RSI and Writing /dictating

Let me give you so make encouragement about the ease of use of voice software. It does improve! I think I started out in a similar position as you: As soon as the headset goes on the mind goes blank. As long as I’ve had a little bit of a think beforehand, and that doesn’t necessarily mean taking the written notes, I’m now able to dictate continuously a few 1000 words at a time. (Some dictation errors of course) I think because the experience is so different from typing or pen writing I’m normally discouraged from trying the voice software. But recently I started to notice an improvement and this is encouraging me to persevere with it. I think I’m turning the corner. Practice makes perfect, etc etc. I wonder – how many years was it before I became able to use a pen without thinking about the physical techniques as such. I guess I must have been about nine or 10 in other words about six years of training.

Comment 1: I agree with him on the whole, being very used to dictating both for professional/work reasons and for notes which I then copy into my computer for my various personal writings and collating projects. If I had a computer that would handle it I might well use it. But – I also agree that writing fiction is a completely different kettle of fish and I could never see myself dictating or VR-ing when writing my books (yes, still doing it, getting nowhere fast…). As soon as you open your mouth it does something interference-wise to the creative thought processes, and what I need to do, and I suspect Wendy’s the same, is to make a direct mental link between what I hear (and I do hear it) in my head and it coming out on the page via my fingers either on keyboard or paper. It has to flow and something happens in the brain to interrupt or block that flow if you try and talk or do anything else – can’t explain it but it happens and once you lose that flow it’s terribly frustrating…

I could use VR for writing articles, technical books, reports – in fact everything except storytelling. The most difficult thing both from the point of the problems outlined above and the sheer difficulties of getting it to come out right on the page with the minimum editing required (which, for me, is the worst and most painful bit, rather than typing per se) would be dialogue and dramatic pacy scenes where the emotion and pace that you have in your head has to come through to the paper (does that make sense?). I could probably with a bit of effort dictate/VR descriptive paragraphs and flashbacks – any pure text – but I couldn’t do dialogue – that’s when it really has to flow to come out right.

Comment 2: Thanks for that. I am definitely going to get some kind of VR when I can
afford a new computer with a decent enough spec to support it. I figure that any reduction of keyboarding has got to be helpful and if I can do rough drafts, notes, etc with VR that’s bound to save my hands/arms/shoulders a bit. And who knows, I might get a surprise and realise I can write using it too. Do you write fiction yourself, in addition to other work-related writing? I only ask, because it’s different to writing things like reports and essays. You’re creating people and a whole world as you write, so that’s an extra thing to ‘do’… Also, most of the time, I have no idea what’s going to happen until my fingers touch the keys! But that’s just me, and I know I’m a disorganised writer. I will try VR though, when I’ve got enough money for a new computer.

Comment 3: Yes, I totally agree with what you say about dialogue. That would be the most difficult thing to VR, in fact probably impossible to do and maintain a flow, and create natural sounding conversation. Descriptive passages might be possible in VR, but one of the features of modern commercial fiction is that it’s very dialogue heavy. And all the writing gurus preach that to make fiction interesting and ‘alive’, you should avoid big chunks of just plain text and get your characters talking. Anyway, I think I’m straying into areas covered by a writers’ mailing list rather than an RSI list, so I’ll leave it at that.

Comment 4: The last big chunk I wrote/dictated was fictional, being a scenario for an assignment in project management, which I teach at UCL. Not much dialog admittedly. To Clare, isn’t speaking dialog like “acting” therefore more natural than writing it? I suspect we’ve become so used to writing we’ve forgotten how complex it actually is. Unconscious competence so to speak. To compare to a different mode where we are consciously incompetent is not a fair contest, at least not until the new technique has been developed to some degree. So I’m still flying the flag for the utility of speech s/w for essentially all forms of writing.

Comment 5: As a Trekkie of longstanding, and anticipating a world where we talk to our computers and they talk back, I suppose I should be flying that flag too!

Comment 6: There are authors who use voice activated software, I know I’ve seen it mentioned in interviews etc, just can’t remember any names right now. It should be possibly to use VR when you think that story telling was originally an oral tradition long before pen, paper and computers. But also fully understand how hard it is to get used to VR, but it is worth persevering.

Comment 7: Isn’t speaking dialog like “acting” therefore more natural than writing it? –  No – because when you act you are interpreting fixed words that someone has already thought out and put on paper. Storytelling is an oral tradition – but if you think about it it’s like acting – learning and remembering a story, re-telling it or recalling facts – I could dictate what I did yesterday, he said and she said conversations which are factual, I could probably even make up a story and tell it to you from my head – but it’s just not the same thing as I’m talking about, it’s not as easy and – oh, look, it just doesn’t work for me…

When you write words, and especially dialogues, they just happen, they create themselves (if it’s going well) and you don’t want to interrupt that – at least, that’s the way I work. I then edit them later and use them as bases for other flows. If you pre-plan, pre-think (which I know you’re very keen on) I feel you miss so much in many ways. You lose all emotion; you lose the spontaneity and often ideas and end up with something cold and functional – maybe great for a professional or technical purpose but not what I’m after. Yet even when I write technical stuff I often just let it come, slam it down and then edit it – when I grew up they called it brainstorming and it was a “good thing” – perhaps modern management/educational thinking has now changed – but it works for me. The whole idea of BS was to remove the conscious over-ride and to let the sub-conscious and memory/intellect (whatever) be free to bring out what was needed – this is probably what I’m trying to get at.

I can’t explain it, but I’ve tried it – hearing words created out of nothing in your head/imagination (lie daydreaming, creating imaginary scenarios and conversations in your head) is great – voicing them immediately kills the magic. Somehow, engaging the vocal chords and switches off the creative side of the brain – they don’t seem to be able to operate at the same time – unlike, say the side of me that understands tax law which finds it quite easy to speak and think at the same time – but that’s recall and manipulating known data rather than pure artistic creation. Ask a psychologist – maybe they can explain it.

Come to think of it I find the same with music – I can create beautiful pieces but if I try to write them down then it stops and I can’t remember what I was doing – this flow, whether written or played, comes out of the subconscious and if you do anything conscious like try to voice it, or concentrate on writing musical notation (I’m not good enough at the latter to do it without thought as I can with handwriting) then it just disappears into thin air never to come again in the same wonderful format which you wanted to capture – very ethereal.

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