Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Computer, Take Dictation": The New Frontier of Creative Writing

Ever wished you could dictate your creative writing and have it magically type itself? Well, you can…in a manner of speaking. No, it’s not magic; it’s speech dictation software.

Speech dictation software, also called speech-to-text software, has been around for a while but, as with most technology, it gets better after a few generations. For me, speech dictation software wasn’t worth the comparative hassle when I first discovered it. Until, that is, I found my hands full of a baby girl who didn’t want to be put down. Suddenly, my formerly dismissed ViaVoice software became a lifesaver. Still, every writer has his own needs, so you will want to think about whether it’s worth it for you. Here are some pros and cons.


  • Setup is time-consuming.
    Speech dictation software needs to learn your voice and speech patterns in order to correctly take your dictation. With ViaVoice, that meant reading several scripts into the microphone so the software could recognize the words when I spoke them. Not exactly plug n’ go. Even after you set up the software, you won’t find the proverbial smooth sailing. While the going will be smoother the longer you use the software, at first you’ll likely find yourself pausing at least once per sentence to correct a case of mistaken word identity.
  • Words aren’t the only things you have to dictate.
    Perhaps there are more intuitive programs out there, but the software I use requires me to dictate punctuation—commas, periods, quotation marks—and paragraph breaks. It can be frustrating to be in a zone and have to remind yourself to dictate every detail.
  • Not all dictation projects are created equal.
    Some pieces of writing are easier to dictate than others. A short article like this—with simple words and straightforward speech—isn’t bad. On the other hand, you’ll probably want to think twice before dictating a fantasy epic with scores of difficult, imaginary names.
  • The right software can be the wrong price.
    You can practice your typing for free, but you have to buy software. It’s a sad but true fact that the better the product, the higher the price. I bought ViaVoice because it sported a lower ticket price, but software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking can be $100, $200 or higher. The more bells and whistles (or wireless or mobile capabilities), the higher the price.


  • Bad typing skills aren’t a problem.
    If you’re a two-fingered keyboard pecker, speech dictation software may save you hours once you configure it to recognize your speech patterns. In that case, it’s probably well worth the time involved in setup.
  • Your hands are free.
    If you have a legitimate reason to need your hands free—such as disability, a newborn baby, or a desperate need to multitask—then speech-to-text software will give you the freedom you need to write while keeping your hands free. In fact, for those restless types, a long enough cord on your microphone will even allow you to pace. (If you’re pacing to put a crying baby to sleep, though, watch out. I’ve discovered from experience that a sensitive mic will pick up all sounds within range and try to translate them into words!)
  • You can hear your words out loud.
    Many professional writers advise reading your work out loud to see if it flows as well in speech as it does in you head. Dictation gives you a jump on that process. You’ll hear your writing spoken and be able to correct rhythm and flow problems before they ever make their way to the printed page.
  • MS Word isn’t the only program that responds to dictation.
    Once you learn your software, you’ll be able to use it for other programs. Software varies but, depending on the capabilities yours has, you may be able to use it to write and send emails or browse files on your computer.

Those are simply a few of the pros and cons involved with speech-to-text software. As I said before, you’ll have to look at your own situation and decide if it’s the right step for you.

If you decide to go for it, you’ll then need to look at your options. I’ve mentioned two of the best-known brands, Dragon NaturallySpeaking and ViaVoice, but there are others. Do your research and ask around, and I’m sure you’ll be fine. Soon, you’ll be back to putting words to a page…Star Trek style.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I'm Back!

For those of you who faithfully follow this blog, I apologize for my loooooong absence. With nine months of pregnancy and my daughter's subsequent birth in May, I found my hands much too full for blogging. Now, though, I hope to come back full force, starting with a post on speech dictation software. Watch for it!

Meet my new distraction:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Behind the Scenes of Book Publishing

For writers trying to get published, the world of book publishers often seems shrouded in a particular kind of trade-jargon voodoo, impenetrable to all but those initiated into the innermost circle. This short article by Brian Scott sweeps away a little of the mystery and provides a welcome glimpse into book publishing's inner workings.

