I promised to post this info a while back, and I apologize to all who have been waiting to hear about it.
I now do most of my writing and correspondence via Dragon Naturally Speaking, Version 8.0 Standard, which is a voice recognition software program that allows me to dictate verbally versus type by hand. This version of the software costs around $99.00 (last price check I made at Office Depot) and supports most current word processing programs (always check out the system requirements before you buy.)
I am typing this blog entry with the Dragon, btw, as I do most of my posts.
Before I get into how great the program has been for me, let me warn you that the Dragon is not for everyone. Speaking your work can be quite different from typing it, and some writers have told me that they were not able to make the transition. Also, if you have a speech impediment, slur your words or have any sort of related voice impairment you may have trouble training the Dragon to understand you. Finally, this is an excellent program, but it can require some work learning it, using it efficiently, and incorporating it into your daily writing routine. My advice to everyone is to find someone who has the software or a store willing to demo it and see how it works before you invest.
The Dragon offers a good demo and do-yourself program tutorial, which I also recommend everyone go through from start to finish. Version 8.0 Standard has about 17 lessons, I think, and you nail the basics of how to run the program by working through them in order. The accompanying manual is also well-written and helps a great deal.
Voice recognition requires you to wear a headset and speak into a microphone. I use the one that came with the software as it works fine with me. Nearly everything you do in the Dragon when it's enabled is by voice, so it's a lot of speaking. After several years of using the software daily I average about 100-120 accurate words per minute; I started out at about 40 wpm with lots of mistakes. I got into the habit of correcting my mistakes as I made them, which helps train the program to recognize your speech patterns, too.
Talking to the Dragon is different for everyone. I imitate Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) from 2001: A Space Odyssey when he's talking to the ship's computer. Remember Open the pod bay doors, HAL before the shouting part? Like that. Some writers have told me that their accent interferes, but I've not had a problem with that (and Larissa Ione can tell you how bad my southern accent is.) Basically even, steady dictation is what the Dragon recognizes best.
I use a good amount of coined and exotic words in my work, so I've also learned a little trick. It started with Cherijo, which the Dragon kept interpreting as Cherry Joe, Cheery Ho, Sherry Go and a couple of other annoying variations. To save time, through the book I began referring to Cherijo in dictation as Jerry, a more common name that the Dragon easily recognized. When I was done the book, I did a find-and-replace of Jerry with Cherijo. The same thing can be done with exotic words, places, names and such; just make sure the common substitute name you use is one you don't use anywhere else in the work.
I work mainly in Dragon Pad, which is the note pad/word processing program that comes with the software, then cut and paste the work I've done to Microsoft Word for review later during the daily editing session. The program will work fine directly in Word; it's just an old habit I've never shaken. I also take advantage of the auto-punctuation feature which adds in periods and commas automatically to save using those commands (the Dragon can be a bit arbitrary about punctuation with slow or hesitant speakers, though, so this might cause you some headaches if you pause a lot.)
The more you use the Dragon, the smarter and more accurate it becomes, and the more comfortable you'll be with using it. Unfortunately your voice needs a bit of training, too; few people are able to speak steadily for more than an hour or two without courting laryngitis. I do one hour on the microphone, thirty minutes off, and speak about four hours total per work day (the rest of the time I type or handwrite edit notes.) I also find mornings are better for using the Dragon, as I'm rested from the night's sleep; the end of the day and late night tend to be more of a strain on the vocal cords.
I've been recommending the Dragon to other handicapped writers for several years, but I think it can be a benefit to regularly-abled writers too. Sometimes talking out the draft of a scene can help polish it, nail down dialogue, etc. Writers who have no practice reading their work in public can certainly use the Dragon as a sounding board. In ancient times all storytellers had were their voices to deliver their work, so in a way the Dragon allows us to get in touch with our origins.
Anyone have any questions about the program I can answer, or comments about your own experiences with the Dragon or other voice recognition software?