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Dragon Dictation for Authors

How this software can speed up your writing and help you avoid health issues

 

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Dragon Dictation – Is it Right for You?

By Trevor Douglas

About 15 years ago, while I was still working full-time as a business analyst, I contracted carpal tunnel syndrome from spending too much time typing on a keyboard. For any of you who are not familiar with the condition, it can be debilitating – a constant burning pain in your wrists and lower forearms that leaves you with a weak grip and unable to type for more than a few minutes without experiencing severe pain. Rest was suggested, as were exercises, as was an operation, but no medical physician was prepared to offer any guarantee of a complete cure.

[Note from Nick: another author’s tips on how to deal with similar health issues can be found in our previous article right here]

As an IT professional, my working life depended on being able to use a keyboard. My disability left me with few options for staying in the IT industry and I began to ponder a career change and a job that didn’t require typing. A work colleague suggested I try Dragon Dictate (Dragon) voice recognition software.

 

 

He’d never used it…

…but had heard good things about it and suggested it might be worth a try considering my career was at a crossroad. At that point, I didn’t have much to lose, so I shelled out two hundred dollars for the software and a decent microphone and got to work learning about this new technology. To my surprise, the results were reasonable after only two hours of basic training and I had new hope my career might be salvageable.

The software needed to learn how I speak (I’m Australian and speak with a twang), and I was worried this might be a challenge. But I persisted and after two weeks of using Dragon on a daily basis, my work output was more than double my best day on a keyboard.

With my IT career back in business, I was hooked on the productivity benefits of Dragon and never looked back. I became somewhat of an evangelist for the product, but very few of my colleagues made the switch to Dragon, even though they could see my typing output was double and sometimes triple what they could produce in an equivalent timeframe.

 

 

I’ve often wondered why that was.

Perhaps it was the expense? Or the time you needed to invest in training the software? Or the lack of a real medical condition like I had that was forcing a change? Whatever the reason, the number of ‘converts’ I had to Dragon over the next 15 years could be counted on two hands.

When I moved into writing fiction, it was a ‘no-brainer’ for me to continue using the software. The process wasn’t quite as ‘seamless’ as I had expected. It turns out that writing fiction is a different proposition to writing IT documentation, but after several weeks of trial and error, I was consistently turning out 2,000-word first-draft chapters for my new novel in under an hour.

Over the years, I’ve posted answers to a wide variety of questions writers have on Dragon. In this article, I summarise my experience as a writer with the product and answer the most common of these recurring questions to help you decide if Dragon is right for you.

 

 

Do you need Dragon Dictate software or will any speech recognition software do?

If you’re serious about productivity improvements for your writing, Dragon Dictate is the only product (in my opinion) you should consider. While there are a few free voice dictation products available on the web, they are very limited in the functions they provide and require you to speak slowly to get any sort of accuracy in translation.

With Dragon, provided you are using a decent microphone, it is possible to speak at normal conversational speed and expect 98 – 99% accuracy after training. Additionally, Dragon has the ability to learn unique words (very important for writers) and adapt its ‘voice engine’ to the way you speak.  

Microsoft Word and Google Docs now both incorporate dictation tools as part of their feature sets. They are a little better than the free online tools, but still a long way short of Dragon’s offering both in terms of accuracy, features and their ability to adapt to your speech.

 

 

What if I can’t afford to buy the product?

Some authors have lamented they are not in a financial position to buy Dragon, or that they don’t want to take a risk spending lots of money on a product they’re not sure will work for them. If this is the case and you’re a Windows user, it might be worthwhile trying to locate a second-hand version of the software from eBay or similar. The older versions may not have all the new features, but they are still quite good.  

Tip: go online and check which versions of Dragon will operate with your version of Windows before you commit to purchase any second-hand version of the software. If you are an Apple Mac user, you are, unfortunately, stuck with buying the latest version of the product (version 6) as the older versions of the product are simply not worth the money – even second hand.

Can you use Dragon with Scrivener?

Yes, you can use Dragon with Scrivener and most other common word processing systems. Most of Dragon’s command set to correct errors and edit your work will work fine with products like Scrivener. If you are using a product that doesn’t support Dragon’s full feature set, you can use Dragon’s built-in ‘DragonPad’ for dictation and simply copy and paste blocks of text as they are completed into your favorite word processing product.

 

 

What is the best way to use Dragon for writing?

I’ve found Dragon most effective for writing first drafts of each chapter of my novels. As mentioned, I can usually dictate the first draft of a chapter in under an hour.

