Why You Need a USB Headset for Dictation Success

A quality headset reduces dictation errors

Last week I shared my first steps at using dictation as an alternative way to write. To test dictation I didn’t invest any money in software or hardware, as I merely wanted to do a proof-of-concept before I spent any money.

I used Google Docs, a Chrome browser, and a cheap analog headset that plugged into the audio port on my computer. Though a less-than-ideal configuration, it did confirm that dictation was a viable solution to creating first drafts. Given this arrangement, and the fact that I’m new to dictation, I wasn’t discouraged with my accuracy rate of about 80 percent.

Of course, I wanted better. The first step was to try a different headset. However, going from a wired headset to a wireless headset made things worse. So I ordered a mid-range priced USB headset. I’m using it today, and my accuracy rate is increased to the low-90s. I’m elated over this progress.

My next step is to buy Dragon software, a highly recommended dictation tool for writers. With this, and once I train it to my voice, I expect my accuracy rate to go even higher. Of course, my productivity will increase with it.With dictation you have to speak your punctuation marks, but it’s not a hard skill to learn. Click To Tweet

With dictation I had to learn to speak my punctuation. Google Docs includes six punctuation phrases, which we need to speak to make them appear on the page. These are period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, new line, and new paragraph. (I understand Dragon software has a greater array of commands.)

I was amazed to see how quickly I got used to saying these punctuation codes. After only a few sessions, they flowed quite easily.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now the focus is on the headset.

I needed a better one. My old analog headset, which didn’t work so well, cost about $20 some seven years ago. The wireless headset I tried, which also plugged into my computer analog port, was even older.

The recommendation to minimize dictation errors is to use a USB headset. This has a digital interface instead of analog, which allows for better volume consistency for dictation.

With my analog headsets, I would frequently get warnings that the software was having trouble hearing me. When this happened my error rate increased or the recording stopped. Once I switched to the USB headset these problems went away.

The USB headset I bought was a mid-range product. With shipping it cost less than $50. The result of my increase in dictation quality was worth the investment.

I’m now pursuing dictation with even more excitement, and the introduction of professional dictation software should help make the process go better and faster. I can hardly wait.

I’ll share more once the software is installed, and I begin using it.

Until then, happy writing.

Should You Use Dictation to Write?

Writers claim to dramatically increase their writing speed by speaking instead of typing

In listening to podcasts and reading blogs, I’ve heard a lot about writers using dictation. This intrigued me. There are two reasons why I wanted to try dictation instead of typing when composing my first drafts.

Why Diction?

Increased Speed: The most attractive reason for dictation comes from the promise of increased output. Some writers claim to hit speeds of up to 5,000 words per hour when using dictation. Though I have no expectations of hitting that number, the idea of creating content faster really intrigues me.

Protect Wrists: The other reason I’m curious about dictation is for an alternative to typing to reduce repetitive strain injury (RSI) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Indeed, there are times when after too many days of logging too many hours of typing that my wrists grow tender. When this comes it’s too late to do my wrist exercises to minimize the impacts of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Being able to speak my words instead of typing them provides an alternative data-entry method. And it’s always good to have a backup plan if for some reason I must ease up on my typing. In fact, concern over tender wrists is one reason why I take a break from writing on Saturdays. I want to give my wrists a rest from the daily strain of typing.

Why Not Dictation?

However, despite these two benefits to spur me forward, there have also been three reasons why I was reluctant.

Voice Strain: My first concern is voice strain. Perhaps because I don’t have a reason to talk much throughout my workday, I find that it’s very easy to strain my voice. Sometimes even giving a half-hour presentation will be enough to cause my voice to falter. An hour is about as much as I can speak without going hoarse. Perhaps with practice I can extend this time, but I’m not sure.

Speaking Quality: My next concern is the quality of my speech. My diction is not great. I can pronounce the same word different ways and pronounce different words the same. This presents a problem. However, my speaker-independent smartphone seldom misunderstands my verbal instructions, so I’m no longer as concerned. And with professional dictation software that I can train to learn my voice, I could minimize this potential problem even more.

Writing Style: The third reason I was hesitant to try dictation is that my speaking style is different than my writing style. I feared that I would spend too much time editing my dictated words that I would negate the time savings from using dictation.

Conclusion

Despite my apprehension, the allure of increasing my writing output and saving my wrists was enough to cause me to seriously consider dictation. But before I spent money on software and hardware I wanted to do some testing before making an investment.

Without spending a penny, I did just that. When accessing Google Docs through the Chrome browser there is a dictation feature (go to “tools” and select “voice typing”). For hardware, I used a standard headset I already had. Though this was not the ideal test, it would be enough to let me see if dictation held potential for me.

