordinary, everyday communication. It’s English as both a first language and a second language. In my case, my written fiction syntax and style are noticeably different from my spoken syntax and style. Sentence length and complexity, word choice, rhythms — I’m two different people.

The writer who’s been in careful training since 1990 is a different speaker than the blabbermouth who might use Dragon. The stories each of me can and would tell are quite different.

So while I’ll turn to Dragon if I can, once my hands give out if they do, I don’t want to go there too soon. I’ll lose something essential. I might gain something just as wonderful — I am open to the possibility — but right now I value what I have while I still have it.

24 thoughts on “[cancer|writing] Why I don’t use dictation software (yet)

  1. There’s no reason to rush into Dragon until you have to. It’s frustrating for writing genre fiction, at least for me, because of the invented language and other funny proper nouns.

    Still, I have to say that stories I’ve typed (as drafts), those I’ve written longhand and those I’ve dictated all have a different tone, and that variation is something I really like. I’ll decide, before embarking on a new work, which ‘key’ I want to write in.

    YMMV, but offered in case it helps.

  2. Tamara Sellman says:

    you wrote: “…If you stuck a professional writer’s head into an fMRI machine (presumably whilst still bolted to the rest of the professional writer in question), you’d find that the speech center which lights up when composing fiction is distinct from the speech center used for ordinary, everyday communication. It’s English as both a first language and a second language. In my case, my written fiction syntax and style are noticeably different from my spoken syntax and style. Sentence length and complexity, word choice, rhythms — I’m two different people.”

    Yes!!!!! There you go again, reading my mind… I think I might even be able to find a study to confirm this, Jay! Stay tuned.

  3. Kate says:

    At my house, Dragon has been a bust. Just one major issue, but it was that it refused to accept correction, either voice driven or typed out. Spending 5 or 6 minutes trying to correct *one* word was bad. Having to do that every sentence or two was much worse. Everything looked like one of those old Mad Lib books, only not amusing. Now, our last version (we’ve bought two or three editions over the years, obviously gluttons for punishment) is a couple or three years old, and maybe they’ve solved the problems. But, when the time comes, do that due diligence thing, because our experience ended up with us throwing up our hands in frustration. And even when cursed at, it couldn’t recognize those words, either, dagnabit.

  4. Jeff Soesbe says:

    Back in the Babylon5 days, series creator J Michael Straczynski (JMS) said a similar thing. He was having bad carpal tunnel, and when people asked why not use dictation software, he said that it just didn’t work that way for him. He was hearing voices, seeing scenes, etc and he was writing it all down but not saying (could not say) it out loud the same way if at all…

    – yeff

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