Voice recognition software (or The old do to move the man’s)

The problem with writing longhand is that eventually you have to type all the stuff you’ve written. This is where I am now. Since I find this typing such a waste of time and since I don’t like it much, and since no other human being could ever read my scrawl (I spend long minutes staring at paper trying to figure out what in the world a certain squiggly line I made means), I decided to try out some voice recognition software. I’ve never believed in it very much, having tried it years ago but I read some online reviews and it seemed that it had come a long way. Some people said it actually worked quite well. These people must be trained, professional actors with years of training in voice and enunciation. I, quite simply, am not. I’ve been known to mumble when I talk and I have a pretty thick bay accent. But when I concentrate, I can speak more clearly and slow down my normal rate of speaking. Plus, the software allows you to train it to your own voice so one would expect it could figure it out. Problem solved. No more typing for Tina.

Here are the first few lines of my test as the computer recognized it when I transcribed it (after I thoroughly trained the software to recognize my voice):

“‘s absence has order for a couple of weeks my life changed. I came home from work with day before five every day and we are sad at the table together to eat. They had picked up his dishes from the table and insisted I do the same. There didn’t see it in his recliner chair in the corner and read the paper. He set next ma’am the coach watch TV with her calmer his looking strange around her shoulders as he fidgeted.
When I went to bed on him typing, listening to them as they both went to bed at the same time calmer mount hacking caring for their bedroom and sales I didn’t understand then came from them.”

So, now you think that English is not my first language or that I am writing a sordid novel about a new fetish where people mount and type on top of each other in bed, but I’m not. The word ‘calmer’ that keeps coming up is actually the word ‘comma’ as in I am asking the software to put punctuation in the paragraph for me. Later I tried using the actual word ‘calmer’ and it typed it as ‘karma’. It quickly became apparent that it would take more time correcting the mistakes in my work transcribed by the voice-rec software than it would to type the stuff on my lovely Alphasmart Neo, or, as the voice-rec software calls it “my Neill”.

And now, as another test, the beginning of the Ode to Newfoundland:

“The old do to move the man’s

when Sunday is crowned iced pine clad hills”

Makes you teary-eyed and patriotic, doesn’t it? And it leaves me wondering just what the old do to move the man’s. And the man’s what? The possibilities are endless.

Sigh. Ah well, it’s back to pounding on the keyboard for me. Just me and my good friend, Neill.

Writing longhand

My friend Lori recently said that, after a conversation we had about writing longhand, she started writing in longhand and found it reignited her writing. I usually write longhand anyway but if I was writing historical fiction, as Lori is, I would definitely need to write longhand. The language and temperament of times past would need to go from pen to paper. A keyboard just wouldn’t do. I think it would jolt me out of the past every time.

But, like I said, I usually write longhand anyway. The words flow better if they go down my arm, into a pen and out on paper. As a pen fanatic, and a fickle Gemini, I tend to change pens a lot. Sometimes it can be one of my expensive (well, expensive for me, I don’t go into the over $100 variety) collectibles like a Parker 51 fountain pen, or a Waterman Expert ballpoint, or the Cross Morph engraved with “this much is true” that some friends gave me for my 40th birthday or, as I’ve been using of late, a cheap, Bic Wide Body.

The pens change but the notepads pretty much stay the same. Oh I love my moleskines for jotting notes and things but the actual writing goes in a cheaper notepad. The name brands might change but I always write in 24.1×15.2 cm (9.5×6″) side coil note books. I have stacks of them filled with bits and pieces of everything from short stories to new ideas to essays to chunks of novels. I never write just one story or novel in a notebook, as Neil Gaiman recently said he does. I have no order to them and when I’ve filled up another one, I go through the book and write a list of the contents (without page numbers) on the inside cover. Sometimes there are only five or six things on the inside cover. Sometimes I have to make two columns to fit it all the contents on one page. The first several of these notebooks I filled often had stories written backwards in them, in that I would start a story on one page then continue it on the previous page, working backwards in the notebook until I was finished. I think I did this with the hope that I would stop if I met another story but I didn’t and some stories overlapped, one going forwards in the book and one going backwards.