I’ve tried it, and I liked it.Even though I’m new at dictation, I’ve already realized an increase in writing productivity. Click To Tweet

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been writing all my blog post and articles using dictation. Even though I’m new at it, I’ve already realized an increase in writing productivity. And as I get better, I expect an even greater boost in output.

Next week I’ll share more about my process, and how I’m moving forward with dictation. But for now, I wanted to share my initial thoughts so you could consider dictation.

Until then happy writing.

(By the way, the first draft of this 650-word post took me under ten minutes using dictation; typing would have been at least 45 minutes.)

Don’t Overreact to Writing Trends

Today’s hot writing advice may prove embarrassing in a few years

I still have the mimeograph handout from high school, from oh so many years ago. The title boasts “50 Substitutes for Said.”

The opening instruction says, “Both color and drama can be added to a story by using other verbs as substitutes for said.” (A poorly written sentence, by the way.) As I recall, this teacher encouraged us to never use said in our writing.

Some of the recommended alternatives for said include blustered, bantered, challenged, directed, emphasized, giggled, implored, insinuated, mimicked, philosophized, revealed, and soothed. (By the way, I keep the list for nostalgic purposes, not for reference.)

In my writing, I can’t imagine using any of these suggestions in place of said. If I did, people would laugh at me and dismiss my work.

Now the trend is to not use alternatives for said. The extreme position is to only use said, even if it’s a question. I can’t bring myself to do that. It just seems wrong to write:

“What do you mean by that?” she said.

It makes me cringe. Plus, encountering said when I expect to read asked, is a speedbump that takes me out of the scene.

Yet, some writing experts instruct writers to do just that, to only use said, even for a question.

I think this minimalist approach is an extreme view, along with being dull. I suspect this will be a short-lived writing trend that will later be dismissed as unimaginative.

Just as we now groan at writers who would write “he blustered” instead of “he said,” we will one day groan at writers who only use said. It’s lazy writing and makes for boring reading. We need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore. Click To Tweet

In the same way that we discern which editing suggestions we need to follow from our critique partners, we need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore.

As for me, I will disregard the advice to only use said.

Do You Know Your Go-To Words in Your Writing?

Authors must be aware of words they overuse and that will irritate readers

Every writer has words they use a lot, too often in fact. They’re called go-to words. In my fiction writing, I use smile, nod, and sigh a lot. Too much, way too much. But I never realized this until my editor pointed it out.

I also tend to have my characters grin, whisper, and wink. Plus, I enjoy it when they gasp, squeeze, and scrunch. Yep, these are my top nine go-to words. I have a list.

I also overuse just, only, and bit. And don’t get me started on adverbs, which harkens back to bad instruction from high school. (Though it might have been common practice back then.)

Your go-to words will likely differ from mine, but maybe my list will get you started on making your own.

Yes, you should make a list of your go-to words, as well as overused phrases and the common errors you make. One of my common errors is writing all of, when I should be satisfied with all.

As I progress in writing a book, one of my editing phases is to work through my list of go-to words. One by one, I search for my overused words and fix them. In your writing, search for your overused words and fix them. Click To Tweet

Sometimes characters have to smile, so I leave them smiling. But other times their smile does nothing to advance the story, so I wipe that smile off their face, that is, I delete the word from my writing. But I prefer to find creative ways to communicate my intent. Sometimes this task is easy, and other times it provides a challenge.

One final thought about scaling back on our go-to words is that we can inadvertently create new ones. For example, to scale back on nod, I started having characters bob their heads, which is even more annoying. So in attempting to fix one problem, I caused another. Don’t do that.

This list of my go-to words only applies to my fiction writing. I need to make another list for my nonfiction work. A few that I’m aware of enough to avoid are corresponding, conversely, significant, and efficacy. But I’m sure there are more.

If you know your go-to words, great. If not, ask someone to read your work and tell you. Then find them and fix them.

Your writing will be stronger and you won’t weary your readers with repetition.

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UR Turn: Are You on Goodreads?

Goodreads is the premier social media site for book lovers

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...In past months we’ve covered Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. One social media option is especially tailored to writers: Goodreads. “Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations.” Goodreads turned ten this year. It has 55 million members, 1.5 billion books listed, and 50 million reviews. (I’ve posted 91 reviews and left 133 ratings.)

Goodreads is a great place for readers to connect and share their love for books. This also makes it ideal for the authors of those books. But don’t think of Goodreads as a place to promote books, instead view it as a place to connect with readers, and potential readers, of our books.

Right now I’m on Goodreads as a reader. If you’re on Goodreads, I’d like to connect with you. Here’s my link: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/13489480-peter-dehaan. Send me a friend request.

