After several years of barely any healing, now I’m finally improving, so it is time to shave the beard. Check out the video below for my public declaration to finish and publish several projects this year. In association with The Bestseller Experiment https://bestsellerexperiment.com
When I first started writing this I had just finished listening to episode 156 of The Bestseller Experiment; as a patron supporter I get early access to episodes, as well as being a member of the wonderful BXP Team. The marvellous episode focused on interviewing the author Julian Barr about his new book The Way Home. Julian is also a long time listener and member of the BXP Team. I highly recommend Julian’s book, a gripping tale that was well paced, characters with connections and motivations. His book has also now earned an Amazon bestseller tag! I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.
Important paranoid associated thought: like many writers I feel like a fraud that just needs to write more and thus I feel awkward about asking for advice, after all I’ve already answered my own request for advice “Write more!” Anyway, later in the episode the two Marks discuss writing using Speech Recognition (SR) and gave a call-to-action regarding listeners experiences with writing via dictation. I was surprised to find that I felt empowered and not a fraud, since this is a topic I know quite well.
As someone with long-term chronic Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in both of my wrists I have a lot of experience with speech recognition, going back nearly twenty years to the horrendous days of massively inaccurate software; the frustration and stress of trying to use the software often made me feel even worse! Fortunately the various programs have improved so dramatically in the last ten years that I find dictating to be dramatically faster, easier and shockingly more efficient. The vast improvements have come about because of the following factors:
- Understanding of what is involved in analysing language (technical).
- Improved code efficiency (technical).
- Substantially increased computer processing power (brute force).
This also means that modern speech recognition is better are recognising accent and voice differences. With training, software should adapt to work near perfect for most users; I appreciate that is quite a bold claim.
As someone that used to be able to maintain a decent enough typing speed of between 70 to 80 words per minute (WPM), having that ability taken away from me was devastating; I was unable to work or partake of most of my hobbies. Having struggled through the horrid early years of dictation I can appreciate why people are loathe to give speech recognition a try, however just about every problem has gone away these days.
In general many people are not up to date with the latest information when it comes to cutting-edge technology; after all there is so much to do/learn. This is in part because the various non-specialist media outlets are often years behind when reporting non sensational things, there is so much to talk about and typically they repeat the same core points. In this ever-accelerating technologically era I suspect anyone that has not used modern speech recognition has heard opinions that are about software from 10+ years ago. My title was not an attempt at clickbait, when I discuss or read things about speech recognition there is an understandable fixation on accuracy, but with modern software claiming accuracy of 90%+ for most people with little to no training, and 95%+ with some training, I wonder why accuracy is still considered a barrier to entry. It seems like my system is 99% accurate, but I appreciate it has been used a lot over many years. My point is that typically most people will type errors anyway, even with grammar and spell checkers mistakes slip through. Even for those that manage a rare 100% accuracy the first time they type something the result should still be double-checked. Mistakes are still made, accuracy is a concern whether typing or spoken, so why not do the vast majority of the work via speech?
When I was working in adult social services I had severe RSI flare-up, in fact my worst ever that caused a domino of problems. When I returned to work for a while I was able to cope due to using speech recognition, despite being in a large busy office. I was surprised at how accurate it was even with all the background conversations. Additionally instead of using a mouse to navigate the screen I found using commands to finally be efficient. How things had changed!
During long bouts of sleep deprivation I can somewhat rest my eyes whilst dictating. Thankfully I rarely get headaches, but dictation has also proved helpful when I have; I find it’s better to do something than nothing, since I’ll be suffering either way.
I’d like to highlight that a hybrid approach can be used. Especially if you can still type and you want to, then do so. Can be quite easy with today’s smartphones maybe you can use speech recognition whilst away from your normal work area. For the following reasons I’d recommend at least experimenting.
Speech Recognition Pros & Cons
Pro 1: Health
When dictating we don’t need to be sat down or stood still, we are not tied to a keyboard. Since we can move about I often do so. Over the years I have done all manner of things whilst dictating: physiotherapy, light exercise/stretching, to things like cleaning or ironing, etc. When I am having a particularly painful wrist episode my arms, shoulder and back all become problematic, resulting in difficulties sitting or standing for any length of time, so on a particularly bad days I’ve even dictated whilst resting in bed.
