Audio equipment to illustrate subject of this blog post.

Verdict: Suspending my Dictation Practice

I’ll be honest. Before I sat down for my Asimov Hour session this morning, I had no idea what I was going to blog about for today’s process post. I realize that most people who read the blog aren’t also automatically going to watch my YouTube videos, but I felt like I’d said all I needed to say about my current state of things in the three videos I uploaded yesterday, and was a little tapped out with regard to providing updates.

At best, I thought maybe I’d address that kerfuffle from yesterday about the article that made Twitter authors lose their collective minds with the all-capped headline commanding: WRITE EVERY DAY OR STOP NOW. Maybe I’ll touch on that later since my perspective isn’t quite the apparent norm.

But that is not what I will be talking about today.

In my Asimov session this morning, as I’ve been doing for the last week-or-so, I continued working on transcribing the road-drafting sessions I recorded on my way to Pittsburgh on May 18. Now I realize I had quite a bit of trouble getting things going with Dragon in the first place, so I’ve been trying to ignore my misgivings about this method and give the software the benefit of the doubt.

Just to recap:

  • I had trouble getting my recording equipment set up. Multiple purchases/returns via Amazon, multiple attempts at recording sessions that went to waste and were trashed because of poor audio, and much time wasted that I’d hoped would go toward ‘getting the hang of dictation’ but was mostly spent researching what sound equipment other dictating authors used because what the *@#!ity-@%#! was I doing wrong??
  • Either from stress or seasonal allergies or overuse in all these practice sessions, I started to lose my voice before I even left for Pittsburgh!
  • I finally dictated, limiting myself to about an hour to just see how it would go, then had the disappointment of seeing Dragon return total gobbledygook when I tried to transcribe those files in my hotel room.
  • Extra editing time for each file was necessary because of road noise that the lavaliere mic I was using did not eliminate.

So finally, I think it was Tuesday after I wrote my weekend recap blog post, I found good instructions to clean up the road noise, and finally got somewhere with Dragon’s transcriptions. Not perfect, but far closer than I’d experienced thus far.

Encouraged, I spent all week working on those transcriptions.

Let me repeat that. I spent ALL WEEK working on TRANSCRIPTIONS of about an hour’s worth of recordings.

ALL.

WEEK.

The reality of that didn’t strike me until this morning. I reached the end of my 9 files for transcription, and faced the possibility of walking and dictating some more (I don’t know when, it’s done nothing but rain for the last week and looks to continue that trend), and then having to return to the practice of transcribing my dictated files in future morning Asimov Hours.

So I did a little math.

I’d already been calculating the WPH from the recorded files. The output of words versus time came out to between 3700 and 4250 words per hour (calculated; the longest recording was 28 minutes). That seemed rather promising.

Except.

Except.

EXCEPT.

Except for how much time was, in reality, going into the production and transcription of those words.

Let me give you an example. And, say for the sake of simplicity, I didn’t have to deal with the anguish of the initial road-noise-impacted transcription.

That 28-minute long dictated recording.

Well, it took 28:47. That’s fairly straightforward. Hard to imagine recording in double-time or anything. So for the 1690 words that created, my pace was approximately 3496 WPH. Pretty good. Not amazing–I could easily do that hand-typing–but pretty good.

Then they took about 3 minutes to clean up in Audacity (road noise, noise levels, etc.). Not too big of an impact, you’d think. 3168 WPH, though, a noticeable drop.

Then there was the time Dragon took to run the transcription. It wasn’t fast. I don’t have the exact data on this, so it’ll have to get lumped into the sessions from that week where I also worked to correct the transcription errors. What I did, finally, was play back the audio on my Mac, following along in the DragonPad document so I could highlight sections and tell Dragon to correct them. 75% of the time I needed to hand-enter the correction because Dragon’s suggestions were way off. To transcribe this 28:47 file took me two Asimov Hours. Not the full sessions, as I also did shorter files on either end, but a fair estimate would be 35 minutes each for two days. Add 70 minutes to the time that these 1690 words took to create.