I’ve tried writing in pretty notebooks but they stifle me, on yellow legal pads, composition books, loose leaf pages, and larger side coil notebooks, but I always return to the smaller ones. A couple of years ago I just gave up trying different things and decided I’d stick with what works for me.

I transcribe the writing I think I will use but there is plenty of stuff left in the notebooks that may, or may not ever get into a word processor. And I do write using a keyboard sometimes, either my computer or my wonderful Alphasmart Neo. Usually, the keyboard is for when I have a deadline and don’t have time to write longhand and transcribe, for writing nonfiction, or when I’m writing more lighthearted things. I write humour better on the computer for some reason.

Oh and blogs. I always write blog posts on a keyboard (how else would you be able to read them, silly).

I’ll just let them stay a little while

Remember how I decided I would let the characters in my novel in progress, tentatively titled A Few Kinds of Wrong, come visit for a literary booty call while I worked on Unnamed Fun Novel? Well yesterday I was having coffee with Trudy who unintentionally gave me permission to continue with something in Wrongs that I was unsure about and the characters started screaming for me to get back at it. They were relentless and I was not great to be around yesterday evening. My mind kept wanting to be there with them and not in the “real world”. Finally I sat down with pen and paper and whispered that they could stay for a few minutes only and that once I wrote a bit of a scene and knew where it was going, then that would be it and they would have to go away again. But they stayed for hours and now this morning they are still there.

I explained to them that I cannot have a committed relationship at this time. I need to see other stories right now and have some fun. I know that the main character in Unnamed Fun Novel is not happy. I can picture her tapping her fingers on a table and rolling her eyes, saying “You cannot be serious. I’m here with all these exciting people and really interesting things going on. I mean I got shot, for God’s sake. And you want to hang out with misery guts there and her crying and her ‘poor me, poor me’.” And I want to say “But BJ and Jennifer are having a really big fight now and I’m finding out a lot more about both of them so I just have to see it through and then I’ll go back to you.”

And I think I have figured out why the transitioning between novels has been so hard. Like I said before, I have never had this problem. I can, and have, worked on three different projects in one day, slipping in and out of each one with very little effort. But I think the problem here is one of tense. Wrongs is in the present tense and Unnamed Fun Novel is in the past tense. The characters, as this post proves, are alive and well and living inside my head. It’s getting them down on paper in their respective tenses that is the problem. Part of me is tempted to see if Wrongs would be better in the past tense just to make the process easier and because the present tense is harder for me in general. But I know the present is the right one and that is not the answer, at least not right now, at least not at this point in the process. I’ll just have to keep trying and let the work guide me.

They keep calling me

I’ve said before that I keep a variety of writing projects on the go. It allows me to write when the mood strikes, no matter what the mood. Because I received a project grant to write A Few Kinds of Wrong, I spent a winter of working on restricting myself to working on that one novel (interrupted only by editing another novel and writing a short story). So, I was looking forward to getting back to my other work, in particular, a fun book to write with a character who is so rich and fun and unpredictable that it’s just a joy to spend time with her (and all the other characters in the book). This is quite a contrast from Wrongs which is darker and is about death and grieving, pain and healing. So after hanging out mired in the grief of one character for so long, it’s no wonder that I wanted to get back to some fun stuff. I printed out the 120 pages I have already written in Unnamed Fun Novel (so much for the paperless society), enjoyed rereading it, know right where I want to go next, don’t have a clue where to go after that but know, without a doubt, that I’ll figure it out. I should be face and eyes back into this book by now.

But every time I start to write, the other characters from Wrongs call me. I’ve finished the first draft of Wrongs but there is much to be filled in, things to research, things to move around, and they want me to work at it. They come to me in dreams and most of all songs. I’ve switched the songs on my MP3 player from the soundtrack of Wrongs to that of Unnamed Fun Novel. I had to. The kind of slow, sticky, sad, music from the Wrongs soundtrack makes the character in Unnamed Fun Novel roll her eyes and huff off somewhere far away. But songs keep coming on the radio and television and movies that make me think of Wrongs. Scenes and conversations continue from characters I wish to let go of for a while, just to let them sit in a drawer so I can get distance before starting on the next draft. They should sit there quietly and wait for me. They’re not and I don’t know why.

