Saturday, April 9, 2016

On Developing a New Skill Set (+ Chicago)

Scott D Parker

One way or another, we have to get words out of our brains and onto paper. For centuries, this act was simple: paper, pen, and ink. Typewriters made the process faster, and computers made the process cleaner. But unless you are a superhuman typist, chances are good that you can talk faster than you can type. Thus, for some authors, the most efficient way to get your story out of your head is through dictation.

The process of dictating a novel is nothing new. Famously, Earl Stanley Gardner used dictation — through a Dictaphone — to write many of his novels. In a memorable example, he legendarily dictated the first Perry Mason novel in three days. According to Gardner, it took him half a day to come up with the plot and 2 1/2 days to write the novel itself. That, my friends, is efficient.

[If you haven’t guessed, I am dictating this blog post. To date, I have not figured out a way to convert something like “2 1/2 days” to the words. Guess I’ll have to keep working at it.]

Personally I have been using some sort of dictation software’s for about 10 years. I found dictation software — I use nuances Dragon 13 software here on the PC – to be very good for brainstorming sessions. In these sessions, I stand at my corkboard with a stack of notecards and a headset plugged into my PC. I would talk out the story and write down scenes on notecards and pin them to the corkboard. What made this such a good system was that I had a written record of my brainstorming session and all the thought processes that went through to get me to where my story made sense. What also made this process streamlined is the little need for punctuation. As long as I throw in a few periods at the end of sentences and a few commands to tell the machine to make a brand-new paragraph, it’s pretty easy.

Dictating a novel, on the other hand is a different beast entirely. For the book that I’m writing in April — another Western, this time with a series character — I’ve decided that I’m going to use it to practice dictating a novel. I am a pretty fast typist. When I get in the groove, my eyes, my fingers, and my brain are all on the same page and I can fly. The prose comes easy and the word count keeps adding up.

So far with dictating this novel, the word count has definitely slowed down. It’s a short term, learning experience. Once I get into the groove of dictation, I expect the process to be second nature, much like typing a story is now. Plus, this current novel is one I had set aside last year, so I began with 18,000 words. It is a nice psychological benefit to see that number already in five digits.

For the most part, the software and I speak the same language. There is the odd number thing, but that’s just a matter of me learning how to use the software. Having to say the words “open and quote” and “close and quote” for dialogue can be somewhat awkward. The regular punctuations are pretty easy, and they’ve already become second nature.

The most difficult thing so far is the transition from seeing words on the screen to using the images in my head to describe the scene. I hope that makes sense. At this stage, I’m still thinking in words and phrases and that is certainly slowing me down. What I’ve discovered is that this software works best when I speak in complete phrases, so I often have to preplan what I’m going to say and how I’m going to describe the scene before I speak it. In the typing world, I just start typing and it just seems to flow together. I suspect it will get easier as time goes on, but I’m looking forward to that day coming as soon as possible.

The reason I want to develop this skill set is twofold. One, it would just be nice to have a secondary way to get words on the screen and give my hands a rest. I’ve had a few sessions where I have dictated a scene, typed the scene, and then went back to dictation. My hands and fingers certainly like the break, and I liked being able to move forward on story. A side benefit to dictation is that I find myself standing and pacing while I dictate. My headset has a 6 foot cord so I can walk back and forth as I dictate. There has been a couple of times when I dictated an action scene where I mimicked what my character were doing to see how better way to describe. That’s pretty fun. And yesterday, I took the whole setup outside and wrote on my patio.

But I think the number one reason for doing dictation is to speed up my first draft efficiency. From experience, I know that I can write a 60,000-word novel in a month while holding down a day job. Extrapolating that outward, one can imagine the ability to write 8 to 12 books a year. But I would like to be able to be more efficient in that process and I think dictation will be the means to that efficiency. With manual typing, I go right up to the month’s end and bleed over. I like the idea of the dictation process to enable me to reach the 60,000 words in less than thirty days. That’s my goal for 2016 and beyond.

We shall see.

Does anyone else out there dictate their novels or their brainstorming sessions? If so, let me know. I’d like to know some tips for making the process more efficient and streamlined.

CHICAGO (the band)

Last night, FINALLY (!), Chicago was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rob Thomas, of Matchbox 20, gave the induction speech. Here's the link.

Two notable quotes:

“Chicago is a kick-ass rock band with horns" [already knew that...for years!]

"If you think Chicago is your mom’s band, then man, I wanna party with your mom."

The speeches by the band members was also very nice and moving. Danny Serephine, founding drummer, returned to the band 25 years after leaving. His speech was...colorful...and spot on. He namedropped the non-founding members' names so that was great. And Terry Kath's daughter was there to represent him. Very great night that was long overdue.


Here is a link to the entire set of speeches by the band.

Danny starts at 10:55. Profane at times, but who the heck cares, right?

Terry Kath’s daughter, Michelle, shows up at 15:03.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Every post you are so concerned with speed. Why aren't you more concerned with quality?