I’ve mentioned on Facebook that I’m learning the importance of properly aligning my new microphone so it’s pointed straight at my mouth. This is all part of the process. I don’t mind, I’m learning.
But today, for the first time, I lost “production” story: fiction that I hoped to sell, not just an experiment. The microphone was just slightly misaligned, but that was enough to render the text incomprehensible to Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
Microphone angle changed
That’s a picture of the sound before and after I accidentally changed the microphone angle. At about 43 seconds, you can see a very slight bump to the microphone, and you can actually see how the noise level changed.


And that’s the sound as recorded by the microphone. Note how at the bump, the road noise becomes louder, and my voice less clear. Enough less clear to confuse Dragon.

Obviously, I’m disappointed; but I’m not ready to give up on that story! Unlike Coleridge, I’m not going to let some bloke from Porlock stop me from finishing this story.
So I considered my alternatives (besides giving up)…
1. Transcribe manually. In my past experience, that takes me three times as long as the original dictation. But I can do it!
2. Pay iDictate to transcribe it for me. I can do that, but it’s no longer my preferred alternative.
3. Start over. Tell the story over again. Dean Wesley Smith teaches about redrafting: telling a story over again without referring back to the original text, just relying on your memory and your sense of story.
But tonight, I thought up a new solution: Redictation. I will go into a quiet room. I will plug in my earphones. I will listen to the original text, a line or so at a time; and then I will dictate roughly the same text (maybe with on-the-fly corrections) back into my recorder. When I’m done, I’ll run this clean version through Dragon.
Now Redictation may sound odd, but I think it may work great. It will be faster than manual transcription, and cheaper than a service. It’s almost the same as starting over; but I think of it as kicking Porlock in the keister and picking back up where I left off.
I’ll report on this method when I’m done. It may be a few days before I get to it.

Read more “Redictation”

Two Birds with One Stone

This is a test of the dictation accuracy of my new microphone in my recorder while working on my treadmill. I turn the treadmill on and I start walking at the low low-speed of .4 mph let’s bring that up to 1 mph.
I am now walking at 1 mile per hour, my measured pulse rate is 88, and I have been walking for 40 seconds. Pulse rate is climbing to 100, and up.
Let’s pick the speed up a little bit: up to 1 1/2 mph. I wonder how the accuracy is for my transcription here.

Read more “Two Birds with One Stone”

Escape Velocity (or By Jove, I think she’s got it!)

This is a verbatim transcript by Dragon naturally speaking of a recording made in my Jeep using my new improved equipment, on Olympus voice recorder and a center Heimer cardioid noise canceling microphone. I recording as I drive, and I am speaking all my punctuation, just as expected by Dragon. You should not hear the punctuation, of course, if Dragon interprets it properly. Sometimes, however Dragon gets confused in this set up, particularly it seems by!

Read more “Escape Velocity (or By Jove, I think she’s got it!)”

Why I Can’t QUITE Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Recordings from My Jeep (But It’s Getting Close!)

Note: I didn’t record this for Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I recorded it for human transcription by That means I didn’t speak my punctuation like Dragon expects; and that means this is one heck of a run-on sentence!

But since this was my first test of my new noise canceling microphone while recording in my Jeep, I thought I would give Dragon a shot at it. I am pleasantly surprised. It’s still not good enough for my purposes, but it’s a lot closer. This is not gibberish. You can almost make sense of it. (And if you try really hard, you can get spoilers for my work in progress!) So maybe… If I can find a better microphone…

Read more “Why I Can’t QUITE Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Recordings from My Jeep (But It’s Getting Close!)”

Why I Cannot (Yet) Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Recordings from My Jeep

And this is another test of my Olympus voice recorder I used while driving my Jeep, the Aldrin express. This time I have activated the low filter on the recorder. I do not know what effect that will have, so I will run a test. My test this morning had an extremely poor’s greatest success in transcription. It was all right when I left the driveway, as I traveled at a low speed. Once I reached the stop sign, then turned and started picking up speed, the error rate climbed through the roof, and the transcription became unintelligible. Tonight we’ll see if the same thing is true with the low filter activated, or the low filter will filter out the white noise of fans and engines and roads. It will, I am not getting my hopes up if that makes any sense. Right now, the trend the audio should be very clean, because I am stopped at a traffic light waiting for a chance to turn. Soon I can get until the highway,… Shall see what the audio is like in a higher’s.