Part of me wonders if it is because I have been exclusive with this novel. We have had a committed relationship instead of me just bouncing back and forth between books. And while I have liked and loved characters from my other books, I think the subject matter and tone of Wrongs, along with this commitment, have made me feel connected to it more than any other.

I know the solution to my problem. As always I have to write through it. I have to put my pen on the paper and find my way back to the characters in Unnamed Fun Novel. But I think I have to tell myself that when that other crowd calls out to me, I’ll allow myself to visit them, to jot notes about them, hang out a little and say hello without getting too immersed. Like a literary booty call. At least until I find my way back to the other novel, at which time, I will be able to work on them both again.

Eating Vegetables

Neil Gaiman had the best quote: “If writing fiction is dessert, then copy-editing is eating all your vegetables. Blogging is snacking between meals.”

I am trying to be a good girl and eat my vegetables, I really am. Commas=brussel sprouts; periods=potatoes (they’re pretty easy to get down); dialogue=”carrots”; em dashes=”turnips”; quotation marks=peppers of any colour; and italics/underlining=asparagus.

Just a little blog snack now and I’ll get right back to it. Honestly.

Editing avoidance

Oh, how I hate editing. As I always say, you have to get the clay on the table before you can make it into something recognizable but then there’s that part of it–the moulding of the clay, the finishing of the product. I like getting the clay on the table. I like not having to worry how to spell something or if that cursed comma should stay or go (I have lots of books on grammar and punctuation and have studied them all but the comma still escapes me). I like not having to know what year they stopped making the original VW Rabbit or in what year the first minivan rolled off the line. I like being able to write without dealing with the details, with the knowing this part can wait until later. But then later comes.

You work on creating something for months, maybe even years, then there it is. Complete. Now, you must take a few moments to admire it (actually, you should take at least a couple of weeks, preferably longer, to distance yourself from it before you begin editing), then you must look harshly at it. You must tear it to shreds and be ruthless. The timeline is not right and that character who shows up in the bar all the time, you know, the one you love? He has to go. Cut him out. He is gone. Yes, he has great lines and yes he is funny but you must excise him from the book. But maybe if I changed him so… a meek voice inside you says and the mean editor in you says no, he has to go. No maybes. He must go. And that whole storyline about the broken leg, that is not working so that has to go too. And the comma there, get rid of it. No, wait, I think it should go back. No, it has to go. It definitely has to go. And there are dangling things throughout your whole manuscript and the character’s name makes her sound prissy and unsympathetic. And you just used “has to go” five times in this one paragraph. See, how awful and painful it is?

I dislike editing so much that I would do almost anything to avoid it. If I know you and love you and you need an extra organ I could possibly provide, now is the time to ask. I have even been known to do *gasp* housework in order not to ponder the fate of a semicolon. Yes, it is true. I will vacuum, scrub the bathroom, dust, even take out the garbage if I could stay away from having to face up to the fact that no one can go from Toronto to Newfoundland to New York and back to Toronto and do all the things I gave the poor man to do in one day, unless he has the ability to slow down time or a private space shuttle. That has to be changed and it is a rather large change.

But the good news (or the bad news if you are my husband and like the occasional clean looking house) is that I now have something else to help keep me from editing. I have a blog. That means commas can stay in flux and the man with the impossible time crunch will have to repeat his traumatic day until I can finish this post. Oh, and I think I’ll make stew today too. It’s a good stew day. Oh, and I noticed some dust bunnies under the bed and I need to find the gift wrap I had left over from last year and the faucet in the bathroom needs a new washer and…

Beating the muse away

I was reading some writing prompts on another website and I realized I’ve never had to use writing prompts. I wonder if I am odd or if there are more people like me. My problem is too many ideas and too many ongoing projects. I usually jot down an idea if it comes to me and then try to beat it away. It can be hard since it keeps wanting to come back. I think I have said here before that I have creative procrastination and come up with other ideas to avoid writing what I should be writing (or avoid editing, which I am doing now by posting this). My husband is good at knowing this and reminds me. “This is creative procrastination,” he says when I start on something new. He calls me out every time.