While Dragon supports the ability to add all kinds of punctuation marks, I generally limit my use of punctuation in the first draft to simply adding full stops, commas, and paragraph marks. This allows me to concentrate on getting the first draft out quickly without distraction. I use the second and third chapter edits to add the correct punctuation when I’m well and truly in ‘review’ mode.

 

 

How important is a good microphone headset? Will any headset do?

A good microphone headset is essential. Trying to use a cheap headset as a shortcut to keep costs down, rarely works. Dragon is reliant on high-quality audio input, preferably without background noise to work effectively. I’m currently using a Jabra Evolve and getting great results, but in the past, I’ve used headsets from Philips and Andrea with great effect.

The brand of headset doesn’t seem to be as important as the quality of the device. I’ve never had a problem with any headset that I’ve spent $100 or more on and I think if you’re spending much less, you risk getting poor results.

It’s worth noting also that unless you have a specific need for a Bluetooth headset, my recommendation is to stick with headsets that connect to your computer via a USB port. Over the years, I’ve tried two Bluetooth headsets (both with price tags up around $200) and have had mixed results. I’ve checked out a few online forums which suggest Bluetooth microphones can be problematic with Dragon.

 

 

Is Dragon any good for transcription?

The notion of being able to dictate into a voice recorder while you are driving or out walking the dog and then upload it to Dragon to convert to text when you get home has a certain appeal to it. I quickly gave up on trying to dictate into a voice recorder while driving because it was simply too dangerous! I’ve also experimented with trying to dictate while out on walks and found this to be more successful, but still far from optimal.

As a writer and regardless of whether I’m using a microphone or a keyboard, I’ve found I work best in a quiet place free from distractions.  I’ve all but given up on the idea of recording chapter drafts while I’m exercising or doing some other activity because it simply doesn’t work for me. I’ve heard some authors have had success transcribing while they walk or exercise and they now incorporate it into their daily routine, but I think they are probably in the minority.

I now use my ‘walking time’ only for listening to podcasts and leave the writing until I’m alone in my office. That said, just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for you and it’s worth experimenting with if you buy the product.

Tip: you don’t need to buy a special-purpose dictaphone as Dragon will accurately translate dictation from most modern smartphones.

 

 

What is the biggest challenge with using the product?

The biggest challenge is having the patience to work with the product for several weeks while it adjusts to your voice and speech patterns. A simple five or ten minute trial of the product won’t provide you with the results you need to assess its real capability.

Once over the training “hump” and the initial awkwardness of using a microphone rather than a keyboard for your writing, most authors who try Dragon never look back. One of the biggest challenges authors face, particularly if you’re looking to turn out multiple books each year, is getting enough quality time to write. While Dragon can’t put more hours into your day, it can certainly help maximize your productivity in the hours you have.

 

 

Do you have any other tips for using Dragon?

The biggest tip I can give writers, apart from limiting the use of punctuation in the first draft, is learning how to speak in full sentences. Dragon is very accurate when you speak in complete sentences, but less accurate when you pause while you are thinking about what you want to say next. Once you’ve mastered the art (and it does take a while) of holding a sentence in your head until its complete before you dictate, you will be well on your way to getting the most out of the software.

I’ve also found it very useful to have a bullet point outline of each chapter before I dictate. I find this immensely helpful in organizing my thought processes and I have far less of those awkward moments where I silently sit and think, ‘Okay, now the microphone is on, what am I going to say?’

I’ve noticed some writers comment that their writing style changes when they move from a keyboard to a microphone. While I think this is true for beginners, the more practiced you become with using Dragon, the more your writing style with a microphone will mirror your style with a keyboard.

My final tip is to use Dragon for what its really good at – rapidly inputting text for your first draft.  While it may not help you write a better novel, it will certainly reduce the time it takes to complete your writing project and that alone makes it worth considering.

 

Trevor Douglas is the author of four novels and one novella. He is currently writing (with the aid of Dragon) Cold Hard Cash, the third book in the Bridgette Cash Mystery Triller series. His website is www.trevordouglasauthor.com

 

And now we want to hear from you: Have you used dictation software in your writing? Are you planning to give it a try? Let us know your experiences in the comments!

42 Comments
  1. Kris B. says:

    Thanks, Trevor. This was my experience, too. I have a degenerative joint disease and am prone to RSIs. I wouldn’t be half as productive without Dragon and my digital voice recorder. It’s worth taking the time to teach Dragon and train one’s brain to speak the story.