Con 1: Training Time Investment
Like any new skill there can be a learning curve, which can vary dramatically from person to person. Although these days even without any training on a modern device and software, dictation can start out at 90%+ accuracy.
I appreciate that getting out of comfort zones and allocating time to learn something, can be challenging. Saying embrace the challenge is all well and good, but people and their situations can vary wildly. It is sensible to decide during an epically busy time that doing something new is too much of a risk, but because life is strange maybe the change will quickly be beneficial, even in regards to time, which links to Pro 2 …
Pro 2: Speed
Personally, I think the health reason is reason enough but just in case here is another reason. Just because a person is good at typing does not mean they should stick with that method, since dictating can allow them to be faster. I often find it easy to dictate over a 100WPM, sometimes as high as 150WPM; granted a few typists with specialist keyboards can beat that, but for the vast majority of people dictation is twice as fast typing.
Following on from Con 1, it is worth learning the extra functions like how to navigate via dictation, as well as the various advanced commands. Going from quick dictation to struggling to carry out navigation commands can make you feel like a writing session was ruined; writers typically have enough reasons to procrastinate without imagining new ones 😉
Speed is a major factor for writing events like #NaNoWriMo, thus the speed advantage of dictation can really pay off.
Con 2: Initial Costs
Not everyone has a computer (desktop/laptop/tablet) or smartphone (I’m only differentiating because so many people typically do, as it is really just a computer with a phone function). Free speech recognition exists but I do find Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be better overall, but it isn’t cheap.
Then there is the topic of what microphone to use. Whilst you can use a laptop’s built in microphone it is better to have a decent microphone, although I’ve found that a £25 microphone works just as well as my more expensive Yeti, so you don’t have to buy crazy equipment.
Other extras: I’ve also invested in a microphone stand, pop-filter, USB cable extension and a high quality wireless headset. The extension and wireless the reason I can exercise or tidy my room whilst dictating.
One of the problems I found using my fantastic quality Yeti microphone was there were a few delays/problems with the software, but this was because I had leaned back in my chair and thus wasn’t close enough to the microphone. So before you rush off to buy an expensive microphone consider how your setup can be altered to get improvements.
Pro 3: Speaking is Natural + Rhythm of Speaking
Based off this subtitle you can see why Nuance called their software NaturallySpeaking 😉 Particularly when dictating dialogue I find I can write a better scene; I think this down to being able to somewhat act the scene out, I feel more in character as I switch back and forth between character perspectives. I’ve even experimented with literally acting a scene out, although that led to some comedy moments of frantically changing my position to be the correct character, like a stand-up performance.
Sometimes we can spend a lot of time thinking about a subject only to find that when we speak we change what we had intended to say. There is something about speaking out loud; maybe it is because we engage more of a body, thus more of our brain. I also think this is probably a knock-on effect of evolution in regards to us being such a social species, we need to be careful of what we say to others.
One of the best tips for writers is: “Read your writing out loud.” Dictating can be a big help, you get used to speaking out loud, thus when it comes time to edit your work you are more likely to give it a try. This also links to one of the key tips from Bestseller Experiment, “Make a public declaration.”
There is another advantage to dictating. If you think of a sentence and then struggle to dictate it, then that is a sign there is a problem. Typically you’ll easily find a rhythm, indicating were commas and full stops best fit; granted you have to say “comma”, but I think that is no different to having to press the comma key. Maybe somebody who struggles with grammar could benefit from dictation?
Con 3: Editing
As I mentioned above I think this is a con that gets too much attention, since work should be double-checked anyway. Still it can be particularly irksome during the training period, when correcting (editing) as you go is highly recommended. I think a valid point about the accuracy aspect is that they are typically errors that we are aware of, unlike when most people type and things slip through.
Crucially this is a problem that fades over time, I rarely need to correct things. Since I write fantasy fiction and role-playing games I also have lots of additions for my fantasy proper nouns, my system mostly recognises these new words after the initial correction or two. Just like with typing it is more important to get something written first, then you have something to edit.
