Writing With Speech Recognition Software

antique typewriterBeings as I am that “second family” that comes so late in a couple’s life, I had fun playing on “antiques” as I was growing up. I used to sit and push the keys on an old, old typewriter. It took forever to type one sentence.

Portable TypewriterWhen I went to college I was given my first typewriter. It was a portable, manual typewriter. It was a graduation present, and the electric models were too expensive. I was so proud of it. Some of my friends thought I was spoiled because they didn’t have one. About as many students had television sets as typewriters.

Skip to 2008. (I used to say fast forward, but that is becoming outdated with advent of CD’s)

What I am trying to say is that I’ve been typing most of my life. It’s second nature to me. The only problem is that I had surgery on one of my fingers a couple months ago and I can’t type with that finger. After all these years using 10 fingers (well, actually 8 fingers and 2 thumbs) I can’t use one of my fingers to type with.

My laptop has Windows Vista on it. I was looking through the help file when I saw something that sounded interesting – speech recognition. My mind jumped to alert status. Speech recognition. Did Windows Vista actually have that built into the program?

HeadphoneI played with it, but couldn’t get it to type as good as I thought it should. I bought a better set of headphones to use, but it still didn’t do what it should. Sometimes I started the program and it wouldn’t recognize anything I said. (I wasn’t drunk or high on pain pills.) I dictated something into a story I was writing, and it typed about the Civil War. Nothing related to what I said. I then had to restart the program and sometimes it worked better. Sometimes it didn’t. When it worked decently, it would suddenly stop recognizing anything I said. I told it to “refresh speech commands,” but it asked, “What was that???” Those are the words the instructions told me to use. So much for that solution that didn’t work.

I googled for a speech program and found Dragon Naturally Speaking. Research said it was one of the better programs. I bought it, installed it and found it to be much better. It still isn’t perfect, but it is acceptable.

MicrophoneSometimes I don’t want to sit straight up when I dictate. When I’m in a recliner, I don’t want to sit straight up. I want to recline. And other places. The headphones made that impossible. I googled microphones. I found a decent one that works. It comes with Session Music Producer. I haven’t installed the music program, but the microphone works great. The only thing I have to watch is where I position it from my mouth. If it’s too close, the computer doesn’t recognize anything I say. It seems that it needs to be about two feet away.

Now that I have everything I want and need to write my story, all I need to do is stop procrastinating. Anyone know how to do that?

Less Guilt, More Fun

One of the things I like most about our writers group, the Saturday Writers, is that we are each at different stages with our writing. And because of that we each bring unique insights to the group.

For me, I’m still in the hobby stage of writing. Writing has been with me for many years, but it is still a dream, not a goal. I dabble in it, I don’t seriously pursue it. And knowing that about myself I can throw off the guilt that we women take on too easily.

No “I should be writing more.” No blame, no guilt trips. Just writing for fun. Writing for the sake of writing. Because I want to work on a story, not because I have to. And that is an okay place to be. When I’m ready to make writing a bigger part of my life, it will be there.

But like any good hobby, I spend a lot of time thinking about writing and studying books on writing. If I pack enough writing knowledge into my brain, then when writing takes center stage in my life, all that learning will be there, ready to use.

The book I’m currently reading is One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher. I really like her four truths. They are:

  1. Writers write.
  2. Writing is a process.
  3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
  4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.

I understand #2. After all this study and reading on writing, I understand that writing is a process. You don’t just flip a switch and instantly become a bestseller. It takes time and effort, like any occupation or hobby.

#3 also makes sense. You have to finish the story to see what it actually becomes. It certainly never looks like the story I had in my mind when I started. But if it bears some resemblance, I’m okay with that.

#1 and #4 are my sticking points. I don’t have the daily practice of writing. When I did write daily, even just in a journal, I found that my “official” writing, whatever story I was working on, came out so much easier. So my challenge is to get back into the daily habit. Because I want to work on my story daily, not because I have to. Less guilt, more fun, more writing.

Where are you at on your writing path?

What Do I Write?

What do you write?A question I dread.Looking at a list of fiction genres and all the sub-genres can be daunting and I have to stop and ask myself a few questions.How will readers see my writing?How do I?Is there a clear answer to where it fits?What about agents, publishers or editors?The last thing I want is to look unedumacated when I toss out queries!If I can’t clearly communicate what I write how am I supposed to entice someone to pass up a tried and true author for me?Unlike this piece you’re reading, I need something concise, not something that begs explanation.When can I read it, is the only question a writer wants to hear.

