So I noticed a while back you mentioned using dictation software. (I believe it was Dragon.) I like to write but for health reasons I need to not sit at a keyboard in 4 hour stretches of time. Add to that a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy. (Yay! Blindness if I’m not careful!). This leaves me unable to write often. Not to mention the looming depression. I was wondering if you would be willing to describe the mechanics of your process? I’m trying to find a process to do while walking.
Walking is my favorite way to do it, so here I can usefully advise you.
Dragon Naturally Speaking (scroll down the linked page for the overview) has over the years pretty much become the gold standard for dictation software: I wouldn’t bother with anything else. It was what we recommended to Terry Pratchett when his Alzheimer’s first started to bite, and since then it’s only become slicker, more responsive, and more effective. Unquestionably $100 for the Premium edition is a fair chunk of change, but in my estimation it’s worth it. (If you’re going to transcribe from recorded audio you apparently now need to get the Premium version: the Home one, it seems, won’t do it.) Once upon a time you had to train it by reading it prepared text. These days you just start talking: it understands you with 95% or better accuracy right out of the box. (You will still have to teach it custom vocabulary, coined words etc, but that probably comes as no surprise.)
For me there were two significant barriers to get over when learning to use Dragon. The first one was the lesser one. You have to learn to speak not just what you want to write, but also the punctuation. It takes a little while to learn to do this easily: kind of a caterpillar-not-watching-its-feet thing. You wind up saying things like:
new paragraph open quotes I have no idea what the hell I’m doing here comma close quotes she said comma glancing around her period [or full stop, if you prefer] open quotes and I feel distinctly overdressed period close quotes new paragraph
Now the good thing about Dragon is that if you choose, you can get by with very, very few voice commands: or you can get quite fancy with them. I hardly ever use anything more involved than what you see above when I’m dictating on the road. I might add parentheses sometimes if I’m making a note to myself about something that I don’t want to add to the narrative.
The other barrier I found I had to deal with was not feeling stupid talking like that, and not being bothered by having to talk like that when telling a story out loud. That took a while longer (there’s a bit more about that here), but I can’t remember when it last struck me as a problem. …Then again I’ve been doing this for years… so you want to add that into your reckoning. Some people have trouble learning to do this, and some people seem completely unable to get past the self-consciousness, and some people have no problem with it all right from the git-go and are never bothered. There’s no way to learn which you are until you get into it.
Now. Once you have Dragon, if you also have a small digital recorder of even middling-good quality, you’re no longer tethered to the computer. I have a small ancient Sony digital recorder (there’s a pic of it on the page at Out of Ambit) and with it in purse or pocket I can dictate just about anywhere. Any recorder that will produce a goodish-quality MP3 will do. (With the old Sony I have to run the recording through the recorder’s desktop software, which converts it from an old proprietary Sony audio format to .MP3 or .WAV as you prefer. But newer recorders pretty much seem to record directly to MP3, at least the ones I’ve seen, so that won’t be a problem any more.) Or if you have a phone with an app that will record in MP3, you’re sorted.
Then you go out and walk and talk to the recorder for as long as you want or feel able. (Even better if your phone will record: everybody just thinks you’re having a long phone conversation.) I prefer to do this where I can’t be overheard, which fortunately is easy for me as I live on a little narrow country road where no one passes but the occasional car or tractor, or neighbors walking their dogs (and the neighbors all know about the Strange Americans Living In The Little Cottage, so when they see me apparently talking to myself – especially since I’ve now gone over to recording into a smartphone with a wireless headphone and the phone in my pocket – nobody is particularly surprised).
When you’re done you come home and connect the phone or recorder to the computer with a micro USB cable and drag the sound file into the machine where Dragon’s installed: then wake up Dragon and instruct it to transcribe the recording. It gets started, and you go off and get yourself a cup of something. Then when it’s finished and your eyes feel up to it, you pull the transcribed text into your preferred writing software and edit it. (BTW, Dragon will also read you your transcribed text if you want it to. You can also crossreference to your recorded speech while editing if you like.)
…Then wash, rinse, repeat. I find that once I’m in the groove I can easily dictate between 6000 and 8000 words of useful prose per day – one tranche in the morning, one in the afternoon. Do that for long enough and you’ve got the zero-draft for a novel. Or the guts of a screenplay. Or or or.
(Also, new developments: the various new Dragon apps are worth looking into. Dragon Anywhere is particularly attractive: a subscription service that lets you dictate directly from a smartphone into the cloud. Transcription of your dictation happens up there – you just pull down the finished text. It’s no good to me, unfortunately, as you need reliable highspeed wifi or phone access, and around here there is no joining the word “reliable” to those concepts: we’re in a fringe area. Oh well.)
Anyway, hope this helps!