Once you have been writing for a while, the way you write becomes calcified.
This is usually a good thing, because everything gets a little bit easier, you grow comfortable dealing with a vast range of interlocking skills, and you can complete everything just a little faster.
When you’ve been writing for a long while, like I have, those habits and work processes can trip you up.
Often, it happens without you realizing it. You become so set in your ways you figure there is no other way to do things.
This happened to me last week.
More than ten years ago, when I was first exploring how to increase my speed as a writer, I bought a relatively unknown program called Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
The software was (and still is) a complete resource hog. At the time, I found it not as useful as I thought it might be. Plus, it was impossible to upgrade in those days. Upgrading meant buying a new license new license for the latest software. At full price.
As my computer kept falling over when the cache maxed out, and the CPU exploded, I uninstalled the program. I stopped experimenting with dictation software.
Fast-forward another five years or so.
Monica Leonelle (author of Dictate Your Book: How To Write Your Book Faster, Better, and Smarter) created a sensation on the KBoards Writers’ Café when she talked about the fantastic speed she was getting from dictation software.
She spoke about “training your Dragon” and suddenly everyone adopted a pet Dragon, trained them, and likewise achieved humongous amounts of speed with their novel writing.
I was frankly envious. Those sorts of speed are impossible when you have fingers on the keyboard.
Other writing gurus joined the ranks. Chris Fox, author of 5,000 Words Per Hour, among others, also extolled the virtues of dictation software.
It was hard to resist the lure of 5,000 words an hour. So I bought a fresh new license, and tried again.
The experiment was a complete disaster.
I reported on both the before and after scenarios, after having written an entire book using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. You can find the beginning of my experiment here, and my report on the results here.
To summarize very quickly, the results of writing a book with dictation software convinced me I was too set in my ways as a writer. I could not adapt to the new technology, and I uninstalled it.
It was actually a relief to get back to typing. Typing was invisible to me. And that is probably where the alarm bells should have started ringing loud and clear.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. I was reading a blog post which had nothing to do with dictation software.
In fact I have been avoiding posts and books about dictation software ever since I uninstalled mine.
Whenever I was asked about dictation software, I would admit that the speed which is possible with dictation software was absolutely marvellous, but for me, it was not a good idea. The quality of my writing went downhill when I dictated. For that reason I chose not to use it.
Only, I would think back to the 10,000 to 15,000 word counts I was getting nearly every day with a sigh of regret.
Anyway, to get back to the post I was reading. I can’t remember the post now, unfortunately. I do know it was about a new technology that I didn’t investigate any further because it was Mac only.
However, the author made a comment which raised my brow, and stuck with me for a few days.
To paraphrase, the author pointed out that when typewriters were invented, legions of authors refused to use them, stating that the new technology would ruin their writing. That they were accustomed to writing with pen on paper.
When personal computers became common, and word processors the norm, a ton of writers who learned their trade using a manual typewriter, or even an electric one, refuse to switch over to a processor. They said it would ruin their writing.
In 2018, I know of at least one writer who has refused to upgrade their word processor from the old 1980s WordStar word processing program. Remember that? It was good, but it has had its day.
All this went through my mind over the next few days, because the comments about new technology ruining an author’s writing struck home.
Accordingly, I plunked down a goodly amount of money for Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional version.
As I reported in this week’s work log, installing and training the software has slowed down my output considerably. At least for the first week, it did.
However, I’m already noticing increases in speed, even though I am still stopping to correct a multitude of mistakes.
The problem with dictation is that it can feel slow, yet it is faster than anything you can manage on a keyboard. It is deceptive.
In the last few days I have managed to do 10,000 words in my normal six hours of writing each day, when my best expectations used to be between 5,000 and 6,000 words. If I wanted to do more than that I had to shuck off administrative tasks in the afternoon and also writing in the evening.
I wasn’t reaching for speed in the last two days. I am still stopping and correcting, and patiently training the software, and ironing out other kinds such as the headset I use, and installing upgrades and patches.
The other half of the equation, the one that I didn’t consider when I last experimented with dictation software, is that not only the software must be trained. I must also train myself to write books by dictating them.
I will have to adapt. Just to begin, I need to think in phrases, not in words. I am sure there are other trick and changes I need to incorporate, but I won’t discover them until I am further along with this switch over.
This time, I am determined to stick with it until I learn the trick. I have no arguments with writing more than 10,000 words a day, which I fully expect I’ll be able to reach once I have the software, and me, trained.
Are you resisting new technology, or a change of habits, that could improve your work processes, or make you write faster? Have you ever said to anyone that you are too established in your habits now to change?
Not all changes, and not all technology, is worth the investment in time and adaptation.
Sometimes, though, it is. Sometimes it can revolutionize the way you work. It can give you serious gains.
If you don’t experiment, test and tweak, and keep your mind open to new possibilities, you will be like the old Victorian writers who snorted in derision at those typewriter things and muttered that they would never catch on.