I am past the first traffic light, and waiting to get through the second. I have stuck behind a city bus, so I may not make this light. No, it is not a city bus, it is an RV. And I am through the light and I am on my entrance ramp and I am slowly picking up speed navigating the first turn and the yield for incoming traffic of which there is none and somehow I am picking up speed as I get onto 131. And I merged in traffic, and I get up to cruising speed.

How I am traveling and a typical speed for a typical day of dictation. This recording transcribed, that will be very good news indeed. Cannot, by Friday will have a new noise canceling microphone contest. I will have Dragon natural meeting every chance I can, but I cannot do the impossible. If it will not transcribe, you will not transcribe.

So now I have passed the last Kalamazoo accident, and I way between Kalamazoo and Wayland. My prime dictation I, with my best work is done. This is what I do not have to worry about where my hands were entrance is, only the excess inferences about the right. This stretch when I can devote my market effort to telling a story for tonight and not worrying about a story, and worrying about transcription. I have learned a new pair of tricks like this for transcribing: I can turn the recorder on and off by pressing buttons through the fabric of my shirt, as long as the order is in front of my pocket. I haven’t figured out yet what I will do in a case like just home when there is coming express read reply yes thank you sent so that was the interruption of a tax SH during my transcription. Like my phone, the recorder has no way to know that the messages incoming. He and salt is that my commands to the tax SH system the phone and he replied that I make will be fixated. I can out later, I need to make sure that I check into song. The good news front, Anita is making more sweetcorn K! Is read…

So now I am passing Avenue is roughly the halfway point between Kalamazoo playing Safe place that I stop gas, warfarin here my tires near enough. Were down: Peter that they have will adjust the pressure either way. Like.

In my path have any see the valley playing while. Plane will not see your and River Valley, with another River Valley account River just south. So I crest the hill and valley playing well Valley is laid out for me. Sabrina wasn’t here. All murder on cell phone coverage. Somewhere around mile 38 or so, I can often find my phone ring out. There, services recently. I do not have any dropouts like before.

I have nothing any stop playing well for us I should continue on. On the one of the nice days, house played well for some nice. They have excellent ice cream parlors down see him playing well. I can, is a single well when city sometimes which one is which.

Is a beautiful day for traveling 69° outside I the air conditioner on a meter, and see if that affects the accuracy of the transcript. Line and now I am passing lane while on scene the accident, 49 and how crossing bridge over the counter River. And I am approached entrance. There is no exit at the northbound and own and 50 from the South. Perhaps because 50 mile overpass so close to the river, or is the third exit door entrance to sell only I am in the stretch between playing well and Martin. Certain joke here.

. Signs of approaching our US 131 part dragway the west side of the road I have not been there in from the year’s. It was never my thing. My dad loved it, my brothers. While.

Approach the part accident, I see signs of dragway on the left. This exit is also an occasional gas stations, but I can avoid it. Something wrong with the accident or the gas station: I’ve made it this far, for@Shelby L Warner Wayland. Shelby does become an option only this year. They are open this spring. In gas and wine store. Read it I’m done. There goes the other text message, this one telling me that Amazon has shipped a package, and she hurled.

And allow that text message coming in, I passed the mark. Next up will be to Shelbyville Texas nor cell. Cell is Shelbyville proper, all nor is Brantley/Shelbyville. In the North exit be the one where I accident today. That’s right will also stop trance

I have learned is that I can turn order, ordering the front of my shirt, pants stop morning fabric shirt. It will be nice free operation, and is hands-free as having Mike Bluetooth reads. I am quite that operation, even if Dragon still fails trance I will filter on what a usable transcription pattern!

