Lene on reclaiming her writing voice, literally

When her RA hands could no longer type, Lene switched to writing with her voice.

 

As some of you may have noticed, I'm on a much-needed sabbatical from my main day job and all this freedom has given me the mental space to think. As is my wont, thinking usually leads to writing and in this particular instance that, too, made me think.

When I was in university, I used to write my essays longhand and then do the final copy on a typewriter (yes, it was that long ago). In the late 1980s, I had a summer job that I didn't like much, but I used all the money I made buy myself a computer. And then I discovered that composing while you write longhand and composing while you type are two entirely different things. For a while, I wrote my essays longhand and used my computer as a glorified typewriter.

Eventually, I did figure it out. In fact, I took to it like a fish to water and writing got even better than when I used a pen. It seemed as if I managed to connect the deep recesses of my mind to my computer via the conduit of my fingers. Finally, my hands could keep up with my thoughts. As. There were times where it seemed as if it was almost automatic writing, as if I zoned out once I was at the keyboard. Somehow, an essay or a short story flowed out of me and I wasn't quite sure how. I didn't question it too much, just rode this wonderful phenomenon for years.

And then my RA and a repetitive stress injury in my shoulder took it away. Gradually, my pain increased and equally gradually, my ability to write decreased. It was devastating, like being forcibly silenced.

Luckily I had geeky friends, one of whom introduced me to voice recognition. I’d never heard of this type of software — a miraculous bit of programming that enables you to dictate while the computer wrote. What a marvelous idea! My friend gave me Via Voice, then the most widely available voice recognition software, and I set about training it. This was a somewhat frustrating experience. After a couple of hours of me and the program working together, I used it to send an e-mail to my friend. I dictated the subject as "d*mn" and Via Voice wrote "Beirut."  It never got much better than that.

Shortly thereafter, I became aware of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and invested in a copy. This was years ago and you can guess how long when I tell you my first copy of Dragon was v.7 and they are now on 12.5. This was an entirely different program — pretty intuitive, easy to use and although it didn't always understand what I said, it was highly receptive to training. Over the years, I upgraded every time a new edition came out and the program has only improved. These days, you can start dictating pretty accurately right out of the box.

How I work with Dragon has also improved. At first, I discovered that composing while you type and composing while you talk are two entirely different things. It took a while, but I learned to zone out while talking into the microphone and again connect to that place deep within my mind where the stories live. And I've gone from being able to painfully peck out maybe 400 words a day, to being able to write 2-3000 words every day.

Today, I write almost everything with Dragon. I wrote this post with it, I wrote all 70,000 words in my book with it and I use it to write chatty e-mails to my friends. And it's not just for writing — I can use it to browse on the Internet, post on Twitter and Facebook and navigate my computer. I wouldn't be surprised if it can make coffee, too! Overall, the accuracy is astonishing, although every now and again, there are what I call Dragon-isms when the program misunderstands me. Thankfully, the errors are not as profound as my first experience with voice recognition and the context usually helps explain what I meant.

I often recommend Dragon to my friends who live with chronic illnesses that affect their hands. Whether it's an accommodation for work, using it for CreakyJoints’ memoir course or chatting online with friends, voice recognition can help you find your voice and share it with others.

Lene is the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain

 

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