Speaking the words and the necessary evil

I have an odd confession to make, well not so much a confession, I require no absolution here, but a confession all the same. My previous blog post, EX Oblivione, was not written by me…

Well not as such, I wrote it, I haven’t started cheating and farming out my Lovecraftian blog challenge to other writers. I just did not write it the way I normally would. Fingers to the keyboard, ‘tippy tappy type…’ labouriously typing one word after another on my ever worn down keyboard. Instead, I tried something new, rather than type the blog out I spoke to the computer and let it do the typing for me, using the inbuilt speech recognition software that comes as part of Windows 10. An experiment of sorts and as a means to defeat that old necessary evil… But I get ahead of myself… Let me take this back a little first…

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Way back in the grim dark age of technology, or as we called it at the time the 80’s, I learned to type on an ink ribbon typewriter. I would have been twelve or thirteen at the time, earning pocket money by typing up my dads plumbing invoices. Then wasting his ink and paper typing stories more in hope than expectation while black vinyl spun on the turntable at 33rpm. A time which taught me the value of learning a skill (20 pence an invoice added up in the pocket money stakes) and the value of Tipp-ex liquid correction fluid. Which, I may add, was not to be used on invoices. Mess up an invoice and you started over, which probably cost my old man a fortune in headed notepaper. I did, however, use it in my attempts to write stories and those first vainglorious attempts at the writer’s craft, which given that I am dyslexic meant I used rather a lot of it. So much that I am surprised I was not high as a kite listening to those 80’s grooves, inventing strange worlds and even stranger characters in my early teens.  Correction fluid is solvent based and was a favourite huff of a certain kind of school boy back in my youth…

Dyslexia is a curse of a kind and an occasional blessing, but it does not help you as a typist, and the quicker you try and type the more often you make weird little errors. In these more enlightened times of the internet, google, computers and importantly to myself word processors, dyslexia is less of a curse to my typing. Though it certainly makes for mildly annoying little typos ( such as my innate ability to type form instead of from every time and spell the ‘teh’ nine times out of ten when I type) and of course those far more annoying ‘necessary’ evils…

If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed me use that odd phrase from the title of this piece a couple of times. So I should perhaps explain what the ‘necessary‘ evils are… As a dyslexic, my Achilles heel is words that are not spelt phonetically ( like ‘fanetically‘ itself for example). The English language is full of them, and my brain doesn’t do that little leap that tells you to ignore what it sounds like and spell it the ‘right’ way. It’s too busy just managing to bridge the divide created by the weird bit of wiring that is going on behind my eyes… My accent doesn’t entirely help in this case either. I do not speak BBC middle English, I am a Yorkshire man from Leeds who has lived in the north east for some time and picked up hints of Newcastle and Middlesbrough along the way…. Which is to say the Phonetic’s I speak in are not entirely the Phonetics of newsreaders…

Wordprocessors and add ons like Grammarly are a fantastic boon with many things. They pick up most of the ‘from’ form’ errors and all those annoying ‘teh’s. But word processors have their own Achilles heels, and necessary is one of them. You see necessary according to my brain is spelt ‘ness-er-cery’ and there is not a word processor in the world which will correct that. It is only because I use the word often enough to take a mental back step when I type it that I manage to not spend five minutes wrestling with different letter combinations (and occasionally bludgeoning it) until the word processor finds one that’s close enough to right for it to correct it for me. Which would not be too bad, but necessary is but one of many words that catch me out and fuddle spell checkers at the same time. More than once I have known the exact word I wish to use but ended up changing it to another just because I have had enough to spell checker wrestling. The upshot of which is I spend a lot of time editing, even when I am not editing…

Which brings me back to where I started and the previous blog post experiment… I am, when not writing, a techy. Which is to say I work with technology and am an engineer by trade. So it is natural to me to find technological solutions to my problems. One of which is the amount of time it takes to write first drafts. I type fast, but I edit myself as I go, so which the characters may flow from the keyboard, my actual typing speed is a trade off with the amount of basic editing I have to do. the faster I type, the more teh and ‘from’ ‘form’ I have to deal with, and all the others I have not mentioned. Let alone all those basic little errors that creep into my typing. So while telling ‘Alexa’ to play some Dillon a few days ago it occurred to me that these days I talk to my hi-fi, I talk to my phone when I want it to ring some one, or just answer a question about the nearest coffee shop… I even talk to my Kindle these days as I just upgraded to one with Alexa on board… So why in hells name do I type everything I write on my PC…