One of my beta readers describes my writing as urban fantasy, another paranormal fantasy, at least both agree on the fantasy part.I agree also, preferring contemporary fantasy.

In my observations of library patrons—I work in a small library in my off time-fantasy conjures up a Tolkienesque setting or fairy tales.Simply using the word brings on a glazed look of disinterest or the I’d drown if it rained raised nose and a brusque I don’t read things like that.I have to keep my eyebrows in check and bite my tongue as they slap the latest Nora Roberts’ on the counter.I smile sweetly dying to point out that Ms. Roberts has used witches, vampires, ghosts and other fantastical characters and situations in many of her books.Including this one and the book they just brought back!

When you add the word contemporary, some fantasy readers attempt to take the literary high road.Clutching a Sword of Truth novel, they sermonize as to why that isn’t true fantasy.I highly doubt Terry, be it Goodkind or Brooks, would be inclined to agree with this opinion.Especially since Brooks has written a few himself, but don’t bother pointing that out.Trust me, I’ve even planted the books in their hands and they refuse to take that bend in the road.

Those who read urban fantasy or paranormal romance seem to be able to get a grasp on the concept.The problem I have here is many urban fantasy lovers expect Philip Marlow dropped in a supernatural setting, a la Dresden Files.On the other hand, most paranormal romance readers want hearts and roses to be the focus, with action as background, hence the word romance.My setting is nowhere as gritty or dark as most urbans and the romance takes a back seat.So where does that leave me?

After reading definition after definition, I’ll stick with contemporary fantasy.I write in the here and now, twisting the natural world into something supernatural, populating it with fantastical characters stuck in situations usually of the magical variety.There, I’ve said it, that’s what I write!But you know what?I’m perfectly happy with whatever the readers want to call it, as long as they’re reading!

Are Writer’s Conferences for You?

I’ve attended my fair share of writer’s conferences in the past 10-15 years.  I had always wanted to write but never knew where to begin.  I played around with writing when my kids were little and I was stuck home with them during the winter, kind of like Nora Roberts story.  I read once where that exact thing happened to her. She pulled out a pad of paper and a pen and started writing a story and the rest is history.  I pulled out a pad and pen but never got anything that lengthy completed.  I have had a short story published and I had a column in the Altoona Herald for a time.  I enjoy writing short pieces but feel a real desire to create something that is novel length. I sought out other writers in the area and joined several local writer’s groups before I found out about writer’s conferences. I attended a few and became hooked.

I am an advocate for writer’s conferences.  So far, I’ve attended a couple of RWA chapter conferences, one in Omaha and one in Kansas City.  I’ve attended a Regional RWA conference in Chicago and a National RWA conference in Anaheim.  That’s with the Romance genre.  For Mystery, I’ve attended Love is Murder in Chicago and Mayhem in the Midlands, in Omaha.  I’ve also attended the Maplewood Writer’s Conference in Kansas City twice.  Maplewood was a non-genre specific conference. Unfortunately Maplewood has disbanded. 

What can you expect at a conference?  Seminars and workshops during the day.  Most are geared toward writers looking for basic guidance but they also tend to cater to the published author with seminars on marketing and the business side of writing.  Seminars alone are worth the conference fee.

It depends on the size of the conference but most organizers try to lure agents and publishers to participate.  If you have something completed, it is a wonderful way to get a foot in the door to the industry.  You can sign up for either group or individual appointments to pitch your story.  What more could a writer ask for? 

Some conferences use Saturday night as the night for an awards banquet.  It’s a great chance to dress up and network with fellow writers.  You never know.  I met a local author at Mayhem in the Midlands.  At the time, she hadn’t published yet.  The publisher had accepted her book but it wasn’t out yet.  She shared with our table some of her marketing plan for the next year.  She had it detailed out to what she would be doing each month to sell her book for the next year.  It was a good thing.  It’s now two years later and her sixth book will be in the bookstores before December.  In case you haven’t read her yet, her name is Shirley Damsgaard and she writes a series of mysteries with a librarian protagonist and her grandmother. They are witches who use folk magic to help them find out who dun it.  By day, she’s the Post Mistress in Stuart, Iowa.

Did I mention networking?  You will have a chance to network during the entire conference with both published and pre-published authors.  Yes, it is exciting meeting someone whose book has kept you up half a night but it can also be exciting to meet someone who may be starting out in the business with you.  You can develop friendship bonds that can be far-reaching when it comes to marketing your own book.  Instead of one website, think of having links on a dozen or more.  Each website you are linked to is a chance to boost book sales and help guarantee that you will not be a one book wonder.