And that leaves us at 994 WPH.

If I were struggling to write one day, not free-flowing text from my fingertips like unicorn snot, I would probably get between 750 and 1000 WPH.

Which means, after the process described above, Dragon Dictation/Transcription got me no further than a BAD writing day.

Doing even rougher math than that above, I got 6400 words out of the entire experience (9 separate recordings of varying lengths), and it took me the original hour and fifteen minutes (rough estimate), plus a week’s worth of Asimov Hours (9 days, actually, let’s pretend an average of an hour each). Net WPH? 624. That’s worse than a bad day, and it cost 10 writing sessions. Even when I have a writing day, it doesn’t last more than one day.  Most times I perk up before my writing session is over and make up the difference.

Also.

Also.

ALSO.

I do not consider the text that I created through dictation to be a usable draft. It’s a hot mess. It makes no sense. It rambles, it shambles, it walks into solid walls and bounces against them over and over, trying to figure out why it can’t move forward. Yes, a draft is meant to be shit so you can fix said shit later, but this was not writing. This was awkward fifth-grade mixer slow dancing, and there was much trodding of feet, and spinning in slow rocking circles until dizzy.

It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that I am going to stop bothering with Dragon for a while. I may return to it someday, most specifically if I am hobbled in some catastrophic way that removes my ability to type by hand. In such a desperate hour, I know I could make it work. But the effort that’s gone into it so far, the numerous frustrating audio equipment returns, lost days, and awkward drafting, has not provided the ROI I’d hoped. I have even developed wrist pain from struggling with the touch pad on the Dell laptop I was using. All of this earns Dragon a hard nope from me.

For now. Can’t return the software, so I’m not counting it out entirely. I’ll hang onto the recording equipment I bought. I might use it to dictate things later on, directly into the program, when the rest of the household has gone out and won’t be bothered by it. Might record things if this infernal rain ever stops and taking a walk is actually possible again. Recording blog posts worked pretty well, anyway.

But for right now? For a standard Asimov Hour? It’ll be finners on keys again, to get an actual draft, worth using, and an ROI in terms of WPH that won’t make me feel FUBAR.

Creative Writing Spiral

Snippet: Blood

I am going to drown, or be eaten, but it’s the chapped lips I keep worrying at.

I can’t keep swimming toward the thin steady line of shore and fuss over my bleeding leg, but my teeth can play at the dry flaking ruin of my lips. And they do, because it’s focus on that pain, or acknowledge the exploratory touches of marine life below me which I can neither see or fend off.

I was on a boat, but the splinters and crumbling, smoking remains of that vessel float around me in the water, no help except to feed the panic I fought for the last several hours to control. It seems so stupid now, to expect a floating bowl of fiberglass and canvas to form an impervious shield against the fury of the oceans. She is smarter than all of us. Found something to tangle in our props. Found a way for her salty tendrils to enter the hull. Found a way to tear us apart and claim us as her prize.

And soon she’ll have me, the panic says again. I bite down on the tender spot in my lip, add pressure to the sting of salt water, and kick my feet, pushing on toward the shoreline that gets no closer.

Author’s Note: These snippets are unedited free-writing exercises that I use as a way to shift my brain into a creative state. I use Lynda Barry’s What It Is YouTube timed exercises (usually 9 minutes worth of writing) for these. They are handwritten in a composition notebook and then typed up here. As I transcribe them, I make minor grammar and spelling corrections, but the overall “clarity” (if you can call it that) of the exercise is left as-is.

State of the Unbelievable

First

Holy shit, you guys. The Nebula Conference. SFWA people are amazing. I have never experienced a 0-60 like that, in terms of being a total stranger and then feeling completely welcome. Everyone was so incredibly warm, open, wonderful, true, and as awkward as I was. There wasn’t a single person who behaved as though I—a non-member unpublished first-timer—was anything less than their peer. It was really amazing. Got to meet people already on my radar and other people who emerged out of the mists at the edge of my perceptions. I wish I could list them all but I’m terrified I’ll forget someone!