An Author's Glimpse Into The Operation Of A Book Publishing Company

by: Brian Scott

The publishing company is the backbone of the writing world. The publishing company provides a great service to society by publishing and displaying the work of authors. The global existence of publishers is obvious, but the inner workings of a publishing company is unknown by many authors. Many book publishers consider the publishing industry as an apprenticeship industry -- most book publishing professionals gain knowledge and skills in this field with hands-on job experience. Generally, what an apprentice learns in one department is useful throughout the publishing house, which gives professionals the opportunity to move between departments. A typical publishing company has many levels to it, each with different functions.


The Administrative Department is the first level of any book publishing company. It has many responsibilities to help the publishing company function properly. The Administrative Department manages daily operations for publishing executives and management. This responsibility involves interaction with all employees from all departments, as well as interaction with authors and agents. The administrative employees manage the calendar, maintain organized files, screen/prioritize mail, draft correspondence, make travel arrangements and prepare itineraries, process expense reports, take minutes at meetings, and prepare reports. A position as an administrative employee allows a person to have a high-level of understanding of a publishing company, while being visible to executives.


All large and small publishing companies have an Advertising Department. Most publishing companies have in-house advertising agencies that purchase media space and create and design advertisements. In a publishing company, the Advertising Department works closely with the marketing directors, editors, and publishers of titles to create an advertising plan that promotes sales of an author's book. An advertising plan requires research and negotiation to provide the best venues and the most cost-effective methods of advertisement. These employees also work closely with graphic designers, commercial sales representatives, printing presses, and internal staff to facilitate the run of advertisements.


The Editorial Department of a publishing company is one of the most important departments. The Editorial Department acquires, negotiates, develops, and edits book projects for publication. The daily activities of editorial employees include preparing acquisitions for transmittal to the production department; developing and maintaining relationships with authors, booksellers, and agents; performing general administrative duties; participating in editorial, design and marketing meetings; and reading and evaluating submissions by writing reader's reports. The editorial department must work closely with all departments.


Another division of a publishing company is the Marketing Department. The Marketing Department creates, prepares, and establishes marketing strategies and policies for each book title by coordinating the efforts of publicity, promotion, advertising, and sales departments. The Marketing Department prepares all sales presentation materials, audio recordings, fact sheet collation, and promotions; creates and produces additional account-specific presentation materials; researches and establishes relations with new markets; and plans and maintains sales and marketing schedules.


The Publisher's Office is also an important department for many publishing companies. The publishers oversee the life cycle of a book title from acquisition to production, and onto the sales force. Publishers make executive decisions for all book titles within assigned imprints while staying within any cost restraints. This department is also responsible for sponsoring book projects, strategies, and initiatives for the publishing company.


The Subsidiary Rights and Permissions Department is one of the most important divisions of a book publishing company. This department finds additional sources of profit for a given title, including serials, book clubs, and paperback, audio and e-book rights.

The daily activities for the subsidiary department include writing submission letters; sending manuscripts, proposals, and books to foreign publishers and agents; coordinating co-productions with other publishers; working with book clubs and sales for special editions; and maintaining relationships with other publishing companies.


The road to getting a book published is a long one, but well worth the effort. Trust yourself, and trust the publisher to create a beautiful masterpiece. Don’t be discouraged if several publishers are not interested in your book. You may have to self-publish your first book, and then again, a large or small publishing company may accept your book based on marketability. Good luck and enjoy the process.

About The Author

Brian Scott

Learn how to become a published book author! Download Brian's free e-book, Book Writing for Fun and Profit, at Visit Brian's blog, at

Back to Basics: Writing Creative Stories

Here's a good look at the bare bones of story writing:

Writing Stories
by: Simone Mary

There's nothing like writing a story. It is a truly satisfying creative process. In order to write a story that people will enjoy. You need to understand the key elements that all good writers use in stories. In this article we will explore these elements.

1. Brainstorming

Ask yourself these questions:

What are you are going to write about? Who will be your audience? How much do you know about what you want to write about? What do I need to find out?