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Thanks Kris! (PS dictaphone + transcription for the win)

  2. Perry says:

    Hi, Nick. I use it occasionally. I wanted to be ready in case I needed to be hands free for some reason.
    The microphone does make a big difference. I got one that is used for call centers and it made the accuracy much higher. It also only has the earmuff on one side which is nice when it’s hot out and you don’t want to boil your brain.
    My tip is to train the program for words you use frequently and read through the section after you have dictated to make the corrections while they are fresh in your mind. At the beginning it will be typo hell then it will get better, but not perfect.

  3. Mary Schiller says:

    Thanks for this article. I use Dragon daily for dictation and transcription. Right now I’m using it for nonfiction books, articles, online courses, you name it. I transcribe almost every talk I give, including FB Lives, webinars, even Zoom calls if I feel there is something in there that I might want for a book or other materials. I’ve only used it for nonfiction so far, but I’m rewriting a novel and plan to use Dragon for this version of the novel. It’s written in present tense, first person, so I think dictation might work well.

  4. Jeremy M. says:

    I tried it out to boost my speed, and it works fantastically well for this. At less than $40 for Dragon 13 Pro on Amazon, I couldn’t afford not to try it, and it easily doubled my speed. I also found my carpal tunnel issues don’t act up nearly as much when I use Dragon! One of the best ways to speed up its “training” is to use *your own writing* when you do the initial setup and it asks you to read material. You aren’t required to use the text they provide! Wonderful discovery 🙂 After using it for a week, I had no problem proclaiming I’d never go back to writing without it — when the noise level in my house permits it. It does much better in silence, this is true.

  5. Thom Reece says:

    I love the idea of using Dragon and have considered it for several years… but always ran into stumbling blocks conjured up in my own mind. Trevor’s article is a breath of fresh air and I appreciate you posting it. I have some serious heart issues and sitting at a computer typing has become a problem… but I find myself speaking whole paragraphs away from the computer… so why not Dragon? You have opened a doorway forward for me… Thanks.

  6. Matthew Thrush says:

    I use Dragon as well. The biggest issue that I have is having a clear mind. Meaning, if I’m exhausted or have a migraine, then dictating is severely more difficult to keep a clear mind and figure out what to say. But it’s the same with typing. If you’re too tired, hungry, or sick, then your creative juices are hampered.

    However, even if that’s the case, I still can output twice the amount of words that I could even at my best for typing. This is how I was able to go from writing an average of 1500 to 2000 words per hour typing to roughly 5000 words per hour dictating. It does take some getting used to with fiction writing. But it’s the same in general. It felt weird at first to speak than to type.

    I’ve found that going on walks and using my iPhone’s Voice Demos allows me to dictate while exercising and enjoying some fresh air instead of being crammed in my office. The transcription feature is accurate, and as Trevor said, you can pump out even more if you reduce the commands you use to keep the flow of thought moving. I use only periods (and occasionally commas) when dictating. If I’m dictating at my computer, then I tend to add them in with my hands while speaking. It’s the best of both worlds. But if I’m on a walk, I just use periods or sentence breaks and edit or format later after the transcription.

    I’d encourage anyone who either has a health problem that prevents them from typing or causes more problems, or who wants to write faster to use Dragon. Even on my worst days it’s better than my best with typing. It can feel awkward but the more you train your brain to think this way, the easier it becomes. Besides, we’re used to speaking all day, so our brains are used to it. It’s just a matter of reconditioning yourself to the environment and learned behaviors or routines that is the challenge.

    PS. I used Dragon to write this comment without any errors in the Dragon pad.

  7. Eric says:

    YES! I’m using GoogleDocs/googleVoice – their AI is getting better and better AND now you can even use them offline. I have not tried Dragon, but can imagine it is better (?) e.g. with googledocs when you say “period” it will often type “.” and then change it retroactively to “period” – annoying. But I am “writing” over 80% of my books now with GoogleVoice – writer’s block GONE.

  8. Michael Carney says:

    I bought Dragon originally for my wife about seven years ago, because she is not really very good on technology and I thought it would help her with e-mails and letters. No such luck. All too technical for her, so the software stayed on a shelf for a year then I decided to try it out myself.

    At first, I only used the software when I was quoting from a book or magazine for an article, and didn’t want to retype the words. After that I graduated to using it for writing longer copy content. Nowadays, I use it for most any writing project.