Also I got to meet an astronaut!

Second

Feeling slightly less enthusiastic about dictation after some hiccups in the process over the weekend. Luckily I am stubborn to a fault, and I’ll keep working at it.

Third

My publisher (Parvus Press) is amazing. SO amazing.

Okay, so now what?

The weekend was so wonderful and incredible and overwhelming and for the past few weeks was the solitary focus of everything I was working toward, so it’s strange to be on the other side of it. I found myself without a distinct plan, and that’s untenable for a planner like me.

In my RJTL;DR video from yesterday, I was at a loss to set my goals for this (already in progress) week! Who am I even?

So, the plan:

  • Figure Out the Dragon Issue – I am going to clean up the files I have using Audition, and see if I can get a clean enough file for transcription. Also will do some walking dictation again and see if it can still transcribe that. If so, it’s not the profile but the road noise, in which case I’ll make a second profile while in the car so I can train it to that.
  • Announce Release Date – Since my publisher and I were telling everyone all weekend, I imagine it’s a good time to announce the release date of Flotsam, so I’ll send a push out to my newsletter on Thursday.
  • InstaFreebie Campaign – I joined a group campaign with other SFF authors, in which I’ll offer the first chapter of Flotsam to new subscribers, and I just need to make sure everything’s set up in my MailerLite automations to handle that properly. Then I need to draft the email that will go out for that. Maybe I’ll combine it with the release date announcement so as not to suddenly send two emails in as many weeks. (I’ve been incredibly sensitive to deluges of author emails since I signed up for a collection of novels from InstaFreebie a month ago, so much so that I’m going to treat all these new people as cold leads until they actually read the chapter and come back wanting more.)
  • Re-read Revised Draft from April – It’s been almost a month since I last looked at Salvage, so I feel like I’m ready to go back into it again. I’ll give it another read-through to see if I spot pacing or other major issues. Then take it to John Adamus for some outside input.

Now obviously it’s Tuesday and it’s a little late to assume I’ll be getting through this list completely, but these are my focus targets. The mailing list items are pretty straightforward. Dragon and re-reading my draft will take an unknown amount of time and/or trial and error.

 

Nature shot from Writing Session - Wild Red Columbine

Snippet: Detective

I am close to retirement. But not close enough.

I am tired, tired of seeing the filth of humanity, tired of finding bodies of children.

We pulled another one out of an alley this morning behind a bus stop in the city. The rats and birds found it first. The plastic bag it was wrapped in was stretched and pulled and full of jagged little mouths where the animals had tried to get inside but you could clearly see the little sneakers inside, the little backpack, no matter how much red covered it all.

There isn’t a lot to be said for what I do. Sometimes I feel more like a janitor to maniacs and not someone who makes any difference in the world. The futility of tracking down a single person at a time, when there are so many out there, so many people doing so many horrible things.

But there are so many little sneakers, and so many little backpacks. There are children. Other people who can’t defend themselves. Even though it hurts me, even though I just want to close my eyes and never open them again sometimes. In the most permanent sense, of course, because when I close my eyes I see them all. Everyone I should have been able to help, everyone who died without someone there with them, except for the sociopaths. So every morning, I roll out of bed, get dressed, put on my janitors badge, and head to the precinct to find out what horrible thing has happened next. To do my best to make sure that one more maniac is off the streets.

This child is the tenth.

How do you justify what I do, when it has taken ten children?

No fingerprints, but their parents. No clues, except the homework in their bag, scrawled in childlike innocent print. Nothing but the future they will never see.

No stray hairs, no skin under the fingernails, no clues. They might have died at home, with their families.

And in this crazy time? Can I even rule that out?

There’s nothing special about the plastic bags that we find the children in. Heavy duty, impact resistant, tear resistant, thick plastic. You can get it from hardware store.

I guess it’s time to check receipts.

Time to check on the parents. What else can I do?

Do I want to catch this killer, if it means finding out it’s not one villain, but an epidemic of families that have gone over the edge?