I am now passing the Shelbyville next to. Miles up the Brantley accent. Is not your remnants role. That is it has Meyer dropped, in the right lane, so we can ask highway mile or so

here comes the accident! Hello the ramp, I see the exit, the exit ramp, ACA a vehicle part halfway on the ramp. Idiots! I made it safely passed him, up to the top of the ramp. And here I stopped sure traffic is clear, and then I get onto the busy 129 Avenue. I passed the noonday market on the right, I got were broken tires. Has not been a good day for tires appears. And more stopped goals on the side of the road. Enjoyed, one vehicle towing another. What fun! And how I approach Colin sues, I signal for my turn, I pull into the driveway. My Jeep, and I turned off this recording

Talking Tuesday: Tools of the Trade

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
— Rudyard Kipling, In the Neolithic Age

In my last Talking Tuesday, I laid out my simple dictation plan:

  1. While driving down the road at an average speed of 60 m.p.h., or 1 mile per minute.
  2. Dictate science fiction at an average rate of 50 words per minute.
  3. Transcribe that dictation at a cost of 1.25 cents per word.
  4. Sell that fiction at a professional rate (i.e., 6 or more cents per word).

In this installment, I’ll discuss my process and my tools in more detail. But as per Kipling, these are my process and my tools. There are other authors who dictate their work, and their processes and tools may be different. What works for me may not work for them, or for you, and vice versa. In future installments, I’ll look at alternatives and why you might choose them.

But first, there are two questions you must answer before you can decide if dictation will even work for you…

What do you expect to get out of dictation?

This is the most important question, and it’s made up of multiple parts.

  • Do you expect perfect text? Can you deal with some level of imperfection? Or can you handle more imperfection, as long as you capture your thoughts so you can clean them up later?
  • Do you expect to work faster? How do you measure faster: more words per hour, or more pages per week?
  • Do you expect to make use of otherwise lost time?

In my case, the text doesn’t have to be perfect, but I expect it to be pretty close. No more than a clean-up edit to finish it up. And I do expect to work faster, not in words per hour maybe, but definitely in terms of pages per week. And the reason why is that last question: lost time. I have 10 hours per week I spend commuting, sometimes more. That’s 10 hours that I can’t spend writing – but I can spend dictating. If I can then convert that dictation to text with minimal additional time, I end up way ahead of where I would otherwise be.

Where and when do you dictate?

This is going to have a big impact on your dictation process. If you’re dictating at your computer, you have options you won’t have if you dictate behind the wheel like I do.

My process, my tools

So first, let me get the biggest question out of the way: No, I do not use Dragon Naturally Speaking, nor Siri, nor Microsoft’s voice recognition in Windows, nor any other transcription tool. I rely on manual transcription.

There are two reasons for this choice, the big reason and the bigger reason:

  • The big reason: many (but not all) of these tools transcribe in real time. You have to be at your computer. I’m not, I’m at the wheel. Yes, there is a more expensive version of Dragon that will let you dictate now and transcribe later; but…
  • The bigger reason: the automobile environment is just too noisy. It’s largely white noise: wind whipping by, the fan, etc. And then it’s punctuated by bumps, wiper noise, etc. All of these ruin the accuracy of transcription tools.

So I rely on manual transcription, but not my manual transcription. It takes me about three hours to transcribe one hour of text; and remember, I’m trying to save time.

So instead, I have found, a paid transcription service. There are others out there, but so far I’m pleased with iDictate. If you’re planning to sell your work, the price is pretty good: 1.25 cents per word. My plan is to sell at 6-10 cents per word, so that’s not a bad investment if it turns into a lot more words sold. Their web site is easy to use; and they have Android and iPhone apps to directly dictate and upload from your phone

The other half of the equation is my recording tool – which sadly is not an iDictate app. I use a Windows Phone, and they don’t support that. Of course, free or low-cost recorders are pretty easy to find – and almost universally useless for my purposes. Why? Because almost every one I’ve found requires you to type in a file name, either before or after recording, and I’m driving down the road when I record! I need hands-free recording, and most of these app don’t understand that. Typing a file name is a deal-breaker.

The one exception I’ve found is Rapid Recorder: it names the file with the date and time. It has other nice features, such as integration with OneDrive and DropBox; but it’s the automatic file naming that makes it indispensable. And it’s only 99 cents! Best 99 cents I’ve ever spent. In fact, if you divide that cost by the number of hours of use I’ve gotten, it’s fair less than a penny per hour.