    Probably half of my last two books would have been initially dictated using Dragon. Typically, I dictate into Notepad, half a sentence at a time, correcting as I go. I find that the program’s accuracy has steadily improved, the more I use it. Interestingly, when I’m tired or not enunciating properly, the accuracy plummets.

    I would rate the accuracy nowadays at around 97%, which was about the same as a secretary I had 40 years ago. That sounds pretty good until you realise that means three errors in every hundred words, so you do need to keep your eye on the text to ensure that you’re constantly alert.

    Oh, and I did use Dragon to dictate this comment (again at about 97% accuracy). I have to say that, even with the need to go back and make corrections, this way of working is far far more efficient than tapping keys.

  9. Wendy says:

    I’ve tried dragon off and on for several years.I’d say it’s about 80% accurate with me, even after several hours of training. That means I’m correcting one word in five. (When I’m not laughing so hard at its mishearings that I’m not working.) I actually calculated the overall speed: though I could dictate to it at 95 wpm, by the time I finished fixing all the mistranscriptions, it averaged out to 20 wpm–or about the same speed as I can type-transcribe. (If I’m word-generating, rather than copying handwriting, which I’ve spent most of the last year doing, I can type 35-50 wpm.) What DID improve my wpm was getting an ergonommic keyboard, in my case a GoldTouch split keyboard. My initial reason for going split rather than “wave” was because I didn’t think I’d have room for a wave keyboard, but I discovered being able to change the split angle lets me periodically change the angle of my wrists– when they get tired of one position, I can type in another. You don’t realize how much difference there is between a GOOD keyboard and the things most desktops come with nowadays until you go back to it. The GoldTouch doesn’t have a number pad, and, boy, can I feel the difference when I go back to the basic keyboard.

  10. Jeannie Collins Beaudin says:

    I’ve used dictation on and off since the 90’s with several different programs including Dragon, Microsoft and Mac to write reports and articles. All worked fine once you got them trained. It helps a lot to have documents you’ve written on your hard drive which seem to help in the training. Unfortunately a computer crash can wipe out your “training” files, forcing you to start over unless they’re stored online…so disheartening! But dictating is unbelievably faster with much less effort – worth the work to get it up and running.

  11. Peter Taylor says:

    This article is interesting but appears old. It mentions Dragon 6. Dragon is now up to Version 15 which has ‘deep learning’ for the first time. A YouTube of this Professional Individual 15 shows extremely high accuracy straight out of the box with no learning time. Its accuracy will improve even further with use. The licence is fairly expensive (I’ve not bought yet but am seriously tempted) but it does give you 4 downloads to laptop and desktop and to save in case you replace a computer town the track. I have read that it only works for your voice, so you can’t transcribe a meeting, but I’m sure this possibility will be present in a version still to come.

    I will feel self-conscious talking to myself in a house shared with others.

    Yesterday I tried the voice recognition program included in Windows 10. Let’s just say I won’t use it again.

    I hope someone will comment who has the current edition.

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Nope – v15 is PC only. Mac edition is up to v6.
      And yes, the windows built-in options are horrific!

    2. Jeremy M. says:

      Dragon 15 Pro is about $40 on Amazon if you look hard enough. (Don’t get Home — Pro has the transcription option while Home does not). It’s the same thing as Dragon 15, essentially, though without 15’s “deep learning.” For me, I had 98% accuracy out of the box, and I’m at 99% now. I don’t bother training it to learn weird names in my books, I just use “John” or “Mary,” etc and global search/replace later. You’ll need at least a $40 desktop USB mic, which is what I use, but I do want to get the $120+ USB desktop mic at some point. I also have a Sony PX370 digital recorder ($30) for dictation, and it works fabulously. One key to great accuracy out the gate is to set up your parameters with Audacity, and when dictating the sample text for initial voice training, use *your* writing, not the provided text, and speak in a low volume without rushing. Hope that helps!

  12. Connie Dowell says:

    I use dictation on my smartphone all the time. It’s been a lifesaver for productivity as I’m getting back into writing and my business after having my babies. Not being tied to a keyboard means I can write in the park or as I’m doing right now in a parked car because my kids fell asleep and I get a moment alone with a coffee. It’s also great for times around the house when the toddlers are just playing but I know the site of a keyboard will attract little hands. For those of you who dictate into smartphones and are using dragon are you using Dragon anywhere the app or some other service provided by dragon? I’m seeing references to both dictation and transcription. Is it just a mixing of terms or are there really separate services that Dragon offers for these two different things?