2. Write from a Specific Point of View

First person: "I"

Second person: "You" (rarely used)

Third person: "She/He" (Used the majority of time but in a "limited" way) Limited simply means that the story is told through the eyes of one particular character.

3. Starting Your Story

Your story should begin in such a way that it grabs the readers attention and never lets them go, some ways to begin are: Sound Effects, for example: Splash! Pop! Another way to begin is with dialogue, that is, two or more characters having a conversation. Using action is also another way to start. Whatever you choose, you must do it in a way that draws the reader in from the very beginning, if you fail to do this then no matter how good your story gets down the road it will be pointless as you have already lost your audience.

4. Setting

Place your characters in a setting. This is where you are to use descriptive words that let your readers see, hear and even smell the setting. The setting establishes the time and place in which the story takes place. Give your readers a snapshot view of the environment so that they can see it in their mind's eye and feel as if they are really there.

5. Characters

Characters are part of the life blood of fiction. Here are some of the types of characters you may want to create.

Main Character (Protagonist): All the action revolves around this person.

Villain (Antagonist): This person or persons oppose the main character at every turn. Villains can also become allies of the main character down the road. People change in real life as well as in stories.

Friends (Sidekicks): This person or persons helps the main character.

6. Conflict

Good conflict allows your readers to become even more involved in the plot. Conflict can arise within the characters, with other people or even with nature. The needs of characters are what drives them into action. Conflict is created when obstacles are put in the way of the characters. Here are some types of conflict that can arise in a story:

The main character vs. others

The main character vs. his /her own inner self

The main character vs. situations he/she faces in life

The main character vs. society

7. Dialogue

Finally lets take a look at the purpose and use of dialogue. Dialogue is used in conversation between your characters. The characters may also have dialogue with themselves. Good dialogue tells the reader something about the characters state of mind or personality. Dialogue should be surrounded by action and move the story along. So make every conversation count!

About The Author

Simone Mary is a teacher, writer and artist. She is the author of the eBook WRITING A STORY? WHAT EVERY WRITER SHOULD KNOW, for more writing strategies and for a free copy of the eBook GET ON THE HONOR ROLL-TEST AND EXAM TAKING TIPS THAT WORK visit

Friday, January 04, 2008

Creative Writing: The Art of the Short Story

The Long And The Short Of The Short Story
by: Suzanne Harrison

Congratulations! You’ve spotted a great short story competition and decided to enter. You’ve had a go at a few short stories in the past and you’ve been wanting to tackle a novel for ages, but the idea was way too daunting so you’ve just shoved that to the bottom of your life’s “To Do” list. A short story is a much better idea, isn’t it? It’s just like writing a novel only shorter. Right?

Not exactly!

It’s been said that it’s not that a short story is long, it’s that it takes a long time to make it short. The idea that a short story is just a mini novel is an idea that will mean certain death to the success of your short story, before you’ve even written the first sentence.

There is an art, and a process to writing a short story, just like there’s an art and a process to writing a novel, a non-fiction book or an essay. Success is a matter of knowing the basic principles, and then applying these to write the best short story you’re capable of.

The question is, do you have the stamina to make your story short?

That question is easily answered by walking step by step through the writing process.

1. Planning

No matter what you are writing, you need to have a plan. Would you attempt to build a house without plans? Or would you set sail on the high seas without a map and compass? Writing stories is exactly the same. Set out without a plan and you will undoubtedly become lost in a forest of your own words.

Some simple questions to ask yourself at this early stage include:

* Who is your main character and what is their predicament?
* What do they want? How can they get out of their predicament?
* Who or what is stopping them getting what they want?
* How can you apply pressure to your character to force them into making tough choices in pursuit of their goal?
* What will your character learn over the course of the story?

Beginning by answering these few questions will help you know who your character is, what they want, and how they are going to go about getting it.

