Just Tell Me What You Want to Say

Katherine Longshore 3 Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When we first started talking about having a technology-themed week, I thought I would write about 3 x 5 cards. They’ve become my new favorite toy for revision.

However, last week my husband e-mailed me with the subject header “I got you something”. Then he asked, “Can you guess what is?” I wrote back with the comment “Is it something that will wash the dishes while I type?”

His answer, “You’re closer than you think,” piqued my curiosity.

Ever since I worked as a travel agent I’ve had trouble with my carpal tunnel. Back then, I had to go through physical therapy. Luckily it was covered by workmen’s comp. I thought I had it fixed after round of acupuncture, covered by the NHS in England. But it seems to have come back, exacerbated by stress, so now I do everything: stretches, heat, ice, acupuncture, rest, exercise, massage. And most of the time it’s manageable.

But then my husband came home last week. With voice-recognition software. I have always hesitated about trying it. I think that I write much better than I speak. I’m more creative, I use better words, and I can think and type at the same time. I don’t always think while I speak. A fault, I know.

But I agreed to give this a try. I figured I could always use it for e-mails. If anything, it would save my wrists about 10% of the time.

The first e-mail I sent was to Veronica. When I said her name, the computer wrote barometer. I deleted that, and said her name again. The computer wrote Geronimo. This wasn’t working well.  So I did another round of voice training with it – reading a series of drastically redacted Aesop’s Fables and getting impatient (patience is not my strong suit).  But afterwards, the program got Veronica’s name right.  And Donna’s.  It spelled Bret’s with two t’s.  And I can’t figure out how to make it spell T-A-L-I-A instead of T-H-A-L-I-A.  But I don’t think that’s the program’s fault.

I'm more uncomfortable having my picture
 taken than having people read over my shoulder.
So for a week now, I’ve been speaking all of my e-mails.  Usually, I feel like a total loon, talking to myself with all the windows open. My kids like to come in and listen to me and watch the words appear on the page. Though I feel even more self-conscious about having people listen to me speak my writing than watching me write over my shoulder. I try to shut the door first.

I still don’t feel that my spoken voice comes as naturally to the page as my written voice does. Which sounds kind of crazy considering that we learn how to speak long before we learn how to write. But I do believe it takes a different mental muscle to type something you want to say than it does to speak what you want to say. Possibly this is because when we speak we are expecting to get something in exchange. At least, I don’t think most of us talk to ourselves for long periods of time. And even if we do, we usually answer ourselves back.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write a book using voice recognition software. I somehow feel more creative when I am silent. But I am becoming more used to speaking my e-mails, usually feeling more comfortable when I imagine sitting across the table from the person to whom I am writing.

I have discovered today, however, that I can also write a blog post using voice recognition software. It feels strange, and I have to go in and delete some words manually, before typing in what I really meant to say.  I can’t tell right away if it has changed my written voice. Perhaps one of you can tell me if you notice anything different.

I think the more I work with the more comfortable I’ll get. And it certainly gives my wrists a rest. Which was exactly my husband’s intention when he came home with it.

Another way to support the writer in your life, right?


Right! It will be so interesting to see how it evolves and whether you do end up using it for novels--if not novels, at least dishes washing. Computer! Wash the dishes...A writer dreams.

That is a sweet gift from your husband. I've wondered the same thing - if I could speak an entire book. I believe Kristin Cashore writes her drafts by hand, and then reads them aloud with voice recognition software. Does handwriting exacerbate your carpal tunnel?

Yes, PB, still waiting for the voice-command dishwasher (though my kids are getting older now...) And Beth, yes, writing long-hand does hurt, too. Plus it's so slow (for me, at least. I can type 70 words a minute...if I know what I want to say.)

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