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Separate – so you can talk right into Dragon and it will type (dictation) or record something and have it converted to text later (transcription).

      1. Connie Dowell says:

        Thanks for responding. It is something I will have to look into. I have found my phone does a decent job with dictation with one big exception: The punctuation is always screwy. Maybe Dragon will be better.

    2. Kimberly says:

      I use Dragon Anywhere I love it! An injury left me without the use of my left hand. With Dragon Anywhere and Scrivener for IOS I can continue my author career.

  13. Michael Sirois says:

    I’ve used Dragon for years now (I’m up to Version 15 Pro). During NaNoWriMo each year I was faced with a minor dilemma. A few times a week some of us would meet at local coffee shops, cafes, or bars for a few hours and write in groups. All of those venues are noisy (from mildly so to horrendously loud) so Dragon is useless under those circumstances. Houston, where I live, is quite large (forty miles across, about the same size as London), so it can often take an hour to get somewhere. I skipped some of those write-ins occasionally because I could be more productive at home. Then I started dictating into a small Olympus voice recorder (using a headset mic) during my two hour round trip, and had Dragon transcribe it for me when I got home. Adding my sessions at the write-in to the transcription, my daily word easily doubled.

    I also tape my phone conversations with people when I interview them for research, etc., but with much less success. When there are two or more voices on the recording, Dragon tends to devolve into absolute gibberish. If anyone has suggestions for a way to work around that, I would love to hear them.

    1. Alan says:

      Interview recordings using Dragon
      A slow solution but at least it gets the whole interview (interviewer and interviewee) is to listen to the interview recording with your earphones and simultaneously repeat each sentence – preceded with you sating who is speaking (or do that via keyboard later) into Dragon.
      Slow but still avoids most of the typing
      Or you could separately read out just the interviewer’s spoken sentences and then after that just the interiewee’s spoken sentences – and then cut and past them into a single document via the keyboard.

  14. Jenn says:

    I’ve heard that the PC version is far superior to the Mac version. I usually write on my Mac and just bought Scrivener for Mac, but I do have a PC desktop that I use for business programs. Should I purchase the PC version, use the PC desktop for dictating/transcribing and then transfer that over to Scrivener/Word on my Mac?
    Thanks,
    Jenn

    1. Rory Marron says:

      I’m a Mac user but I got Dragon 13 Pro (Windows). I run Windows 10 on Mac through Parallels. It works flawlessly. Dragon 13 Home Pro edition was 39 dollars on Amazon US, Parallels 12 was £30 and Windows 10 ( developer’s) edition on eBay was cheap. In total far cheaper than the Mac version.

  15. Catherine Walker says:

    I bought it but haven’t used it since my second attempt. I have the Mac version. For such an expensive program it seems to be filled with bugs. At one point it deleted 3 paragraphs then started filling the page with symbols…. even after I pulled the plug on the microphone. I had to end up force quitting the program to get it to stop.

    I might dust it off and give it another go but only with a blank page. At least, Scrivener, has the fail-safe of everything being broken into scene’s on their own little doc’s so the damn dragon shouldn’t be able to flame everything. Touch wood.

  16. David Robinson says:

    I suffer from severe arthritis which has got worse over the last few years, and my typing has deteriorated along with my joints.

    My son-in-law sent me an old version of Dragon earlier this year which I use with Windows 7 and Microsoft Word (I used to teach Word, so I’ve always preferred it). The difference is astounding. I write fiction and cynical, third age humour, and not only has my output gone up to an average of 3000 to 4000 words a day, but the accuracy has improved, much to the relief of my editor.

    Dragon has some quirks with Word, the main one being I can’t find a way to make it support the AutoCorrect function, which I use for strange names. That aside, it’s an excellent piece of kit and I wouldn’t be without it now.

    If I have one quibble, it’s the problems I encounter when I burst into fits of laughter as I’m constructing a gag. Dragon simply has no sense of humour.

  17. Bronwyn says:

    I have the same question as Jenn with regards to Dragon for PC being better than for Mac – any comments on that? Also, when you say your wpm increased, I am assuming this is just the words you get down on paper – not the time it takes to edit what Dragon put there and add the punctuation? If so, what would you say your wpm count would be adjusted for after factoring in time for editing? Thanks:-)

  18. Anika says:

    I wouldn’t recommend buying a second hand version of Dragon, there are too many dodgy sellers out there who will sell you a bootlegged copy. If you can’t afford the latest version of Dragon then have a look at the previous version, or the one before that. You can usually find them new on Amazon or other retailers significantly cheaper. If you check the specs you can see what has changed. Nuance usually has a comparison chart on their website. The thing about buying a new older version is you can register it and you will get the cheap upgrade offers.