It’s my job to find out. Even if it means another night’s sleep, with those kinds of thoughts tucked behind my eyes. Even if it means I put off retirement, keep at this forever.

Or at least as long as there are little sneakers, and little backpacks.

 

 

Author’s Note: These snippets are unedited free-writing exercises that I use as a way to shift my brain into a creative state. I usually use Lynda Barry’s What It Is YouTube timed exercises (usually 9 minutes worth of writing) for these, but today’s was written in the spirit of that while dictating on a walk in my neighborhood. It was then transcribed with Dragon Naturally Speaking. I made minor grammar and spelling corrections, but the overall “clarity” (if you can call it that) of the exercise was left as-is.

crowd, pedestrians, people

What if the other kids don’t like me?

This week I will be traveling to SFWA’s Nebula conference. My first big industry event, first time meeting a bunch of folks who are real authors. To say I’ve got a case of Imposter Syndrome is an understatement. Maybe the next time I attend I’ll do so as a SFWA member, but this time I am Baby Nuwriter Q. Fishoutofwater.

On the other hand, I am terribly excited to go. I’m excited to try dictating a new draft while I drive. I’m excited to have a private hotel room with a big desk where I can wake and do my Asimov Hour, then go use the treadmill in the fitness facilities, then walk to get my coffee, then meander over to the conference when it opens. I have such big plans! Superglad I upgraded from an Airbnb spare room to a hotel closer to the conference. I just hope the forecast changes. I see nothing but rain for the weekend, and I really wanted to walk all over the place!

I’m crazy stressed right now. I think I’ve had too much caffeine lately. I started using the Keurig at work, and all the K-Cups are full caff. This is not good for Rekkabrain. I’m also antsy to pack even though it seems too early to pack. I’m also crazy stressed from the drama surrounding my recording equipment. If you haven’t followed the adventure on my Asimov Hour, I’m now on my fifth through seventh microphones to use with my Zoom H1 recorder (which I also ordered a spare of in case it was the recorder)! I’m typing this on Monday, to avoid getting rushed Tuesday morning, and hopefully by now I’ve reported that it’s all sorted out and I’m ready to go.

I also feel unsettled because I’m between projects at the moment. I’m saving the new story’s draft to begin in the car. I’m saving a re-read of Salvage for my return. I’ve got questions for the outline of Book 3 bouncing around my head but don’t want to do more than take notes until Salvage is more settled. I have another Peridot story in mind that I suppose I could outline but nowomgthere’snotime. I tried to keep these things on the back burner but now I sort of feel like I have a direction and there are only two morning writing sessions left before I leave.

So here’s the plan for the next three mornings:

  • Tuesday: Creative Writing. If the dictation equipment is all settled, I’ll try taking a walk and dictating my creative writing that way, then use the rest of my Asimov Hour to transcribe and correct in DragonPad.
  • Wednesday: Research the survival tips online again and see if any of the info sticks for the car ride.
  • Thursday: Roll out of bed, coffee, quick shower, hit the road. 6 h 40 m – if I’m lucky. Draft along the way. Audio books if I finish. Drop off the car at the hotel parking garage, run through the rain to Nebula, try not to die of exhaustion on the first day.
  • While in Pittsburgh, my morning writing time will be used to clean up/correct my Dragon transcription of nuDraft, and then potentially outline another story to draft on the way home.

I want to keep a journal of my trip, so I’ll be working on that throughout and compile it when I get home. I’ll still try to upload my Asimov Videos from the road but I have no idea what kind of bandwidth the hotel WiFi will support. If there are no videos over the weekend, that’s probably the issue.

