Dragon NaturallySpeaking – A First Take & Quick Review

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One of the continuing challenges I faced over the years, and particularly so over the last several weeks leading up to the new year, has been trying to find time for my personal writing when more and more of my time was being taken up by other things. Luckily for me, Santa was kind enough to bring me a Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software.

Dragon is better than something like Word’s built-in word recognition because it not only asks you for your language during setup, it also asks you to specify your accent. The downside is it still isn’t omniscient out of the box. Therefore, in order to get it to work fully, you have to take the time to train it so it can adapt to you your dialect and your particular speaking patterns.

There are a few versions of the software: Home, Premium, and a version designed for medical transcription as well as variations that differ by included equipment. Mine came with a corded headset and installation disk, though I understand there are other versions out there with Bluetooth enabled devices for people who prefer to walk and talk.

I have a PC and was somewhat concerned that it wouldn’t support my operating system as it shows only Window 7 and Windows 8 icons on the box, especially when the program took ages upon ages to install. At one point during the installation, I started to wonder if I had missed a step. Maybe in order to get the program to launch, I was supposed to hold the box and walk into a firey pyre like Dany did in Game of Thrones in order to hatch her dragons. However, the installation meter did eventually move forward before it came to that and, at the end, I saw an ‘installation success’ message appear on my screen.

I’ve been playing with mine for a couple of weeks now and it’s getting a little less awkward each day, though I now suspect Her Royal Highness is rolling her eyes behind my back at my hypocrisy considering I always am asking her to tone it down when she talks to herself during the day. In my defense, her barking monologues don’t magically transform into written text on the screen.

Thus far, I haven’t had to add too many words to my dragon’s vocabulary, though I’ve been studying up on how best to train it (there are books on the subject specifically for writers). I can’t decide if it is a compliment regarding enunciation or more praise of the software’s programming. (I’m guessing the latter) That being said, it didn’t recognize the word Megalodon and instead returned ‘medic for all,’ when I said it. You might think this isn’t exactly a word that comes up in daily conversation, however, you don’t know my youngest. It comes up in our house. It comes up a lot.

(It also hasn’t recognized any of my swear words either – not that I use too many of them. Clearly, my dragon is of a genteel nature.)

Based on that experience, I realize that it may be a while before it (and I) am ready to tackle more traditional epic fantasy writing based on character names alone. Even so, I managed to write a full day’s personal word count quota in half the time, which is super promising. That even includes all the times I’ve had to go back and add punctuation manually as remembering to say the word comma or period while dictating isn’t natural for me yet either.

As a result, I am feeling quite good about what I might be able to achieve this year. I might even finish the first draft of book three in my Project Gene Assist series before the weather warms. Who knows?!? But if nothing else, at least know I’m trying.

Now, how about you? Are you trying anything new this year?

That Vs Which: Self Editing Tip and Reason Number 501 Why it is taking so long to finish my next novel

I do not blog daily – my hat’s off to those that do – but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy enough to receive The Writer’s Daily Companion by Amy Peters as a gift several months ago. It’s like having my own daily prompt generator without the distraction that is the internet.

Somedays it’s a story prompt. Other days it is more of a workbook for improving your writing. For example, one of the Daily Companion’s lessons of the day was the difference between that and which.

It’s been a while since I published my first novel, An Uncertain Faith, and though I don’t obsess over the reviews nearly as much as I once did, I have never forgotten one review suggesting my writing could be removed if I didn’t use quite so many ‘thats.’

Imagine that.

To be clear, I was very appreciative of that particular feedback. Until I read that review, I had no idea that I said and wrote quite so many thats. Of course, now that it’s been pointed out to my attention I see that the reviewer might have a point. Then again, when you are writing books that are supposed to contain tens of thousands of words, it should be understood that a few words might just be repeated.

I also know my other half will forevermore lovingly point out future overuses of the word that – much to my dismay and embarrassment. (To be fair – I probably have it coming)

The tip is to remove the word that from a sentence. If it doesn’t make sense, the ‘that’ stays in. If it does – leave it out.

To be clear, I was very appreciative of particular feedback. This sentence doesn’t work. Therefore – hurray! I get to leave the ‘that’ in there.

Therefore, if I follow my own tip, I should edit my paragraph as follows:

To be clear, I was very appreciative of that particular feedback. Until I read that review, I had no idea I said and wrote quite so many thats. Of course, now it’s been pointed out to my attention I see the reviewer might have a point. Then again, when you are writing books that are supposed to contain tens of thousands of words, it should be understood a few words might just be repeated.

It’s better, but the next thing to obsess over is whether the word ‘which’ might be better.

That is a restrictive clause, while Which is an unrestrictive clause.

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For non-English majors like myself, this means asking yourself if the sentence would still is accurate if you were to cut out any text following either qualifying word.

for example, if I cut out the “that are supposed to contain tens of thousands of words,” the last sentence of my paragraph would read like this:

Then again, when you are writing books, it should be understood a few words might just be repeated.

The statement is truthful and accurate. Therefore, my edited paragraph is:

To be clear, I was very appreciative of that particular feedback. Until I read that review, I had no idea I said and wrote quite so many thats. Of course, now it’s been pointed out to my attention I see the reviewer might have a point. Then again, when you are writing books, which are supposed to contain tens of thousands of words, it should be understood a few words might just be repeated.