So a typical dictation day goes like this…

  • In the morning before I leave for work, I get into my Jeep (the Aldrin Express). I open the audio file with yesterday’s dictation session, and I jump to the last five minutes so I can remember where I left off.
  • I start the Aldrin, and I start driving.
  • When yesterday’s audio finishes and I know where I’m going, I tap my earpiece and say “Open Rapid Recorder”.
  • When I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, I know that Rapid Recorder is listening, and I start talking.
  • As I drive, I dictate. Sometimes it’s in linear order, but sometimes I bounce around. Sometimes I record the same bit multiple times to see which way I like better.
  • When I get to work, I park the Aldrin. Then I take my phone out and tap the Stop button. Rapid Recorder automatically names and saves the file.
  • On the way home, I repeat the process.
  • When I get home, I upload the files from Rapid Recorder to DropBox.
  • When the DropBox files arrive on my laptop, I upload them to iDictate.
  • Whenever iDictate sends me transcription files, I save them to my working folder. Then I copy the contents into my main document, and I edit the results, making notes for the transcriptionists so they’ll do even better next time.

Pretty simple. Oh, except I forgot one thing…

  • iDictate periodically bills my credit card. TANSTAAFL. But the results are worth it!

I can’t keep this pace up every day, of course. For example, right now I’m planning some scenes set in Belize, and I don’t know enough about Belize yet. So I’m reading and watching videos at night. I want to get comfortable with this new research so that it fits in naturally as I dictate.

So often I get asked: “But how do you dictate, Martin? How does it work?” And there you have it, my answer for how it works.

For me. At this time. But you might find other ways that work better for you. There are nine and sixty ways… and in later installments, we’ll look at some of them.

Talking Tuesday: How to Make $2.38 per Mile

  1. While driving down the road at an average speed of 60 m.p.h., or 1 mile per minute.
  2. Dictate science fiction at an average rate of 50 words per minute.
  3. Transcribe that dictation at a cost of 1.25 cents per word.
  4. Sell that fiction at a professional rate (i.e., 6 or more cents per word).

Bingo! $2.375 per mile!

Of course, these are all averages. Some days, the weather and traffic conditions won’t let me average 60 m.p.h. (That might actually mean more minutes, more words, and more money per mile.) Some days I’m more talkative than others. 50 words per minute is about my minimum, and I often manage 100.

And of course, step 4 is the trickiest part: actually selling the words. If I can’t sell them, then I’m actually losing 63 cents per mile.

But selling is, in large part, a matter of craft, practice, and persistence. And belief: if I didn’t believe it were possible, I never would’ve made it this far in the business. Not that I’m claiming any sort of expertise. I’m very much still a new writer. But I’m a new writer with a lot of sales and a couple of awards; and almost all of those stories were dictated.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch (among others) talk of the importance of writing from your story brain, not your analytical brain. Your story brain has been absorbing stories – listening, watching, reading, playing – for decades. It knows what makes a decent story, if you can just get out of its way and let it work. I know this sounds like a load of pop psychology; but when I started listening to them, I started selling stories. And I haven’t stopped.

But “getting out of your brain’s way” is different for each of us. It means finding a place and building a habit where storytelling comes natural to you. For some, it’s their office, with their favorite music, and no distractions. For others, it’s their favorite coffee shop, with their favorite beverage and no distractions. For Kevin J. Anderson (who has dictated his work for years now, maybe decades), it’s his favorite hiking trails, with the Great Outdoors and no distractions. (You notice a theme here?)

For me, it’s my Jeep:

Not exactly no distractions, but minimal. Dictating is about the same as talking to a passenger. When traffic or weather is bad, I ignore the microphone. When conditions are favorable, I talk. At 50-100 words per minute.

It’s about habit. Once I’m in the habit (it’s easy to fall out), every day is the same. I listen to the last five minutes of yesterday’s recording, to remind myself where I was. Then I start my Jeep, start driving, and start talking. On a good day, I dictate 50 minutes, and wrap up as I pull into the parking lot at work. Then when I leave work, I repeat. So on a very good day, that’s 100 minutes at 100 words per minute. 10,000 words. Two weeks to a first draft of a novel.

Do I maintain that pace all the time? Heck, no! Weather and traffic and errands and moods all interfere. But if I stick with it, I can do at least half that. I’m pretty happy with it. And I’m ecstatic about the really good weeks.

In future installments of Talking Tuesday, I’ll discuss my process, as well as other approaches you might take.