  19. Kelly says:

    I have rwcen5been strugglong with muscle tension issues from spending hours at my laptop. This article has been very informative. Thanks. I’m definitely going to check into getting the Dragon program.

  20. Jeff Adams says:

    I’ve been using Dragon since August and I’m currently dictating my third novel with it. It’s been a great tool to increase my word count, which is critical since I have a day job too. Once I got into the flow of dictation my word count went up from typing 650 words on average in 20 minutes to dictating an average of 1100. My biggest challenge is making sure I speak clearly. I had no idea until Dragon how sloppy my diction was.
    I’ve primarily used dictation with an Olympus voice recorder. I don’t want to see the words on screen as I go as it’s too much of a distraction to want to edit and/or teach Dragon something. So I dictate, which lets me walk around my office or sit in my comfy office chair as I go. I use minimal punctuation–always periods, quote marks and line breaks… sometimes commas. Although I admit that sometimes I get into a flow and forget punctuation though.
    I’m glad I took the leap. Once I got used to telling the story out loud, and not caring if my husband heard parts of it the closed door, it became the most awesome writing tool I’d gotten since Scrivener.

  21. MLCoulthard says:

    The first I ‘wrote’ using Dragon was a letter to my mom. Fascinating study in ‘self-amusement’. After the first year, I noticed I was not so much teaching Dragon how I speak. IT, was in fact, teaching ME how to enunciate properly. As a person that spoke publicly quite frequently, I found the longer I used Dragon, the more compliments I received on my speeches. Nice. Now, some untold years later, I still use Dragon (installed on my old computer). I am over 97% word recognition at conversational speeds. Nice! However, as my life has changed, so has my writing. These days I carry a small recorder as well as a journal. More and more, I write (original words) in my journals. I find I use the recorder at night or in locations I cannot sit and write. (Loathe transcribing my to my own voice.) I use the Dvorak layout on my old computer so it’s a toss-up… type, speak… transcribe from recorder or journal. But Dragon still holds a place in my life… especially since the first time… driving my then wife crazy as I learned to dictate a letter to my mom.

  22. Chris Taylor says:

    I started using Dragon dictation software late last year after being told about it by some writing colleagues at a conference. I absolutely love it and can’t imagine ever going back to writing on the keyboard. I dictate into a hand held device and then have Dragon transcribe for me. I’m able to dictate while I’m waiting for my kids to have swimming lessons, music lessons, tutoring etc. This used to be wasted time. Now I can put out 1000-2000 words while I wait. Fantastic! The more you use the software, the more accurate it is. It has doubled my productivity and my hands and wrists don’t ever feel sore like they used to after a day at my keyboard. A winner all round!

  23. Kathleen McCormick says:

    Before addressing technical issues, I want to say that I am an extremely happy convert to dictation which I’ve been using often for the last year and a half. Like others, there is no question that word production per hour dramatically increases. And while it might take some time to get used to dictating, in fact, hearing your characters talk out loud (or think out loud) can make your tone and word choice more appropriate/distinctive to a particular character. So dictating can actually lead to better writing as well as faster writing.

    I have been dictating only first drafts and then editing by typing. But now I do a pleasant mixture of both during the revision process. Like Nick, I think the first draft process is dramatically enhanced by having a basic list of where I think I’m going to go in my writing in any given session. (And I do really mean a short list.) I’m basically a pantser kind of writer regardless of how much I plan in advance. And I enjoy the surprises my characters give me. They can just do it a lot faster and way more efficiently if I’m talking. I feel so freed up by dictating and almost all of the anxiety of starting writing or getting through a rough patch just dissipates! [The dictation program on the Mac is sometimes weird–for example it rather randomly typed out “exclamation point” at the end of my previous sentence, but it actually just wanted to use the punctuation mark here when I was trying to spell it out. It also does rather randomly capitalize some words. But the joy of simply having my characters move along quickly, particularly in the first draft, far outweigh any technical problems.