As of this writing, I’m up five pounds from last week when I concluded my elimination of dairy and sweeteners. I don’t so much think it was those particular ingredients, just that when I added them back in I also took up snacking again. Annnd there were more adult beverages consumed than normal, because I was feeling extra celebratory about being a part of Parvus. The body turns off any fat burning while there’s alcohol in the blood, to metabolize that as a matter of not dying before handling any glucose, then returning to the ketones. So a lot of self-sabotage of my nutrition goals there. As of today I’m making a conscious effort to knock that off. I expect three pounds or so is retained water that’ll drop today and tomorrow. Then I’ll probably lose weight in Pittsburgh, since I’m planning to replace most meals with quick keto options (I have keto-formulated shakes and packets of nut butters and oils) rather than get hungry and have to pay tourist levels for plates of food from which I can only eat half the ingredients. (Nebula’s banquet coordinator reached out to me about my listed dietary restrictions and I’m not worried about what I’ll eat there, she was very concerned with making sure I enjoy myself!) If the weather doesn’t keep me from walking there’ll be that energy conversion, too. At least there are the treadmills in the hotel!

So I plan to include the keto stuff in my daily journal as well. TMI? Maybe, but whatever. I like to be open about that stuff, because I really believe Keto is a path to vitality that everyone can benefit from. So if someone hasn’t heard of it before and they happen to watch my writing vlogs, look it up, and get healthier? Awesome.

recording equipment

Cognitive Sediment

Since last week, I’ve been fussing about with Dragon Naturally Speaking, trying to get that set up with a varying degree of success (which, as it turned out, was mostly due to a faulty Line Input port on the digital recorder and not the multiple mics I bought and returned).

But I’ve also been trying to hype myself up for the next new draft. I haven’t done a new draft since the end of last year (Salvage in November and then a few Ehl’i Landor vignettes in December – or wait, were those in October? ideka).

It’s not that I’m not excited about writing a new story. I have a third book to write, though I am keeping that locked up until I know Salvage is on stable footing. I also have several ideas for side stories and prequels to the main Peridot Shift series. So that’s where I started.

A handful of people have read Flotsam in what is basically its current incarnation. To those whom I felt comfortable approaching, I asked: “What kind of backstory did Flotsam leave you wanting to read?”

The response was unanimous (small pool of respondents, but still). One character stood out as a favorite, and was shrouded in enough mystery to demand expanding upon. Of course lifting that veil makes me nervous in its own way, so I’m trying to make sure this story is a story worth telling, and not just an unexciting wikipedia article. Trying to give it a full range of plot and character arc on its own, with just enough Easter Eggs to keep people tied to the excitement of the book they’ll probably have already finished.

I began an outline on Saturday, tripled it in size yesterday, and further expanded it today. Now it’s in the print tray at home, hopefully to be read over by my husband today for feedback.

Then I’ll let it sit a bit, continue my research on desert survival techniques, and start dictating a new draft when my recorder situation is settled. If my voice holds out, the 13 hours I spend in the car to and from Nebula should give me the time I need to finish up the draft. Dictation definitely solved the question of whether the trip would be worth the time spent in the car!

I gave myself a rough target of 40,000 words, but that’s pretty arbitrary. I could make it a full-length if I wanted. I could make it shorter, too. But the outline I wrote is 2,500 words, so it won’t be too short! I won’t know how detailed it wants to be until I start drafting. I anticipate less dialogue than Flotsam had as a matter of plot device, which is fortunate for the flow of dictation but totally by coincidence (unless my subconscious was cutting me a break, entirely possible, though I have the fallback of writing this like The Road and fixing it in post).

I still have to sort out whether I can learn to walk and dictate at the same time (I couldn’t last week, when I tried, mostly due to being new at it and dealing with traffic crossings), so hopefully it’s warm enough to walk about soon so I can test wind and traffic noise on the new headset (since my wind guards seem lost in transit).

Regarding publishing, I don’t really have news for you at this time. I touched based with John Adamus the other night and I know he’s got Flotsam‘s latest MS in his queue. I anticipate some announcements from Parvus that I can share, but on their timeline, so just stay tuned for that.