Pro 4: Flow
Due to the pain from my disability, I lost my ability to enter a flow state whilst writing/typing. It was 2009 when this this feeling briefly appeared during dictation. My comfort level with dictating slowly grow over the years, by 2009 I found talking to my computer to be more than only comfortable but also empowering.
Con 4: Habits
Initially when first learning to use speech recognition a user can feel they are wasting their time. Why bother stressing yourself out, fighting your habits? I’ve separated this point from Con 1: Training, because I think habits/traditions are such a powerful part of our psychology.
Habits are typically difficult to break; various people can react differently to the same thing. Decades ago I had the regular association of being denied the use of my wrists to type a decent work session, the threat of pain from typing as well as sitting too long, plus stress and sleep deprivation. Since back then speech recognition was lacking, I quickly developed justifications about putting things off. In the light of pain-paranoia and frustration it became easy to justify thoughts like “I need to minimise computer usage even using dictation, so I need to work out as much as possible upfront.” Once I developed this habit I found it hard to break it, even as the ability of speech recognition improved.
Pro 5: Focus
I find I do not get distracted as much when I am dictating. Maybe because I am typically away from my desk, so I cannot easily check emails or browse. It can seem like our hands have a mind of their own when within a split second of thinking about a website we’ve switched to that. This is why so many writers use blocking software that restricts their access to the Internet. Following on from Pro 3, I find that if I do start giving my computer commands to browse non-important things I quickly stop myself.
Con 5: Stream of Consciousness
Dictating does not dictate quality. The fact we can dictate more WPM means we can also have more to edit. This is a minor Con, yes I’m being nit-picky, but over the years I have dictated a lot of garbage. I think I have solved this by writing more, showing others my work, learning more about writing; not just practice, but learning to carry out skilled practice. If you feel that when you start dictating you are writing garbage, don’t worry I think you’ll quickly adapt.
Bonus Pro: Moving is Thinking
Linking back to Pro 3: Speaking is Natural, there is something about moving and thinking, dictation means you don’t have to be sat still at a keyboard. When we move we are activating different brain regions, plus getting the blood flowing, etc. Physical intelligence is one of the many types of intelligence being researched, plus whilst kinaesthetic leaners are typically separated from other learning types, the majority of people can learn in all manners of ways including kinaesthetic. Quick interesting point, animals have a more developed brain than plants because they need to navigate; the sea squirt is a fascinating creature that once it finds a permanent spot for its next stage of life eats its own brain. It is also worth looking into the tools of memory specialists and how they utilise virtual spaces to associate memories for better recall.
Some speech recognition software allows for the transcribing of previously recorded speech. You can even transcribe a recording of another person, although I’ve never done this and I am not sure of the efficiency of the process.
I’ll be making a video version of the blog in the New Year, but before I finish here are so extra points. Dictating role-playing mechanics is not a big deal, I’ve even used speech recognition to dictate computer code years ago; I am contemplating giving it another go with the vastly improved software and machine power of today.
Whether walking outside or in bed trying to sleep (chronic pain is hell), I’ve dictated notes via my smartphone’s built in software. Granted it is not as powerful as Dragon, but it is easy to do and I don’t have to get out of bed. I’ve also made use of a Dictaphone with a headset whilst walking, that I’ve later dictated at home, this counted as a first draft. Dragon Anywhere allows for dictating on the go, but I cannot afford it and I am rarely out and I have Dragon 15.
In conclusion if you are still not sure if speech recognition is for you, I highly recommend giving it a go, at least go hybrid, mix things up. The future is already happening!
I’ve written about The Bestseller Experiment before.
This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.
After the morning panels were finished I got another chance to talk with Mark Stay (Orion Publishing, Author & The Bestseller Experiment). It was an informal chat with Mr Stay, as he was on hand for any customer or author enquiries. We had a chance to discuss The Bestseller Experiment, and briefly touch on some of the other projects he had mentioned in some of the bonus video chats the two Marks had done, and of course at the time the big query regarding the future of The Bestseller Experiment. I managed to avoid pitching my current projects, and when Mark asked about my work I give a concise overview; I think I did well considering how much I’d have liked to have said 😉
Mr Stay’s welcoming professionalism was even more impressive in person. I had planned on writing about a few things that Mark had highlighted in our chat, like things to keep in mind when discussing a subject that readers and writers alike are so emotionally invested in. Helpfully Mark recently wrote about this subject on his blog: 25 things I’ve learned from 25 years in books… He has also touched on many of these points on The Bestseller Experiment.