The downside of this tip is I have to go through my work in progress with a fine-toothed comb, in order to tighten my writing before I send it off to the professional editor. This has been no quick and easy process. But I have to say the reviewer who first gave me the tip has a point (and thank you to all who have ever shared a review) and I look forward to being on the other side of edits soon.

And that’s all I am going to say about that.

 

The Writer’s Toolbox: Flash Fiction

While Lamont’s annual Christmas light spectacular is still causing our power meter to whirl, the discarded cardboard from toy boxes, sheets of flattened bubble wrap, and broken twist ties that seem to multiply with every pass are proof that another holiday season is coming to a close.

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Overall, Santa was kind to me. Clearly, it is not nearly as difficult to stay on the nice list as his elves would have you believe. One of the gifts I received was The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the ‘Write’ Side of Your Brain.

One of my resolutions in 2015 was to participate in more short story contests. I started out strong, but I have to admit I fell well short of my goal. I guess I was too focused on the final re-writes and edits of my novel. But I am now back in early draft mode. Anything can happen. Let the creative juices flow! I opened the box.

Inside there were Popsicle-type sticks with random sentences on them. The instructions say to pick up one labeled FS for First Sentence, then another one labeled NS for Non-Sequitur and finally one labeled LS for Last Straw. Last Straws are only sentence fragments.

For example, I picked up the following:

  • FS: I had this system for getting exactly what I wanted out of people.
  • NS: They were all the same, I decided.
  • LS: the time Leslie called me a leech.

Then there are cards that deal with senses. The instructions say to draw three:

  • The straggling cuticle
  • a rusty weathervane
  • the taste of lipstick

Finally, there are disks which prompt protagonist, action, obstacles, and goals.

  • Protagonist: Laurie the famous actress
  • Goals: To know God
  • Obstacle: The barista at Starbucks
  • Action: Learns to foresee the future.

I had this system for getting exactly what I wanted out of people. It wasn’t exactly difficult. I’d always been a natural actress. I mastered the art of laughing and crying on command before I was even out of diapers. I didn’t feel any guiltier manipulating the average person on the street than I did manipulating the emotions of the audience. They were all the same, I decided. I didn’t know then how wrong I could be.

It all started that day on the set. Props were still in a state of assembly. A rusty weathervane which would eventually be mounted to the box that would serve as a barn blocked stage left. As Julie handed me my costume, the fabric caught on a straggling cuticle. I made a mental note to schedule an appointment with my favorite manicurist.

Joe, the production assistant, began handing out plain white Styrofoam cups containing a steaming beverage. “Here you go, Laurie, from two blocks over, just like you asked.” He beamed like a well-trained pup. The whole crew preferred Starbucks, but I wouldn’t let them serve it. I couldn’t. The awful barista, Leslie had the nerve to call me a leech. I smiled as I sipped the beverage even though I had to admit it tasted like lipstick.

Savoring the image of Leslie’s empty tip jar, I wasn’t paying attention as I made my way off stage. I didn’t notice the length of cord stretched out along the exit until it was too late. Coffee spilled from the cup, landing in a puddle near the electrical plug. Instinctively I reached out as I fell, my palm coming in contact with the hot liquid. My hand wasn’t the only part of my body to burn as a lighting fire danced along my spine. My vision blackened as my body convulsed.

Then it was as if the pain was being experienced by someone else. I could see my body surrounded by the crew, but I floated above the chaos. Then I felt another presence and I knew I sensed God. I reached out toward its warmth, but it was as if a bubble popped. Suddenly I was hurling back to the ground as all went black.

When I opened my eyes, I was once again on the stage floor. Joe was cradling me in his arms. Julie was crying. Images danced across my vision as I took in the scene. That’s when I realized I had returned with a gift. I had seen the future, but the next time I met God I would make sure he didn’t have reason to reject me.


I may not have done the exercise exactly right but it was fun nonetheless to connect the dots and now I am thinking that I may just be able to keep my resolutions after all.

May you all have an equally promising start to 2016!

How do you find the time to write

One of the most common questions I receive when I tell people that I just completed writing is not, “how did you come up with the story?” or “what is the story about?” No – the most common question I hear is “how did you find the time to write?”

I was fortunate enough to be given a number of weeks paid sabbatical from my day job, which I hope I was able to put to good use. As this was only a very limited period of time, I had to ensure that I maximized my daily word output every single day. I used a program called WriteWay Professional which gave me a daily quota goal and had a very nice percent complete graphic that served as my glaring task master. I also very much appreciated how this program helped me organize my notes and develop character sheets. I had tried writing more freestyle before with less successful results. I am sure there are other similar programs out there (a program called Scrivener is another option), but this one worked well for me.

I have since learned that the month of November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. If I understand the rules correctly, you can sign up at http://nanowrimo.org/ and pledge to write. Those that participate are tasked with writing 50K words in 30 days and are given access to a network of supporting groups and individuals. I did not learn of this program until November was already half over and so am not participating this year, and I’ve heard a lot of mixed feedback on the benefits of the program, but at least its format creates a nice fixed set of rules and deadlines that anyone can use.

Hopefully though I will already be finalizing my next novel which I have already started to plan out.

Not writing is not an option for me. I’ve been given a taste for it, and the stories keep coming. I have to get them out – even if only a few people see them.

So the only advice I can give others who are on the fence about jumping into the writing game is similar to preparing for any race. Set your self a goal, pace yourself, and just concentrate on putting one foot (or word) in front of the other until you reach the finish line.