Also, please share your link below. Then we can all connect. Let’s be friends on Goodreads. Click To Tweet

The Number One Mistake Writers Make

Failing to stay current on writing trends hurts writers and lessens their work

It seems everything I learned in school about writing was wrong. Okay, that’s an overstatement. But many of the lessons I mastered in school no longer apply or are just plain wrong.

However, I don’t think my teachers were in error over their instruction. Instead, the conventions changed.

Unfortunately, too many writers assume they work within a set of incontrovertible writing rules. And they are offended when told otherwise.

1) Two spaces to end a sentence: I’ve witnessed the transition from using two spaces to one to end a sentence. It happened over the past ten to fifteen years. This rule harkens back to the typewriter. Now we use computers, or should, and one space rules. Only someone out of touch would space-space anymore. And if they do, their writing skill is judged as less than.

2) Five spaces to start a paragraph: I hesitate to include this obsolete rule, but a couple years ago the submission requirements said I must start each paragraph with five spaces. I couldn’t believe it. The five-space rule goes back to the days of manual typewriters and before the invention of the tab key. Yes, I have seen such beasts, but they were already antiques when I was a teen.

3) Don’t start sentences with a conjunction: In school we’d get marked down if we failed to follow this rule, but ten years ago a college professor gave me permission to begin a sentence with a conjunction. And sometimes it feels like the right thing to do.

4) Don’t end a sentence with a preposition: This was another rule drilled into me, which some people claim was never a rule in the first place. Rewriting those preposition-ending sentences resulted in some of the most awkward sounding constructs. Yet, I still see writers do just that. Now writers are told to keep their paragraphs short. Click To Tweet

5) You must have at least three sentences per paragraph: I remember being taught that a paragraph should have five to eight sentences. The minimum was three: opening sentence, one sentence for the body of the paragraph, and the concluding sentence. Now writers are told to keep their paragraphs short.

One sentence, or even one word, is acceptable.

Okay.

6) Always use complete sentences: Sometimes an incomplete sentence more effectively communicates than a complete one. You think?

7) Use semicolons to connect two closely connected sentences: When I learned this neat trick, I used it a lot; maybe I used it too much. Now my revered semicolon is fallen out of favor, and I understand some editors prohibit it; that’s so sad.

8) Add color to your writing by inserting adjectives and adverbs: Yes, my teachers encouraged me to beef up my writing with the frequent use of adverbs and adjectives. Nowadays we call this purple prose, and there’s no place for it anymore.

9) Don’t use said for a dialogue tag: “It’s boring and unimaginative to always write said after a bit of dialogue,” my teacher said. Then she passed out a sheet of creative alternatives. “Use these instead,” she interjected. Now the trend is back to using said, even though it’s repetitive.

10) Do not use contractions: I never figured out why we’d have contractions if we couldn’t use them. But my teachers prohibited them, even for dialogue. Once I avoided using a contraction to add emphasis to a sentence, but my editor said I sounded stilted.

There’s more, but these ten will get you started.

The point is that writing evolves as does most everything and if we’re to stay at the top of our writing game, we better evolve, too.

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Is the Snowflake Method of Writing a Novel Right For You?

A writing methodology that works for everyone who is neither 100 percent outliner nor organic writer

I heard several people mention Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method For Designing a Novel. Eventually I became curious enough to check out his post on the subject. Though the snowflake fractal intrigued me, the 10 Steps he advances left me disappointed. Not another writing model to follow.

I dismissed the Snowflake Method for a couple of years until I had to read Andy’s book for a class. To my delight, I enjoyed reading “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.”

Imbedded within a clever story that held my interest, Randy smartly outlines his ten steps, along with responding to the inevitable critics in his story who try to argue against each of his suggestions.

Billed as an alternate solution that fits between outlining and writing organically, the Snowflake Method is a writing tool most everyone can use. Few people, it seems are 100 percent outliners or 100 percent organic writers. The Snowflake Method of writing a book is not too hard, not too soft, but just right. The Snowflake Method of writing a book is not too hard, not too soft, but just right. Click To Tweet

Though a quick and enjoyable read, at the end I was still not convinced the Snowflake Method was right for me. Then Randy turned me into a convert. He said, “If only a few parts work for you, then use those and be happy.

What a relief. I narrowed his list of ten down to five, and I am happy.

Thank you Randy Ingermanson.

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Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?

Though using a pattern to inform our books’ structure has merit, it may lead us to a troublesome end

There are multiple guides we can follow to properly structure the books we write. Perhaps the most common is the three-act structure, but there are many others as well.

There’s enough to make me dizzy, so I won’t start to list them. Besides, this post isn’t to promote these various models as much as to share my concern about them.

For example, I know that when watching a movie, I should expect a plot twist about three fourths of the way into the show. The incident may be trivial, could have been telegraphed too much earlier in the movie, or come as an unexpected shock, but one thing is certain: I know that something is about to happen, so I brace for it.