Once I knew Richie had finished the morning Writers’ Workshop sessions at Phoenix we meet up for lunch and spent the majority of it frothing about writing. As a bonus I got to have some of my favourite food: sweet buns.
I was quite curious about the Writers’ Workshops, since I had tried to get tickets but it hold sold out. Richie (Richie Digital) has written a lot over the years, he has had a variety of interesting jobs, including a background in community filmmaking. He explained that many of the people at the workshop talked about being in the early stages of writing, and they got good advice from the various authors of note. He also received some great answers, plus since he has actually finished a book, he received the bonus advice of: “What are you doing here? Just get it published.” Like so many productive people it comes down to managing competing priorities, and of course the typical writer’s overly-critical of their own work. Richie said he left the workshops with new inspiration, hopefully 2018 will see his work get picked up.
This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.
The panel was called: Where Do You Get Your Ideas? Art, Music, Mythology & Magic: The Inspirations Behind It All. An intriguing but also simplistic query, after all writers can draw inspiration from anywhere, and I’ve often heard the expression: ideas are cheap. Personally I don’t quite agree with that expression, granted simple ideas/hooks are easy to think of, but great ideas are rare. On the surface it’s a simple question and whilst many people would likely give predictably simple answers, professional authors can have intriguing insights.
The panel was moderated by Gillian Redfearn (Publishing Director) and featured: Bradley Beaulieu, Tom Lloyd, Suzanne McLeod, Mark Barrowcliffe and Tom Toner. What occurred was an amusing back and forth, and whilst all of the authors were interesting and witty, Tom Toner had me struggling to restrain my laughing. I present a summary of comments, several of which I had forgotten who’d said them, but at least checking Twitter partly helped.
Gillian asked where the authors find inspiration, what it means to get ideas and write genre fiction. Later she asked: what’s the worst thing your character has ever done to you?
Bradley Beaulieu highlighted that plotting can only go so far before needing to get into the story. He gets endless inspiration from the entire story, especially smaller characters and the world/setting itself. Bradley provided the all-important writing reminder and an important reality regarding the muse: it all comes down to writing, and sometimes the muse hasn’t turned up, yet a writer still needs to write.
Mark Barrowcliffe discussed how inspiration doesn’t always come from the writer. Sometimes it comes from the writer’s take on other people’s ideas. An example is made regarding how common knowledge about things can change, consider that werewolves weren’t actually affected by the full moon in lore, it was invented by Hollywood in the 20th century.
Tom Lloyd said he gets his inspiration from thinking on the tube, mainly because he doesn’t want to make eye contact with strangers. He also explained how a good story sparks off other ideas, the bad ones will start to fizzle out.
Suzanne McLeod described how things come into your story out of your subconscious. New characters that aren’t planned can be the best, and a lot of fun can be had with them.
Tom Toner took a different tact with his answers, such as inspiration: “2 cups of coffee, stand in the shower… f**ktons of ideas!” Later Tom touched on his mascara fetish. As for characters: “God I hate writing characters, they’re so needy” and “I just wanna describe cool planets and cool stuff and monsters on the planet…characters get in the way.” Tom did expand on his replies.
Other comments of note were about how characters take over books, and how writing into the gaps of a story can reveal new things, to go exploring. Overall I thought the panel did a good job of discussing a difficult subject to provide depth on, especially without resorting to listing of things like: I read history and <insert Country> mythology, or I adore <book series>.
So ended the morning session. Next for me was a chat with Mark Stay and lunch.
A bit more progress on NaNoWriMo for me in the last few days, sadly not as much I’d like but when health dictates work rate, it’s best to not fight it #HealthyWriting. I’m still on target for the Gingerbread competition deadline, but I appreciate it’s important not to assume it’s guaranteed.
This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.
