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.

1 comment:

The Writer Resource Pit: said...

Very informative and creative blog. I wish you the best with your writing endeavors.

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The Resource Writer, Tiffany