I’m trying to read more now that my brain has changed its tack. Currently at the top of my pile is The Druid Gene by Jennifer Foehner Wells, which is keeping me up late so I have to force myself to put it down after two chapters or I’ll be up all night. I blame her for my oversleeping this morning. That’s on my kindle. In print format, I have A Tyranny of Petticoats, the first story of which was fantastic (the nice thing about anthologies is I don’t feel bad putting the book down to digest. The bad thing is it’s hard to pick up again.). For audio, I’m listening to Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass, but because of the dictation and trying to focus on a project at work I haven’t gotten very far (haven’t gone back after the first two chapters which I found I kept tuning out due to work focus). I’ll probably listen to that on the road trip when my throat needs a rest.

 

Okay, I’ll wrap this up there. 750 words is better than I anticipated for this update, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Flotsam Contract Announcement

April. Was. A. Beast.

I find myself thoroughly incapable of writing this post today.

Such big things.

April really whupped me.

And of course, if you follow me on Social media, you know I signed a book contract with Parvus Press over the weekend. So, of course, I want to talk about that but today I think I’ll focus on wrapping up Camp NaNoWriMo. Because I said I would last week, and because I can’t wrap my brain around the book deal in quite the right way as to be able to talk about it without my language devolving to strange awkward sounds I don’t really care to make in public.

If my coffee kicks in before I finish this post, maybe I’ll form a coherent statement to finish it off with.

So, to summarize Camp NaNoWriMo…

Fuck it.

You don’t give a shit about my progress for Camp NaNo. I signed a book contract! I don’t care about my progress for Camp NaNoWriMo!

My daily writing practice means that Camp or November WriMoing is just another month. Maybe with more social interaction with my local writers, but that’s about it. The only thing that made April’s session more challenging than usual was that I sacrificed my writing for the first week of April to a work project, so my victory was a casual lope from behind rather than a leave-you-in-the-dust rocket launch from day one.

As is true for every month: you sit down; you do the work; you sign a book contract; you have a good cry on your birthday because you overslept, dogs and cats are vomiting everywhere, omgisignedabookcontract, and the kitchen’s a mess; then you take some vitamin B12, inositol, and choline*, sit back down, and finish the projects you set out to finish.

Ahem. Yes, it was a bang-zoomsplat sort of final stretch. Like it says on the tin, April was a beast.

And of course, the thing that set the last month apart from every other month since beginning this blog is not that I wrote a bunch. It’s that now I get to announce:

The stories of Peridot Shift will be part of the Parvus catalog of Science Fiction and Fantasy books.

I am thrilled to say, that puts Flotsam at the breakfast table next to Vick’s Vultures, my favorite new release of 2016. And it means I get to keep working with John Adamus, the editor I already know and love.

I’ll rebroadcast any Parvus announcements as they come. Feel free to ask any questions in comments, I’ll answer whatever I can.

What’s next, now that I’m a signed author? Sit down; do the work. Maybe I’ll skip the cry ’til my next birthday, if the dogs and cats will agree to work with me on that.

There’s a bit of a “huh, what now” taste in my mouth, but that’s just because it’s a new month, I’ve finished two big projects at roughly the same time, and now that I’m working in Parvus’s calendar, there’s not the same mad-dash to write a trilogy that will release all in a handful of months. So I have a little bit of breathing room, and don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m going to start by reading more, critiquing more, doing more creative writing exercises, and setting myself up to use Dragon Naturally Speaking so I can use that to compose new drafts (you know, just in case a Sith lord shows up, says he’s my father, and chops off my hand).

Also: I’ve started a new playlist on my YouTube channel: RJTL;DR (which is nearly impossible to say, I’m working on that). That’ll be the short and sweet (and scripted) version of my progress reports, published every week and recapping the previous 7 days’ worth of work. I’ll still put up my Asimov Hour videos (those are therapeutic for me), but if you don’t have time to watch seven 20-minute videos per week, RJTL;DR is where you can follow along. That’ll free me up to use my Tuesday blog posts for more introspective subjects instead of recapping progress.

* Seriously, if you have overwhelm or focusing issues, I recommend those supplements. I’ll put links to what I use on the Resources for Writers page.