Still, those ideas, those interesting characters in precarious or sad or funny situations, beckon me. They call out to me while I am making supper and whisper “maybe I could say ‘no’ to him instead of ‘yes’, how would that make things interesting?” They give me lines I have to run and write down because I know from experience that if I don’t write them down, no matter how certain I am that they will stick in my mind, no matter how many times I repeat them, they will be lost if they are not recorded somewhere other than my scattered brain. And once the line is written down, the writer kicks in, the one that follows one line with another then another, and I know I have to write down a couple of other lines and then some notes on possible things that could happen later on. (Possible because I don’t know–I don’t outline, could never outline, it would take away all the fun of finding out where the stories go, of the twist I never saw coming that takes me somewhere I hadn’t ever thought of.) Soon, this new story seems fresh and new and full of potential. The one I am editing or the one with a couple of hundred pages already written seems stale. I just know that if I could start this one story, I could finish it quickly, do one of those complete novels in ten days where your pen cannot stop writing, I hear about from time to time.

But I know the truth. I know that in a month or ten, another idea will come, promising a perfect and magical story, taunting me with all the possibility the unknown and new can bring. So I beat away the muse then try to gently ask it back to help me with the task at hand. When writers say writing is hard work, I think this is what they mean. It is not getting the ideas. It is wrestling the muse to go where you want it to go while asking it to take you somewhere new within the confines of that story. It is sticking with it and rewriting and seeing it through, no matter how many prospects whisper in your ear.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just have to jot down an idea for a great story that just popped in my head. Just one line, mind you, then I’ll get back to my editing. No, honest, I will.

Signings Recap and Alphasmart Neo

The signings at Costco and Chapters went well, except there was a mixup at Chapters. Once that was straightened out, it was okay. The great thing about Costco was that I was signing my book at the opposite end of the aisle from where my books were. So some people walked by, then stopped and said “are you signing these books” and I would answer “yes” and they would reach into their carts and find my book, which they had already picked up, with no help or encouragement from me, and ask me to sign it. That was wonderful.

While at Chapters, Trudy stopped by to chat and we started talking about her laptop which I had first seen her use two or three years before when my friend and I sat at the table next to hers at Starbucks and I mouthed to my friend that it was Trudy Morgan-Cole sitting next to us. I had been intrigued by her little laptop and searched everywhere on the Internet trying to find a similar device. It would be a long time before I would find exactly what I wanted. It is not like Trudy’s laptop, it is even more wonderfully simple than that. It is an Alphasmart Neo.

I got my Neo on ebay where you can find one, or an earlier version of an Alphasmart keyboard. You can also buy them new from Alphasmart ( A Renaissance Learning™, Inc. Brand) or at least one store here locally that carries them. These devices are so great, there is a Flickr group of people who use it, mostly made up of writers, even though the Alphasmart was built for school kids. It is a keyboard with a small display. On my Alphasmart there is a spellchecker, a thesaurus and a word counter. Other than that, there is not much to an Alphasmart. There is no formatting–no bold or italics–you can put that in later when you upload it to your computer. It starts within a couple of seconds of pressing the on/off button (no boot up time here); never heats up on your lap; weighs about two pounds; keeps separate files for various work; the three AA batteries last about a year (or 700 hours, whichever comes first); it saves all files continuously so you will never lose data; and it never crashes. I read on a message board that someone said it does not crash because, well, have you ever seen a calculator crash? Nope. The Alphasmart keyboard is the calculator of wordprocessors. All this with a device that does not have Internet access.

With no emails to distract, no web pages to surf, no Snood game to tempt you with endless hours of time-wasting fun. Just work. Just get the clay on the table (or type up the clay you’ve scribbled in a notepad). I also write most of my blog posts on it, as I am writing this one. Then I simply plug my USB cable into it and the other end of the cable to the computer. From there, I can either use the Alphasmart Manager software to upload or download between the Neo and the computer or I can simply open any wordprocessing program or blog software or email software–anything you can type text into–and press the Send button, then watch as the Neo transfers my words onto the screen, letter by letter like some super-typer. I don’t use the Neo for editing because of the small screen but it is possible because it has the capacity to copy and paste text as well, I just don’t bother. I use it to get my words out and to type anywhere and everywhere, even on the floor while playing with my son without fear of hurting the machine (don’t forget, it was made for school kids). I love my little green machine and highly recommend it to you.

