It should come as no surprise that I’m a fairly prolific writer, turning out thousands of words every day. It’s my job and I love it, but sometimes my wrists fail to share that same enthusiasm. I’ve tried ergonomic keyboards, cushioned mouse pads and taking frequent breaks, but it didn’t occur to me until recently that maybe the system of text entry was the real problem.
After being bombarded by ads for the Dragon NaturallySpeaking program, the part of my brain that had relegated Dragon to service in the court reporting and medical transcript sectors started pondering a little deeper. I can certainly talk a great deal (just ask my husband!) and I began to consider the usefulness it might hold for me. After all, I owned a set of headphones with a swing-down boom mic for my video gaming habit (even a writer needs to take a break!) and it certainly couldn’t be that hard to set up.
However, Dragon NaturallySpeaking costs money. When you freelance for a living, you learn to do without a lot of bells and whistles in the lean times, and a fancy program was not a strict necessity. I hit the trusted roads of Google to seek out a free alternative, and was delighted to discover my computer already held a speech-to-text gem of a program called Microsoft Speech Recognition. I booted it up, strapped on my headset and waded through an especially trying tutorial before I got to dip my toe in the futuristic waters of talking directly to my computer.
I didn’t imagine it would have more positive implications beyond staving off carpal tunnel, but boy was I wrong. Even with my 65+ WPM typing speed – a fairly impressive rate, in my opinion – I can’t keep pace with this wonderful program. It’s intriguing to watch the words simply pop into existence as they leave my lips, not form slowly letter-by-letter as they do in manual typing. I timed a few pieces and was surprised to find that I was finishing assignments faster by using Microsoft Speech Recognition. I could select, delete and even replace words with a simple spoken command, jump to the end of the document, and even spell out words that my muddled former-jersey accent couldn’t communicate properly.
The best part of the program is that it learns. While this does not bode well if Terminator ends up being prophetic rather than simply an entertaining movie franchise, in the short term it makes my life easier. Eventually “are roddick” became “erotic” consistently and I was making less and less corrections to the sometimes-hilarious and autocorrect-like renderings of the program.
There are times, such as this one, where I prefer the “old fashioned” way of typing, but for my work it’s become a 70-30 split between Microsoft Speech Recognition and manual typing. If you freelance, I highly recommend you try it out!