In a previous post I mentioned that much of my writing begins in longhand, utilizing the many new gel pens that flow like honey and spiral notebooks. I have honed my skills in this manner because of my dislike for the laptop keyboard. If one of these companies would invent a keyboard similar to the desktop, I’d be first on their list to buy one. However, since  it appears that I’m probably in the minority, I’ll have to continue writing my own way.

The other night I was  at home kibitzing with a friend and I happened to mention that another friend in New York and I were discussing speech recognition software. Most of her writing sits in dozens of notebooks, waiting for her to process them into her Word program.  She admits to not being a very proficient typist and loathes having to start putting these chapters in order, and doesn’t feel comfortable in paying someone else to do the job for her.  We both thought it would be nice if we could just dictate everything right into the computer. (We’re both in our sixties, so that will account for the lack of savvy in certain areas.)

Sitting in my kitchen on a blizzardy Santa Fe evening, I noticed Doug was tapping on his E-phone or I-phone or whatever the latest cell phone gizmo happens to be.  He picked up one of my notebooks and read a few paragraphs out loud, then showed me his phone. Voila! There it was, one of my pages transcribed onto a Word document. My cell phone, of course, is the kind that only has one ring, Phantom of the Opera, and all it does is receive and send calls, nothing fancy. But his phone did everything but fix him dinner. He said he had a Dragon program on his phone, and as a realtor, it saved him a lot of time writing notes.

The next day I went online and found this  Dragon – Naturally Speaking, Speech Recognition Software. Since my daughter works at Staples, I had her pick up the least expensive one, which is Version 11. (The only difference in this one is it doesn’t have the I-Pod and phone apps that the more expensive versions do, but I’m not hard to please.) It took at least an hour to get everything set up, as the program needs to develop a user profile for your voice. It prompts you to read sentences and paragraphs until it “gets you”, and also takes a short voyage through all your emails and documents to determine the vocabulary you use in writing. That done, you’re all ready to go. Pop the headset on, plug it into a port, and start talking.

I set up a Word Document as usual, with the font I generally use, spacing, pitch, etc. I dictated several pages and watched with fascination as it appeared on  my screen. There is a catch to all this, of course, so reading the next few lines will save you a lot of grief. Here’s how you must dictate, using your normal voice:

tab The detective was surprised to discover that such an innocent looking nerd of a young man could have a rap sheet period But there it was period He had been arrested in Tacoma comma Washington four years before for assault on his employer period paragraph tab  (you can also say “Correct that” and it highlights a few words and you can either dictate or type over them).

So you get the idea. Reading the instructions is very important, as other things like numbers and dates have specific references. The nice thing about this is that once you get most of it down, you can scroll back and edit just as you would if you had typed it in yourself. I had to laugh, of course, since there’s not a human mind enclosed in the box, and there lies the need for proofreading. I was writing about a 1956 Chevy Impala, and it came out as “Shave E him Paula”, so the program certainly doesn’t have everything  down pat. But hey, it was a fun experience and I got a lot of typing accomplished by just sitting there reading out loud.  Right now the program is on sale at Staples for $44.00 – quite a bargain, I must say.

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