    And for any nerdy people out there like me who are really interested in the cognition of writing, a number of theorists starting with Lev Vygotsky, argue that hearing speech is what stimulates thought, that speech is primary, and that writing is the re-externalization of speech (which was internalized as thought.) Their theories would support the idea that telling stories orally is more basic and fundamental to the human brain. Okay probably more information than you really wanted! 🙂

    Now to the issue of the Mac versus PC the effectiveness of Dragon. I use a Mac, but my friends and colleagues who use PCs have been getting much better accuracy for a long time (many years) with Dragon. There are times when Dragon will still crash my Mac if I try to dictate in word. It works fine if I dictate in TextEdit. But I hate TextEdit. I have a relatively standard Northeast US accent. Interestingly, my husband who has a New Zealand accent and a Mac at the same level as mine never experiences a problem with Dragon in word. Most frequently I simply use the dictation that is standard on Macs which you easily get into simply by hitting the fn key twice. Like others, accuracy varies largely depending on my degree of articulation.

    So writing is faster, easier, more fun, and ultimately probably more natural when it is spoken through a dictation program. Probably no one who’s gotten this far down in the comments section isn’t already into dictating.

    But if you think dictation’s not for you, give it a try. You’ll be less drained and end up with more words than you know what to do with. I wouldn’t say categorically that my first drafts are always better because I dictate them, but I’m less invested in stuff that isn’t working because it didn’t take as long to produce it in the first place. And being able to cut ruthlessly for me is just as important as being able to write efficiently in the overall writing process.

  24. Katharina Gerlach says:

    I’ve been using Dragon consistently for translating my novels (from English, my second language, back into German, my mother tongue) and found it quite accurate. One problem I’m having though is that I cannot dictate when the family is around. It makes me feel awkward and I begin to stumble over words. I tried dictating in English but haven’t had much success with it yet, probably due to the fact that I’ve got a very strong Scottish accent. I might simply need more time to train the program.

  25. Karen Guyler says:

    Chronic RSI forced me into Dragon at work 4 years ago where it works really well in Windows. At home, on a Mac, not so much, crashing every fifteen minutes or so and taking the whole system down with it. I’ve heard that the new version of scrivener means that Dragon doesn’t do this so much so will be investing in that. There’s definitely a difference between thinking through your fingers and speaking though!

  26. Colin Guest says:

    Many thanks for all the advice on using Dragon. I have used two versins in the past and been thinking of getting a new version. From what I have just read I will buy a copy via Amazon as it seems much cheaper that way.

  27. Peter N Bernfeld says:

    I’ve used it for a couple of years, read a book or two on it and ponied-up for a training course. Money well spent! It can be frustrating (frequently) but overall, for first-draft work it’s excellent. The only downside? I don’t think at 2000 words per hour😂. If you’re struggling a bit for inspiration you cant’t kid yourself by massaging hands, flexing fingers and shaking hands to clear any imagined restrictions. If you don’t ‘have the words’ then they won’t come out of your mouth😂😂😂

  28. Nora Jean Stone says:

    I started out with Dragon NaturallySpeaking a year or so ago. But where I have my computer is in a common area in my home where there’s traffic and I found myself inhibited when people were walking by. So I didn’t use my Dragon software that often.

    Then I saw on a YouTube video that Dragon had a software that you could transcribe things that you recorded elsewhere. I got excited. I looked up the price for Dragon version 15 for the PC and just wept. It was too expensive for me, not even including a voice recorder which would add another level of cost.

    I am a retired senior on a low fixed income. I have to find sideline hustles to be able to gather new software and new hardware money and the older I get the harder it is to hustle chump change. So I was delighted when a customer service representative from Nuance called me to ask me how I was doing with my Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I told her my dilemma.

    “How would you like a copy of Dragon version 15 for $143? I’ll throw in a Phillips DVT 3200 voice recorder for an additional $99.” She said.

    “You got yourself a deal, Mary.” I told her. Less than half price with a voice recorder the total coming to under $200 was within my “cookie jar” money stash.

    I already had Scrivener and felt comfortable with it, to the point that I participated in the 2017 NaNoWriMo writing challenge. The only problem that came up was RSI, that old bane. That’s when I started thinking of dictation software more seriously.

    Now with Dragon version 15, Scrivener, and the voice recorder, this old grandma couldn’t be happier.

    I have a friend I’ve known for 40 years who always says “Nora, you just gotta talk it, tape it, and type it. You’re sitting on a gold mine.” I suppose he’s right, but I’m just gonna talk it, tape it, and let Dragon transcribe it. Because I don’t want another carpal tunnel surgery.