2. Writing

Once you have a plan for your story you are ready to write it. When you are writing, you are just writing. You are not editing and you are not planning, You are writing. This specifically means that you don’t stop to wonder if “this way sounds better than that way”. When you are writing you are capturing the essence of the action in your story. You are writing a draft, not a finished product. At this stage don’t even think about your word limit. Just write the entire story as you have planned it. We’ll take care of the word limit in the editing and rewriting stages.

The writing stage is similar to mining a diamond. When a diamond is mined it is a chunk of rock, with a few glittering pieces to show it is actually a diamond. You don’t mine a beautifully cut and polished diamond from the side of a mountain, do you? No, you have an amazing piece of raw material, which you then take to a jeweler who will cut and polish it to show its beauty to its greatest advantage. In the writing process, the jeweler is the editor.

3. Rewriting

Once you have completed the first draft, the very best thing you can do is walk away. It can be difficult to get any distance from your own work, but it is virtually impossible if you try to plan, write, rewrite and edit your story in one sitting. If possible don’t look at it again for at least another day. This allows your story time to rest and “breathe”, and when you return to it you will see it in a fresh light.

When you are ready, re-read it straight through once without stopping, and without making any changes or marks in the margins. Once you’ve finished the first read, ask yourself one question: did I write the story that I set out to write? If the answer is no, don’t panic. It’s amazing how the real story you are meant to write comes out in the writing. At this stage your main focus is to ensure that the intention of the story equals the result. In other words, the story has to make sense, and must flow from beginning to end, with all questions raised at the beginning being answered by the end. It is quite common to do comprehensive rewrites of the first few scenes, as the story you really wanted to write didn’t surface until after you’d really got cracking. That’s ok. Just go back and rewrite any scenes you need to, to make the story flow from beginning to end.

Some other important questions to ask at this stage are:

* Are there any great leaps in time or place? It is generally best to keep these leaps to a minimum in a short story.

* How many characters do you have? It’s never a great idea to have more than three major characters at the most, and I’ve read great short stories where there is only one. Save the huge cast for your novel.

* Does the story continually move forward? It’s very easy to have two or maybe even three scenes showing the same thing about your character. A scene is a unit of change – if a scene doesn’t move the story forward, it needs to be cut or rewritten.

So rewriting is re-seeing and re-sculpting. The main purpose of this stage of the process is to make sure the story makes sense. There is a logic to story, and if there are any great leaps in time or place, you may need to add some small linking phrases. Once you are happy that the story flows in sequence you are ready to move to the final phase: editing.

4. Editing

You now need to step entirely out of your creative right brain and into your logical and analytical left brain, to refine and polish your story.

Firstly, look at your word count. Are you way over, way under, or pretty close to the mark? Never submit a story that is over the word limit. Respect the requirements of the competition and keep within the word limit.

Now read your story again, this time with your red marker in hand and a critical eye on the page. Some questions you need to ask at this stage are:

* When does the action begin? This is where your story begins. It’s tempting to “set the scene” and “show character” but the reality is, you don’t need to. The story always begins where the action begins. If there is anything that needs to be explained you haven’t written your action properly.

* Is all the action on the “spine” of the story? Edit out any superfluous material. Again, save it for your novel.

* Show don’t tell. This means, don’t tell us about someone, show us their character by putting them into difficult situations and let us discern their character by the choices they make.

* Edit out all explanation. As a general rule, ask yourself, “is it an image?” If it’s not it’s probably explanation and needs to be cut.

* Is there a “solution” to the story? Does the story deliver what it promised?

* Now is the time to ask, “is this the best way to say this?” If not, write it again, and say it better.

You may find yourself rewriting, editing, rewriting, editing over and over. This is completely normal! Most good short story authors do at least 15 drafts of their short stories before they are happy with the result.

So, you’ve made it through the process and you’re ready to send your story off to the competition. Make sure you double space it, that the font size is big enough to read easily and that you’ve put enough postage on the envelope!

And good luck!

About The Author

Suzanne Harrison is the Director of Writers Central, which offers online creative writing, short story, novel and screenplay courses, plus a vibrant community forum where members share news, reviews and tips, enter competitions and receive 24/7 feedback on their work.