As I am a techy the next thing I did was run over to keyboard and start looking up the best speech to type software that was out there in internet-land… Which proved to be a bunch of expensive options and a long list of incompatibilities… I was a tad disheartened because here was a solution to those ‘necessary’ evils and the ‘from’ ‘form’ problem. as well as my general ecliptic typing… But the best speech to type software did not appear to compatible with Office 365 and would require an investment of cash I was not entirely certain I wanted to make for something which I may decide I hated or turn out to be useless for me. I write in a certain way because I think in a certain way and deal with my dyslexia in a certain way. Dictating to my PC may actually hinder my creative methodology as much as it benefits my transcriptions…  And I so hate to waste money (you can take the man out of Yorkshire, but he will always remain a Yorkshire man all the same, deep pockets and short arms tis the way…) So I shelved the idea to the back of my mind for a while.

Then I realised that I was missing something rather important. While looking through a couple of tech sites on the off chance of there being a freeware solution out there, windows 10 comes with a speech to type app. Yes, that operating system most of us not praying at the church of St Steve are using has all the software I needed, built into the OS. It just had not occurred to me to look. It might not be the cutting edge best in the market, but it was a good place to start.

So, long story not made particularly short that’s what I did. I set up speech to type and decided to try it out on a Lovecraftian blog post. My innate pessimism expecting teething problems (there were many) but hopeful that the experience would be useful. Which it was, though there are a few issues. However, it occurred to me others may wish to try this themselves, and while I am back at the keyboard tonight, writing this blog post, I am going to repeat the experiment a few times and try using it for the first draft of my next but one novel ‘Something Red’ the sequel to ‘Passing Place.’   (‘Spider in the eye‘ is in final drafting and I am not going to even attempt to use speech to type to do that, certainly not yet anyway). I intend to do a little work on ‘Something Red’ in the next few weeks anyway so its a good time to experiment…

So things you need to know if you want to try speech to type with Windows 10, most of which I learned the hard way…

  • The Win 10 program is an access aid rather than just speech to type, so it is global to your pc and you can find your changing web pages by mistake when you say the wrong thing, which is a little weird and bloody irritating…
  • Run the training program, it teaches you how to use the software to edit etc but importantly it ‘trains’ the program to your voice and how you say words ( I did not do this till I had grown somewhat frustrated with the app. it was working so much better afterwards)
  • Perceiver, after the ‘training‘ app has run you will know how to highlight a word the app ‘hears’ wrong and correct it without using the keyboard and the app is smart, it learns from its mistakes and ‘hears’ you better as it learns those little foibles of your voice. So the more you use it, and the more you correct it without resorting to the keys, the less you need to and the more the words just flow.
  • Use the insert key often… the text appears in a little box (at least when using it to write in a web page) and you have to insert it into the page. Nothing is more frustrating in this process than ‘writing’ several lines and losing them when the app decides you just told it to go to a web page…
  • Never leave a web page open when you have searched the word ‘Nihilism’ an hour ago, forgotten doing so, then use it in what your ‘writing’ and then what the text box vanish while the web pops to a different window… ( okay that last one was just me, but it’s a general point)

As an experiment it was I think a successful one. True, the post took longer to write than normal, mostly because I was wrestling speech to type even more than I wrestle the word proccessor. Though once I learned how to use the software to make the app learn my voice properly things improved dramatically. And yes I finished it off by hand after the first drafting of the post. But that was the point, what I wanted to achieve was first drafts which didn’t feel like an exercise in editing as I go. More to the point if I do edit I want it to be editing, not wrestling the word processor, the endless stream of ‘teh’  ‘form’ and all those ‘necessary’ evils to deal with..

So, I have seen the future, it does the typing for me while I talk to it… As long as it doesn’t start talking back, it will be a good one…

This entry was posted in opinion, self-publishing, writes, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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