The second panel was called: The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades, New Advances in Science (Fiction). The panel was moderated by Richard Edwards (SFX Magazine), and featured: Gavin G Smith, Al Robertson, Tricia Sullivan, Christopher Priest and Justina Robson. A quirky panel title, and with Gavin Smith in particular in the line-up I was hoping for lots of discussion about near future ideas, #CyberpunkNeverDied; I still owe Gavin a blog about my thoughts on this, too much to write 😉
The panel discussed the issue of science in Sci Fi and how to handle it, whether an author needs scientific understanding, plus the issue of prediction. After a slightly slow start the panel developed in to a good back and forth addressing the difficultly of writing about science. After all nothing dates like science. This is an area I have plenty of experience in from my days at KJC Games, when I helped run the long running space opera: Beyond the Stellar Empire (now called Phoenix). Before I started working there I was told to read up a lot more about science and in particular geology, since as a games master I would be interacting with players who were professional scientists, to players who were light Sci Fi readers at best. Once writing game events I had to be careful about how much science was written into the blurbs for a player’s turn. Basically keeping the science out as much as possible and focusing on descriptions. To remember when writing fiction it is not a science paper.
I forgot who said these following comments: “Science fiction is not science it’s a way of running experiments about the world. It’s a form of scientific method.” “Sci Fi is exploratory in nature.” Gavin highlighted that trying to predict the future is a waste of time. Tricia added a lovely summary: the future is not really the future, it’s a possibility space. This is evidenced by so many Sci Fi books, and the panel briefly discussed the old Tomorrow’s World TV show and its appalling prediction record.
Al Robertson added a wonderfully simplistic thing to think about: “There are two things we’re certain of, we’re all going to die, and we’re all going to be in the future.” Christopher highlighted that the real changes in technology are impossible to predict. Tricia brought up the great example about how society has dramatically changed in regards to women and the pill.
I don’t recall the scientists I first heard mention that overall Sci Fi has been terrible at predicting social changes, but Sci Fi has helped inspire so much. The panel continued discussing the issues of writing about the day-to-day realities of technology. Justina added that society could get worse in the future, even though we should be getting better. There was discussion of the current political hot topics, and then The Handmaid’s Tale was brought up. Al said that Sci Fi is not supposed to be a user’s guide, but a warning! Gavin brought a helpful consideration, what the people of Rome must have thought when Caligula took over.
The conversation took a turn when the importance of optimism was brought up. The hypothesis that the rise of GrimDark is likely partly to do with how comfortable many of us have things these days. Al brought up we need Arbour Park, which got my brain racing, and maybe optimism is the new technology we need now.
Christopher linked the abstract conversation of optimism and predicting things to the reality of day-to-day life with this comment: “The emotional spirit about writing about the future is trying to figure out the world our children will one day run.” Maybe having children, literally creating our own replacements, is a form of hope.
After some conversation about optimistic Sci Fi, and of course reference to the Culture series, Gavin asked: “Who wants to read positive upbeat optimistic scifi? Show of hands.” Just about every hand went up. There was a brief chat about how utopian fiction isn’t commercial, highlighting that the Culture series was about the Culture’s dealing with other societies, not about the Culture itself.
Personally, whilst I agree that writing Utopian literature is not easy, I think part of the problem when discussing utopia is how people summarise the concept and keep implying that conflicts won’t occur within a utopia. What do we each mean by utopia? Is it achievable in a group or only individualistic? I think our species inclination to talk about things in simple and absolutist terms is a key part of the problem when trying to understand the concept of utopia. The idea that a large number of people could all share perfect harmony of opinions is not realistic, even identical twins are not actually identical, but I don’t think that negates the idea of group utopia. Fascinating thought experiments about peaks and valleys of happiness leave a lot of room for conflict. Instead of waffling, I clearly should write a utopian story, whilst making sure that is both good and commercially viable – okay, I’ll add that tiny endeavour to my TODO list. The BBC made a series about Utopian ideas called Utopia: In Search of the Dream. I quite enjoyed the series, and I’d recommend checking it out.