If you’ve avoided conferences for whatever reason and you are serious about a writing career, I advise you to rethink it.  Pick up this month’s Writer’s Digest, Writer Magazine, Poets and Writers, or research the internet.  If you have to use a day or two of vacation for you and your writing career, take it.  I promise you won’t regret it. 

Virginia Gruver



Putting away your fear of writing

Being a new writer I realized I suffer from the following fears of writing:

  • I don’t know where to start.
  • What if people don’t like what I write?
  • What if my Characters aren’t believable?
  • I’m really not as talented as other writers I know.
  • Writing seems so easy for them but I struggle.

If you suffer from any of these fears like I do I may have some suggestions to get you past them. You don’t have to know where to start – just start.  Start anywhere.  You can always go back and fix it.  Don’t stop writing.  There are so many articles, books, magazines available which answer any question you may have about writing.  If you feel you aren’t good enough, help build your confidence by taking a class.  You will find there are always beginning writers who are struggling just like you.  By all means join a writing group.  Be around people who have the same aspirations as you.  Not everyone’s talent is the same.  Whether it’s writing, acting, singing there will always be someone better or worse.  When the words you have writen strike an understanding and emotion in a reader you have accomplished the dream of every writer. Give yourself some credit, believe in your abilities and by all mean —- WRITE!!!

Keep writing, Deanne


Querying Agents On the Super Technology Highway

I read somewhere that it’s very difficult to get an agent to look at a manuscript. In fact, people often spend big bucks to go to conferences just to have the chance to get in front of an agent for five minutes. That’s why, when it came time for me to consider looking for representation, I was a little – or a lot – lackadaisical.

I did my homework, poring over Publishers Marketplace to determine who might best help me sell my stunningly brilliant novel, Living in Bliss. I queried the deal database every way from Sunday to see who did well selling debuts, who was especially interested in comedy (nobody, it seems!), and who repped my favorite authors. Then I checked out each of their websites to learn whether my favorites were accepting new clients (alas, many were not), if there were other people at those agencies who might be a match, and if each individual agent as a whole looked like someone I would like to get into bed with, so to speak.

That task accomplished, I whipped up (okay, cried and slaved over) a query letter. Query letters are a challenge, but I felt good about mine: charming, fun, an enticing and brief overview of my plot, ended with a character sketch of who I am as a person and a writer. For good measure, I included the first 10 pages of the novel in the email; might as well tease them with my talent. Ta da! I was ready.

My logic was as follows: Send electronic queries to my top 4 choices. Wait weeks for them to respond, which would give me time to – ahem – FINISH THE BOOK.

That’s right. I was 90% done, but not completely done. Some twisted part of me thought that if I sent off agent queries, I’d have no choice but to finally wrap up the little bitty loose ends that had been torturing me for a year.

Let me tell you, this is not a good plan. Why? Because three of the four agents responded within hours, requesting full manuscripts and a synopsis. Holy crap. Those were my exact words (uttered at the top of my lungs as I jumped up and down, freaking out my dogs and cats and sending the bird into a tizzy of flapping wings). Woo hoo! I didn’t suck! Or, at least my suckiness wasn’t such that they didn’t want to read more…

And then it hit me: I hadn’t finished the darned book, much less written a synopsis.

Fortunately it was Friday. And I’ll admit, I used the Iowa floods to my advantage. (I wasn’t lying, exactly; my basement did have nearly a foot of water in it.) I asked each of the three requesting agents if I might send along the information on Monday… and then spent every waking moment of the next two days writing, editing, polishing, writing some more. I added 10,000 words that weekend. And that’s not counting the 7 page synopsis.

Did I screw up? I’m sure I did. I’m sure there were things I could’ve polished even more. In fact, I have a scene in my head that needs to be inserted into the final act, which I’ll probably do, although that makes me very nervous with the manuscript out. There’s a very good chance rushing like a madwoman lessened the strength of the book as a whole. But if nothing else, I learned a big lesson: don’t pitch a book that isn’t finished. Because in this era of super-fast technology, you never know when you’re going to be called upon to produce what you’ve promised. It may be a lot sooner than you expected.

Happy writing! Sara


Welcome to the Saturday Writer’s blog! We’re a group of writers in and around the Des Moines, Iowa area. We write in many different genres, but we all love writing.

Stay tuned as we talk about writing – what works for us and what doesn’t.