* Note, I corrected my post, as per the friendly people at Flickr, to say that the Neo uses three AA batteries, not two as I previously wrote.

I am writer, hear me roar

When do you call yourself a writer? This is a well-discussed topic in writing about writing, but I received a lovely email from a reader of this blog who had questions about writing and who called herself a “wanna be writer” rather than a writer. I told her to stand up and say out loud: “my name is _________ and I am a writer”. See, I’m very good at giving advice to others. Not so good at taking it. I never called myself a writer before I got offered a publishing contract. Even now, I am more likely to say “I write” than “I am a writer”. And the A word? Forget it. I can’t quite get the word ‘author’ out when talking about myself. I don’t know what I think my criteria for calling myself an author would be. Maybe winning some prestigious literary award or something.

The truth is, they are merely labels. In my opinion, you’re either a writer or you’re not. I think part of the reason I love reading about writers and writing so much is because it makes me feel like I fit. When I read about them, how they think, what they feel, where they get their ideas, and the like, I feel like I am a writer because I think like them, feel like them, and get my ideas like them. Not all writers are the same but I think you kind of know when you are one. You want to write, feel the need for it. You want to get things out of your mind and onto paper. You don’t look at things quite the same as other people. You say “what if” a lot and have conversations going on in your head all the time (you may be a writer or maybe you’re insane — there are quite good treatments for one right now but I’m afraid the other is incurable).

I think there are two reasons so many people are afraid to say they are writers: First, they know the next question will be “oh, do you have anything published?” and unless you can say “yes”, you feel scared to claim you are a writer. This is in part because of the second reason people are afraid to say they are writers: everyone says they are going to write a book. How many people have you heard say that? “I’m going to write a book one day”, like all they have to do is to decide to pick up a pen and words will flow. They’re sure their writing would be interesting, funny, poignant, and generally loved by all if they would only take the time to write. It is the bane of the writer. People think it is easy. You don’t hear people saying “I’m going to star in a movie one day, maybe when I retire” or “I’m going to program a new web browser one of these days now when I get around to it”. So many people say they are “going to” do it, that the general public gets leery and when you say you are a writer, you have to defend it.

In my experience, if someone is a writer, they are more likely to say “I’m going to be a writer someday” than “I’m going to write a book”. They probably have stories/books well underway but know what it takes and won’t just casually drop the information that they are going to pen a novel when they find the spare time. If you want to write, really want to write, not just like the idea of having written something, then you are a writer. You know it already, deep inside you, you’re just not sure about admitting it. If you are already writing, you are a writer. Stand up and say it. If you’re from around here, join the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador and meet other writers, get the clay on the table and admit it today: you are a writer!

Musing with music

Sometimes when you are stuck in your writing and don’t know where to go next, maybe music can push you out of that rut. Music is my muse. Always has been. I envision whole scenes in my head according to a song and certain songs represent a scene, a chapter or a whole book when I’m writing. I don’t listen to them when I write, only when I’m thinking about my story and doing my internal writing. Then by the time I write a scene, I can already picture what is going to happen; I just have to write the words. It is the soundtrack of my stories. I have a different playlist for every book (it used to be a different CD for each one and before that a different cassette). The soundtrack for this much is true includes (but is not limited to) the following songs (those of you who have read the book may be able to figure out which ones were used to write certain parts but not all are obvious. Some are just for a certain piece of music or a certain beat.):

Ennis Sisters — No Change in Me
Cowboy Junkies — This Street, That Man, This Life
Jann Arden — To Sir With Love
Jann Arden — Insensitive
Stevie Nicks — Sometimes It’s a Bitch
Queen — Too Much Love Will Kill You
Luba –Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry
The Knack — Good Girls Don’t
Eurythmics — Last Time
Lifehouse — Sick cycle Carousel
Timber — The Whole Way Home
Barstool Prophets — Friend of Mine
Holly Cole — I’ve Just Seen a Face
Toby Keith — We Were in Love
Garth Brooks — Friends in Low Places

I’m getting a pretty good soundtrack for the book I am working on the most right now. I’ll share that on another day.