NaNoWriMo Again

Right now I am roughly 5000 words into my project for National Novel Writing Month. It’s only the second day of this 30-day effort to get a 50,000-word book written, but I feel like I’m making decent progress. In theory, I only have to write just over 1660 words per day to hit the target. I am trying to build some margin for error into my word counts as well as allow myself to take the weekends off.

Why am I doing this? I’m not sure that I can give a decent answer to that. I did National Novel Writing Month two years ago and enjoyed it. I skipped it last year because I was busy editing Illidan. I was quite keen to get back into the swing of things this year.

I like the discipline of it. I like having a definite goal. To be honest, I doubt that 50,000 words will be enough to finish the book that I am currently planning but it will be a good start.

I have some advantages this year over my attempt two years ago. I have something that resembles an outline. It’s pretty sketchy, only about a page but that should be enough.

The book is called Extinction Event. It’s a sequel to Armageddon Protocol, my upcoming military science fiction novel. Being the second book in a series it has a number of advantages when it comes to getting a swift first draft written.

I don’t have to come up with all of the background because it already exists in the first book. I don’t have to come up with a complete cast of characters because a whole group of them were introduced in Armageddon Protocol. There were some loose ends left in that book. Tieing these up gives me a lead into the plot of the current book. In general, if you’re interested in completing a book in National Novel Writing Month I can highly recommend doing the second book in the series.

It’s something of a strange writing process at the moment. The repetitive strain injuries to my hands are very bad at the moment. This makes typing quite painful, so I am dictating the book on my phone.

This is not quite as insane as it sounds. I have a very good voice recording program called Hi-Q MP3 Recorder. This not only allows very high-quality speech recording, but it also automatically uploads the file to Dropbox.

For transcription, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows. The Mac version is just as accurate when it comes to transcribing the files, but it lacks the batch processing functions that the Windows version has. Dragon Naturally Speaking has a transcription agent which scans a prearranged Dropbox folder and automatically transcribes any MP3 files that it finds there. It does this automatically. I don’t have to do anything. It’s just about the easiest way of transcribing text that I can think of. It’s also approximately 99% accurate.

Transcribing in this fashion has other advantages. For one thing, it looks as if you’re simply making a phone call as you dictate your latest masterwork. This can be useful if you’re out walking in a public place.

Another thing is that I am never stuck without a speech recorder if I feel the urge to dictate some text.

On top of this, I find transcription faster and more efficient in dictating into my computer. The reason for this is very simple. I can’t go back and make corrections.

This is an essential process that part of the process when you are using speech recognition software, but it hugely interrupts you if you’re trying to write. You’ll be in the middle of dictating a scene, notice a mistake and go back and make the correction. This might only take a minute or less but it gets you out of the flow, and you have to get yourself back into the writing mindset.

When you’re dictating you just tell the story. It’s that simple. You’re never out of the flow state, and it’s quite easy to get into it. I find telling the story a bit like being a gamemaster in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s something I enjoy.

In case you are wondering whether I am missing out on Dragon learning how I speak, don’t worry. The other great advantage that the Windows version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking has over its Mac cousin is that you can go back and make corrections inside your recordings.

This takes just as much time as making corrections during a dictation session on a computer but has the great advantage of separating the two parts of the process. I can tell my story, make sure it’s written and then go back and do the fiddly administrative task of teaching my speech recognition software.

The other software I use during this part of the process will come as no surprise. Once my text is transcribed, I cut and paste it into Scrivener. I can then go through and edit it by hand.

It used to be that I could tell a huge difference between text I had typed in and text that I had dictated. The transcribed speech was usually much more discursive and far less smooth.This is no longer the case since I switched to transcription. I think interrupting the flow of my writing to make corrections also caused the quality of my prose to deteriorate. Nowadays I find it hard to tell the difference between speech I have dictated until recorder and speech I have typed.

A lot of people get very excited about the possibility of dictating text because you can speak a lot faster than you type unless you happen to be a trained typist. I still find that I don’t get the huge gains that many people report because I count the time I spend correcting my text as part of my writing time.

I definitely see some improvement in word counts, but I am not getting anything like the 4000 words per hour that many people report. I can hit 2500 to 3000 words using this method. On the other hand, on a good day, I can type 2000-2400 words per hour. So as you can see you’re looking at a gain of approximately 20% in my case. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, I appear to have drifted away from my subject matter and onto the subject of tech. Next time, I’ll try and write more about the process of composing and writing at speed.

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