    This is been dictated with a headset and mic, on the DragonPad, with Dragon version 15. I am doing the happy dance, albeit sitting down.

    1. Nora Jean Stone says:

      Update: The total came to $173.95 for some reason and Mary tossed in Password Genie on top of it. I was not going to complain about the lower cost than originally quoted.

  29. Nora Stone says:

    I used the wrong email address to follow this blog article. This reply is to correct that.

  30. Elliott Wolfson says:

    I am the crazy guy that talks to a sock!

    I love putting the kids in the stroller, pulling out my digital voice recorder with a thick sock pulled over it (to keep the wind out a bit more), and going for a walk while ‘writing’ my draft. Besides the sideways glances people give the crazy guy “talking to a sock,” it’s great to come home and have a few thousand words written and a walk done!

    I use Dragon dictate (mac) with a researched microphone (some work really well and some don’t, do some research first) and it words wonderfully. I agree with Nick, I’ve got a great bluetooth headset with microphone and Dragon hates it. I’ve you’ve got to move around get a solid digital voice recorder or a long USB cord, both are not as expensive as you’d think.

    I do most of my brainstorming with a digital voice recorder while walking outside. If I take care not to get too much wind in the microphone it can do voice-to-text without difficulty. I use my phone’s voice memo feature to record audio when I’m on the go, then move the file to my computer to transcribe. It works surprisingly well.

    Kevin J Anderson’s book Million Dollar Productivity introduced me to the idea of using dictation to write drafts with lightening speed. There’s a few pulp fiction authors that used transcriptionists later in their careers to keep cranking out incredible word counts.

    Just like writing though, it takes practice and it’s thinking in a different way.

    I use it a lot when I’m ghost writing or using a pen name because it generates a different voice and feel than typing does.

    As long as it’s not a distraction and you still get your daily word counts in, go for trying it, but don’t expect it to work immediately. You’ve got to train!

    It’s cheaper than carpal tunnel surgery. If you don’t want to re-learn how to draft (it’s a brain tickler to think differently) get a good chair, a mechanical keyboard / ergonomic keyboard, monitor, and get it all at the right height to protect yourself. Then write or walk your draft.

    Get ‘yo draft done. No substitute for working hard and smart.

    My rules:
    1. Everything recorded has to be transcribed before I got to sleep. That way it doesn’t back up to an overwhelming pile of audio files.
    2. Keep all of the audio files and give it names that make sense with the text file so if the transcription is wrong, it doesn’t take long to find the file and check.

  31. Charlotte Abel says:

    I tried Dragon years ago and it was horrible! Constant crashes that required a total restart of my machine, typos galore, and nonsensical, random word substitutions.
    I broke my shoulder two years ago and thought I’d give it another try. The software was much better. Accuracy was impressive even with minimal training, especially after I switched my profile to “US Southern.” (I guess living in Colorado for the past forty years didn’t totally obliterate my accent.) I still struggle with brain freezes when dictating and have yet to get into the magical “flow” state that sometimes occurs when typing. I’ve got both versions of Dragon. One running on my MacBook Pro and the other on an iMac using Parallels. The PC version seems to be better at transcription, but it crashes more often and I don’t like using Windows or Parallels.

    I dictate into TextEdit and correct any “Dragon” mistakes then copy and paste into Scrivener. I write Paranormal Romance with quite a bit of dialogue so it was worth it to train myself to use the “open quote” and “close quote” commands. I still forget sometimes but it’s getting easier.
    Training my brain is much more difficult than training Dragon.

    I usually begin a scene on the keyboard, then once I know where it’s going, I switch to dictation.

  32. William Liggett says:

    I was excited to read this post, having been referred to it by a friend. I have been experimenting with text to speech for years and even tried IBM Via Voice is the 1990’s, but the results were so inaccurate they made for good laughs. Then Dragon started improving accuracy while reducing time needed for training. So, when I began writing my first novel a couple of years ago, I thought I’d give Naturally Speaking a try. Like this post and other comments have said, it took getting used to, but it made completing my novel Watermelon Snow much easier. The pros and cons for using this technology are laid out so well in this post, but some might find my experience helpful too (A High-tech Way to Conquer “Blank Page Paralysis,” http://bit.ly/BlankPg).

  33. Caroline Clemmons says:

    I’m new to Dragon but love it. I’m from Texas and my twang and Dragon are still getting used to one another. I had carpal tunnel in my right hand so that I could hardly move, but Dragon has allowed that to heal. I absolutely recommend Dragon to any author.

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