With a number of life challenges demanding my time over recent months, I have singularly failed to make sufficient progress on the first draft of Wargaming Campaigns, the book I have been promising to Pen & Sword for the last… ooh… four years! (A repeat performance, indeed, of my first book for them.) They have, bless them, already given me three deadline extensions, but this one – 1st August – really is set in stone if it’s to stand any chance of being out early next year, let alone before. And so, I have taken a deep breath, together with listening to advice, and have now invested in an upgrade to the Dragon Dictation for Mac software from Nuance that has been gathering dust on my shelf in order to add dictation to my arsenal.
I don’t do this lightly: I’m very much a ‘writing’ writer, by which I mean that I am pretty much wedded to the notion of applying pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Dictation doesn’t come easily – all that pause, “comma”, pause, “close quotes”, pause, “he said” and so on really jars for me. All my life, I have been used to expressing my thoughts most effectively through my fingers. I’m even passionate about calligraphy and typography, the ultimate expression of thought, language and physical action to produce visual beauty.
BUT if I’m going to get the first draft finished on time, let alone be able to make additional progress, I need to crank out close on 100,000 words over the next couple of weeks. My hands and eyes aren’t what they used to be, my poor old body is complaining at the hours I spend jammed into this chair anyway, and pangs of RSI are a real problem nowadays. And in any case, I realise that I shouldn’t be so averse to dictation; after all, I’m pretty skilled at verbal, as well as written communication, and unafraid of the microphone, having been involved in a number of podcasts and even, in the dim, distant past, volunteered as a DJ on university radio.
What’s been holding me back? I tried Dragon Dictation for Mac 4 a few years ago and, frankly, nearly threw it out of the window. Not only did it fail to recognise, oh, almost everything I said, but it crashed and stalled and was generally a pig. At the end of last year, having heard some stories about how phenomenally productive some people manage to be using dictation, I thought about giving it another try – but the reviews of the release of Dragon 6 for the Mac were, bluntly, horrifying (go take a look at some of its reviews on Amazon). I tried Mac’s own dictation facility, but wasn’t overly impressed with that, either, so I had pretty much reached a dead end as far as dictation was concerned.
So, what changed my mind? Enter one of the familiar suspects: Joanna Penn. In one of her recent podcasts on The Creative Penn website, she interviewed the ultimate evangelist for dictation, Scott Baker, who has written an excellent little book called The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon. The latest information revealed on his website is that at long last, what is now called Dragon Professional Individual 6 for Mac has been fixed – mostly.
Call me reckless, but I’ve taken the plunge, taking advantage of the fact that I can upgrade from Dragon Dictation version 4 to version 6 for just £124.99, with an extra tenner for the extended download facility and a CD backup of the software.
So far, so good. I have the software installed now on my iMac and on my MacBook Pro (the license allows two installations). I’ve been gratified to discover that my retro-look Samson Meteor desktop mic is still one of the most highly regarded for its price, earning an average 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon UK, and my limited trials so far would confirm that, appearing to give me impressive accuracy (but I don’t want to get ahead of myself here). However, when it comes to a headset, which I intend to use with my laptop, Scott Baker reveals something that had never occurred to me – the device that came in the box when I bought Dragon Dictation 4 is absolute rubbish! To quote from The Writer’s Guide mentioned above:
“Nuance supplies microphones with some versions of Dragon, both wired and wireless. They are almost always universally awful. I find it inexplicable that a company so keen on extolling the virtues of dictation and the accuracy of their product can provide something that results in such a terrible user experience out of the box.”
So, this sent me on another shopping spree, and Scott makes the point that by spending around £50, you can buy a really high quality headset that will be perfect for dictation, and it will give enormously better results than the thing worth a fiver that came in the box; whereas spending significantly more than that will only result in marginal improvements. Naturally, we’re only talking dictation here – if you’re a professional musician or have the need for cutting-edge accuracy for some reason, go ahead and spend your dollars.
Another trip to Amazon, bless ’em, and I picked up a bargain – the Plantronics Blackwire C325 Stereo 3.5mm & USB Corded Headset, reduced from £71.99 to £48.02 (delivered free because I have Prime membership). It should be delivered tomorrow, so I’ll keep you posted. The benefit of this headset is that it has both a 3.5mm jack (so you can listen to music on your iPhone or home stereo, for example) and the all-important USB, which enables the software to bypass your computer’s built-in audio input and produce much higher quality results. The cable also has a switch attached that enables you to increase or reduce volume, answer calls or mute the sound.
I’m even going to attempt to do large chunks of the work standing up, rather than sitting on my square behind – hence the other reason for getting a headset. I already have a height-adjustable laptop table desk thing that I bought last year but have hardly used yet. The reason that it has sat unloved is that it does jiggle a bit if you’re typing – but if you’re just talking, with the occasional keystroke, then it should be much better, right?
I’ll keep you posted about how I get on with the standing up as, indeed, I shall about the whole experience. I might as well put this somewhat dramatic deadline to good use, passing on what I learn from my experience with Dragon Dictation as well as reporting on my progress. It feels exciting, embarking not only on a mammoth and rather daunting project, but also trying a completely new approach. I’ll be reporting on my Facebook page and Twitter, so you can keep tabs on my progress and see whether I really do manage to tame my Dragon!