The Great Dictation Experiment

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So I’m trying an experiment I’ve talked about several times in the last year or so. Maybe even longer.

Getting to and from work for me takes about 50 minutes in the car. Ordinarily, most of that time is taken up by listening to podcasts. I’m subscribed to around 30 at any given time and usually one or two of them are recent so I’m working my way through back catalog. But I’ve thought about using this time a little differently, or at least some of it, by dictating fiction. First draft, theoretically.

The basic idea is that I talk into my phone (or possibly my Zoom) for part or all of my commute in both directions, dump the files into some speech recognition software and walk away while they process, and eventually take a few minutes to clean up punctuation and stuff the software didn’t understand.

I have the software trained fairly well at this point. Early experiments produced interesting results (e.g. “Yeti had a hairy wombat.” I get ‘yet he had’ but don’t remember what the rest of the sentence was supposed to be.), but things work fairly smoothly now as long as I speak at a measured pace and enunciate clearly. I did consider letting Siri do the work, but she’s only good for a few sentences at a time and I don’t really want to take my eyes from the road that much. However, if I’m doing something else that leaves my voice free and don’t have to worry about getting into an accident, Siri actually works even better.

So what kind of results am I getting?

Well, the prose is very rough. Much rougher than my usual first drafts, but I think that’s mostly because this is new. With practice, it will get cleaner, but until I get used to the work flow, I’ll be spending a bit more time in the “make it pretty” draft. Still, the early results are promising, at least in terms of word count. I’ve done this five times so far (with a sixth, today’s files still incomplete so they haven’t been processed yet), and I’m averaging 1,367 words per day just from the dictation. A few of them are even good words, but good or not they’re all above and beyond what I’d originally planned for each day.

I wish I’d thought of this years ago.

Actually, I did, but didn’t want to take the time to transcribe the audio and couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it for me. Now the technology makes it easy and just leaves me a little tidying up. If I keep liking it, I’ll keep doing it. That means I’ll spend more computer time editing than writing, but that’s okay too.

And I think it will turn out to be a fairly heavy net gain.

Be well, everyone.

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  • Tony Noland

    Years ago, I tried dictation during my commute with little success. I had Dragon Naturally Speaking on my laptop, running on the passenger seat. The microphone was clipped to my lapel and I tried it for about a week. There was usually too much noise, but when it did get a clear read, it was so rough as to be pretty near useless.

    I might have to try it again, though, now that processing of a smartphone recording is so much better.

  • Lance

    My car is fairly noisy, but I find if I speak clearly (and loud!) it does pretty well. I do still get the occasional sentence like “Everything was made of the same Logee garlicky stuff.” Which I’m pretty sure is not what I dictated, but is repairable as long as I can remember what I meant or get it in context.

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