A FEW WEEKS AGO, I tried to cut off the tip of my left index finger while slicing vegetables for a breakfast omelet. I keep my knives very sharp, and so the cut was clean but also very deep, and the tip of my poor finger was barely attached.
Before you get concerned, I’m happy to report that the human body is an amazing thing, and my finger did mend, though it took a few weeks and my fingernail is still somewhat misshapen. But I am confident even that will recover in time.
In the meantime, for a full week, I couldn’t use my left index finger at all. That’s a big deal for a left-handed writer. But I discovered I could quickly adapt the use of my third finger wherever my index finger was needed for typing. My accuracy and speed both suffered, but at least I could continue writing. And since my day job requires constant use of my computer, I adapted there as well.
All of this made me think about what I would do if I lost the use of other fingers — or, worse, my hands. I know, these are depressing thoughts — but if your life is all about writing and reading, the two things you most fear losing are the use of your hands and your eyesight.
I also know that sometimes story ideas come when I’m away from my keyboard. This would be a good time for me to take advantage of mobile transcription. Another effective way to use transcription could be when conducting interviews. Or even when writing emails or blog posts.
So, I began investigating speech-to-text tools. Or should I say, “re-investigating.”
The last time I tried to use it, transcription software was still in its infancy. It was hugely expensive, slow, and highly inaccurate. But now, with smartphones and microphones built into every computer, and virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, we have transcription software built into almost every bit of technology we own.
I type pretty fast (around 90 wpm when I’m in the zone) but, like most people, I speak at around 150 wpm, which is 40% faster than I type and more than three times faster than the average typing speed of 40 wpm. So, I thought that even without a disability or pressing need for speech-to-text, it would be worthwhile to look into.
What I discovered:
- On Apple mobile devices and Mac computers, Siri allows you to dictate directly into your notepad and other Siri-enabled applications, such as Word, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. I was thrilled to discover Siri works in Scrivener, my go-to writing application. I found Apple’s guide showing you how to set up Siri dictation on your mobile device or computer along with a list of common dictation commands. You can even add advanced commands of your own. To activate enhanced transcription on your Mac, simply press the function (fn) key twice.
- Windows also has built-in transcription software. For you PC users, I found this article on how to set up and configure speech recognition.
- If you use Google docs, you’ll be happy to know that it also has a dictation mode and is available on desktop and mobile. I don’t use Google docs much, but for testing purposes, I gave it a brief try on my desktop. It was easy to set up (under the Tools menu) and worked just as well as Siri.
- Dragon anywhere is a mobile app from Nuance that’s had great ratings and boasts a 99% accuracy. It costs $15/month or $150/year. It desktop equivalent is Dragon Professional, which costs $300 (not a subscription). I haven’t tried it because, frankly, I think Siri’s pretty great, and I’m still in beta-testing mode with using speech to text. However I have read a number of posts from hardcore speech-to-texters who swear by Dragon, so I thought I should reference it here.
There’s a learning curve, of course. All speech-to-text applications require training the software for your voice and manner of speaking. And you (or I) will need time to learn how to use it comfortably and effectively.
Commonsense tips I have read will achieve the best results:
- Use a microphone when dictating. This helps prevent errors due to ambient noise and the accuracy rate will be much higher.
- Think about what you are going to say before you say it.
- Enunciate your words clearly and speak in full sentences.
- Outline your writing or develop a list of bullet points you want to cover first. An outline will help with the previous two bullet points and keep you from rambling or repeating yourself, which will reduce time spent editing.
- Don’t expect 100% accuracy. You still have to correct and edit the text, just as you would if you typed it yourself.
For me, the jury’s still out. In some ways, I like the slower mode of entering words using a keyboard because it causes me to choose my words more carefully and, frankly, I’m not a very fast composer. I also haven’t learned yet how to avoid some rambling or my tendency to insert “um” and “uh” when I speak. Still, I think it’s worth continuing to experiment. I will update you on my progress and a list of pros and cons in a future post.