I’ve been using Dragon for years, but have only recently become a serious user. When I looked at ways to increase my productivity, I decided that I really should give Dragon a proper shot. I knew that it would take a while to get used to dictating a book rather than typing it – I had to be prepared to stick with it until it felt more natural.
Here are my reactions. They may not be the same as yours – in fact, they probably won’t be.
1. Mac or Windows?
I owned DNS Premium 12 for Windows – you need to own premium to be able to use a digital voice recorder and have it transcribe. When I got thoroughly disgruntled with Windows 8, and my Ultrabook started behaving in bizarre ways anyway, I decided to go to the dark side and try a Mac. After tossing back and forth, I opted for an iMac with a 27″ screen, rather than a MacBook – because I would have had to buy a monitor anyway. I figured that I could buy a small laptop later if I felt the need. Meanwhile, my Windows laptop was still functioning. So… I forked out for Dragon Dictate 4 for the Mac.
In my humble opinion, DNS for Windows outperforms the Mac version, although both are good.
2. Training DNS.
The initial training session is quite short, and Dragon is amazingly accurate right out of the box. It’s useful to use it for email and blog posts as well as fiction to help you get used to using it. However, I found the constant correction process tedious, and I found that it interfered with the flow when I was using it for fiction – I’d be correcting it ad nauseum and then having to just go in and type what I wanted anyway. Yes, yes, I know that this is not training it properly, but… well, I just found it annoying. So I’d correct some things and leave others.
I have two sets of Logitech USB headphones with a mic. One performs quite well with Dragon. The other is hopeless: I might as well be dictating in Martian. it’s essential to have a good mic – Dragon does recommend certain types/brands, and some editions of DNS come with a microphone in the box. Some people like Bluetooth headphones so they’re not tethered to the computer.
I did, after a while, find it annoying to be stuck in front of the computer dictating. I kept thinking I’d be much more comfortable in a lounge chair or sitting outside. Or lying back on the bed. But I didn’t want to carry a laptop with me – no matter how light.
Then came a breakthrough. One of the writers’ groups to which I belong started a discussion on using digital recorders with Dragon, and transcribing the results. Many people swore by it. I heard stories of people dictating scenes of their WIP while they waited in cars at kids’ sports training, went hiking, relaxed in a camp chair or babysat. This sounded perfect! I Googled a recommended voice recorder (which happens to be the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder BN-722PC), ordered it from Amazon and it arrived (in Australia) within a week. Here’s the link:
It works with Windows and saves in MP3 format, but you have to convert the files to use it with a Mac. Or you can buy a recorder that accepts Mac-compatible sound files. (or buy a recorder that will save in the files that Mac accepts). Since I have DNS for Windows too, I just transcribe the files with DNS Premium for Windows and send the transcripts to my Dropbox, where I access them with the Mac.
5. Using Dragon Apps.
Your other option is to download an app to install on your phone or iPad, and use that. I haven’t tried them, but many use them with great success. I have heard that the app can’t handle larger files, but I can’t see that this would be a problem – just stop and then start a new recording, and paste in the results of all transcripts.
6. My Results
I’ve found that I have upped my daily quota from 3,000 words a day (which was fairly challenging when I was typing – although I stuck to it for a month when I set myself a deadline, so I know I can stick to it) to 5,000 – 6,000 words a day dictating into a digital recorder. I am becoming more accustomed to dictating scenes rather than typing them, and I’m confident that after a while it will feel just as natural as typing does now.
The big break-through, for me, was not having to watch the words form on the screen in front of me as I speak. There’s no way I can stop the flow to go back and correct, and I don’t find it necessary anyway. As soon as I have the transcript from DNS, I paste it into Scrivener and then edit it the next day. I fix any mistakes that DNS made. If I come to a section that doesn’t make any sense and I don’t know what I said, who cares? MOST of it makes sense, and I can fill in any bits that I need to.
When I dictate, I DO use these basic commands:
- New line
- New paragraph
- Open Quotes
- Close Quotes
- Question mark
- Exclamation mark
- Full Stop (or “period” if you live in the USA).
Some people don’t bother with these, but I find it far too tedious to add in all the quotes and full stops when I edit. You certainly don’t want to transcribe your dictation and find that you have one long block of text that runs for five pages. It’s much faster to add the instructions for punctuation when you’re dictating – and really, it’s amazing how quickly you get used to saying something like:
“Open quotes – Are you kidding me – question mark – close quotes – she said – comma – taking a step forward – full stop”
I also use ‘open brackets’ and ‘close brackets’ when I want to add a note to look up something later. So I might say:
“New paragraph – open brackets – look up karate moves online and write action sequence here – close brackets”
7. Other Benefits.
I opted to use DNS simply because I wanted to boost productivity, and dictating is faster than typing. There are, however, other benefits that I’ve heard about from other writers.
- Use DNS if you have physical restrictions that prevent you from sitting at a computer – carpal tunnel problems, need to lie prone for several hours a day, broken wrist, etc etc
- DNS can help fix some problems with style. If your dialogue is stilted or your language too formal/wordy, this often becomes apparent when you are dictating, and you automatically adjust what you say. I’ve heard one person say that her dialogue is much better since she started using DNS.