Because I expect this plot twist to pop up, it seldom delights me. I know that this annoyance is just one more hurdle for the protagonist to jump over before I can enjoy the ending—and I better enjoy the ending.

This happens in books too, but because I’ve watched more movies then read books, I’m more tuned in to it with movies.

While I think it’s important we know about these writing devices and be able to apply them when needed, I worry about slavishly following them.

Why is that?

Computers.

Computers and artificial intelligence.It won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Click To Tweet

Even now computers can write. And it won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Just enter a couple of characters, a story arc, a conflict, and a few other key parameters. Press enter, and a finished story emerges, following an established writing model.

This technology will one day make most writers obsolete. And I think it will happen much sooner than most people expect.

What computers and AI software will have trouble emulating, however, is the truly creative writers who don’t follow the writing models that the computer programs follow. These writers—and I plan to be one of them—will still be in demand, because computers will struggle to produce a truly creative book that transcends its writing-model programming.

UR Turn: Other Social Media Platforms for Writers

With no shortage of social media platforms to consider, several may warrant attention

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...So far we’ve talked about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

But there are hundreds of other social media platforms to consider. While some platforms are obscure, others garner much more attention.

Though some of these social media outposts are worthy of consideration, my varying degrees of involvement on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest already take up too much of my time. So, I’ll not add a fifth to the mix.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Perhaps another social media platform works for you better or more effectively connects with your audience. Then maybe you should be there in place of one of the above options.What other social media platforms do you use? Click To Tweet

What other social media platforms do you use? What do you like about them?

Please include a link to your pages so others can find you there.

What to Do When You Can’t Do It All

The list of advice for writers is long, seemingly more than is humanly possible to accomplish

Advice for writers is never is short supply. Just when we regularly carve out time to write, another requirement piles on our plate and then a third and a fourth. Before long we grow overwhelmed and want to give up.

I struggled for years to find time to write on a regular basis. Just as that skill began to solidify, someone dropped a bomb on my writing world. That missive said, “You need to read as much as you write.”

Yeah, right.

Now I have to take not enough time and cut it in two.

The next bomb, the most devastating of them all, demanded I build a platform. More requirements soon piled high on my list of impossible tasks.

Here are the main ones:

Write: As a writer, we need to write every day. Or at least we must write on a regular basis. For some people that means only a few minutes a day or maybe a couple times a week.

If we claim the title of writer and aren’t writing, something’s wrong. Writing is the first requirement of being a writer.

Read: To write well, we need to be informed. This means, we must read. We need to read in our genre and outside our genre. Through reading we see what works and what doesn’t. We discover the techniques we like and the ones we don’t.

By reading widely, we cultivate our voice, develop our style, and feed our muse. Reading fuels our writing. But while the goal of spending as much time reading as writing makes for a compelling quip, it makes for better rhetoric than reality.

Still, as writers, we must read.

Build a Platform: I’ll never forget the day an agent turned me down, not because of my writing or my ideas or my ability, but over the lack of a platform. Ouch. That hurt.

It seems writing and reading were not enough. I needed to build and then grow a platform, too. How much time should I invest in platform building? One piece of advice was as much time as I spend writing.

If you’re good at math, you’re seeing the rub: 50 percent of my time writing, 50 percent reading, and 50 percent on platform. If that seems impossible, it is.

The next question is when should we start building our platform. Unfortunately, if we’re asking that question, we’re already behind.

Study: While writing is a good practice to help us improve, we improve faster if we study about writing. That doesn’t mean going back to college or enrolling in a MFA program, but it does mean taking intentional steps to improve. For me that includes reading books and magazines about writing, listening to podcasts, and taking relevant online classes. These things take time.

Network: Next we must network. We need to know other writers. We need to meet agents, editors, and publishers. It’s good to have these contacts before we need them.

Market: Last is marketing. While this mostly takes place as our book nears publication, we must also market ourselves beforehand. We need a professional writer website, an active presence on some social media platforms, and the accoutrements of being a writer, such as a headshot, business cards, an author bio, and so forth. Writers need to juggle an impossible set of expectations. Click To Tweet

Does all this seem overwhelming? It is? Does it seem impossible to give everything its due? It is.

Somehow as writers we need to juggle these expectations. We need to prioritize and squeeze things in and make sacrifices.

A few weeks ago, I ended the day with the irrational assessment that I can actually balance all these things. My satisfaction lasted for all but one day. I usually reach this place a couple times a year, which means for the other 364 days of the year, I’m pulling my hair, screaming, and crying that I just can’t do it.

And you know what. I can’t, no one can.

But as we try to negotiate this list of impossible requirements, there’s one thing we must never forget.

We must write. Everything else is secondary.

What well-intended distractions get in the way of your writing?