There was some fun banter at the end about the radical impacts that teleportation would likely have on society, in particular the housing market. I’m not a fan of teleportation as a concept, too much data to reassemble, but I do love the idea of portals, of using a Correspondence point like in Mage: The Ascension. I could make a prediction, but this panel did highlight not to waste time on such things.
Overall this panel was very interesting, lots of little thought nuggets were mined, plus some rich topic veins revealed. In retrospect having the authors come out all wearing shades would have added an extra level of style, but I am always happy when substance is prioritized.
I made some big progress in my NaNoWriMo writing the last few days, although sadly still a low word count compared to what I would like. The Gingerbread deadline for the 4th December is looming ever closer!
Next time I’ll summarise the panel: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
I wish I’d thought about blogging this event previously, and maybe I’d have taken better pictures 😉
I interrupt my planned post about GollanczFest 2017 to excitedly promote the bringer of greater interviews, advice and witty banter. The Bestseller Experiment is back for another season. Just the thing to help keep motivation going with the latter half of NaNoWriMo 2017.
If the Illuminati was real, they wouldn’t allow this wonderful dissemination of knowledge, then again maybe this just another ruse to maintain their conspiracy, if we all become writers and bestsellers then we will be too busy to …
Anyway, the second season kicks off with a great interview with three publicists: Elaine Egan, Lauren Woosey and Virginia Woolstencroft. The episode includes some great tips, in particular good advice about when to chase-up on things. Check out the Publicity Secrets Revealed episode.
As a Patreon I got early access, and the two Marks have many benefits to supporters. If you are serious about writing please check out their tiered rewards, and help keep the podcast going.
I’ll now get back to my RPG group preparation, not GURPS Illuminati, although maybe it should be. GollanczFest 2017 reporting will continue on my next post.
This continues on from my Bestseller and GollanczFest post.
Day 1 of GollanczFest 2017 was on Saturday November 4th. Richie and I had of time to chat about writing on the train as we travelled into London. Since Richie was going to the Writer’s Worksop at the Phoenix, whilst I was going to Foyles for the Panels, we knew we’d have plenty to discuss on the return train home.
I had heard Foyles was quite an impressive bookshop, I can confirm it certainly is, and thus it made for a great location for the event. Since I had over an hour till the panels started I perused the many floors of extensive bookshelves. Eventually I purchased John Yorke’s Into the Woods and settled down to reading for a while; a book both Richie and Mark Stay highly recommend. By the time I went back to the top floor for the event’s start there was quite an impressive queue.
Upon entering the room for the panels, we were given a tote pack. The tote bag’s print design is quite impressive. The bag contained an overview of the event, some striking samples of forthcoming fiction, plus some water and even a chocolate bar. It certainly set the event up well, especially the water, since I’d forgotten to bring any; sadly I had also forgotten to bring Moo & Bat with me for photos.
I got to briefly talk with Mark Stay who was working on the event, both on and off stage. The Bestseller Experiment podcast had officially started at the GollanczFest 2016, and it was great to see Mr Stay at this year’s event, but with the bonus that he is now a bestselling author; shame Mr Desvaux couldn’t be there, but it’s a very long way for him to come for a weekend.
One thing I regret is not talking to any of the people I was sat near. Undoubtedly anyone that had turned up was passionate about reading, and likely writing. Whilst it is likely the room had many shy book readers, it was unlikely any of us was going to freak out, quietly of course, and run out of the run if one of us said hello. Whilst I don’t consider myself shy anymore, I still fell back in to very old habits of feeling awkward about striking up a conversation with the few people I’d made eye contact with; which is extra odd since I had been talking to Mark Stay only minutes earlier. Looking around the room, there were people chatting. Thankfully it was only ten minutes until the first panel started, and armed with my mobile I did a little bit of writing and then checked Twitter.
Since so much happened at the numerous panels, I’ve decided to do separate posts about each of them. I still have lots of fiction writing to do today so I’ll write about the first panel another time: Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters!
I’ve currently focused on the Gingerbread competition, since the deadline of December 4th is fast approaching. I’ve made it my NaNoWriMo writing challenge, and although attending the GollanczFest really made me want to return to my main writing project, I have managed to stay on target; well, not my word count target, but something is better than nothing.
PS – Richie is the person that runs http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/