Thursday, November 6, 2014

Walking While Writing Through NaNoWriMo part 3

Daily nanoWALmo Stats:
1:45 hours of walking with over 7000 steps and 1969 words written!

I'm continuing to really enjoy this process of walking while writing that I've talked about earlier on the blog.  Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I'm hoping walking with voice recognition will be a method I'll continue to employ past November to increase my writing, not just with novels but with blog posts, email, etc.

Two more updates on the process I want to mention.
  1. As Carla Richards reminded me, when you use Dragon for voice recognition, it comes with an audio recording of your dictation sessions which allows ease of editing as you can replay and hear what you actually said.  I'd forgotten this feature as it's been a while since I used it, but it is indeed very useful.  Neither Carla nor I are aware of a mobile voice recognition software that offers an audio recording, but if you know of one, please let me know.
  2. Another benefit I'm discovering with voice recognition over my typing is that it spells a lot better than I do! :-)

Along with these (mostly) daily updates I'm giving regarding my progress, I thought it might also be nice to share a bit of writerly inspiration, as long as I keep it short so we can all get back to writing.  I'll start by recycling a few prior NaNo posts from a couple of years ago while they last.

First up, and this may seem a bit odd, but I want to focus on failure.  Not all of us will complete NaNo, and that's ok.  Many of us may also be frustrated by where we are in our writing journeys, worried that we haven't yet gotten that agent, editor, multi-book contract, NYT listing....

But I want to share some of my favorite words from JK Rowling.  These words of wisdom actually do not come from a Harry Potter novel but from her commencement address at Harvard in 2008 (bolded highlights are my addition):

I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one...So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies...
I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters. (JK Rowling)
Rowling's story, both in Harry and in life, is truly inspirational.  Especially to writers.  If you have not yet, you should read her whole address as she also speaks powerfully of imagination.

As we work our way through NaNoWriMo, let us not be afraid to fail, but afraid of never having tried.  And remember that the length is not as important as the content.

How is your NaNoWriMo going?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Using Voice Recognition to Walk and Talk Your Way Through #NaNoWriMo part 2

Image from
Yesterday I posted the basic premise of my plans for this years NaNoWriMo, to turn the butt-in-chair hands-on-keyboard upside down as I use voice recognition to walk and talk my way through my novel.

I just finished my morning session and logged in 2 hours of walking, 12,000 steps, and 2187 words!  And what's so great about it is that I really enjoyed both the walking and dictating.  I feel my story is taking off while I keep my health on track.

But after reading back over my post yesterday, I thought I ought to clarify a couple of points to my process.  Because I'm hoping some of you will join me as we nanoWALmo through NaNoWriMo!

Dictation Adjustment:
Many people who are trying to dictate their story for the first time will find a period of adjustment as they do so.  Fo many writers, this method feels awkward and unnatural.

I faced that with the first story I dictated through Dragon a year ago.  But I kept up with it, allowing the pauses I needed to formulate my thoughts before I released the pause button and spoke, and with time I became much more comfortable with the method.  This time around, I'm having no such difficulties.

Pacing Vs. Walking:
Since I started writing, I've always used walking as a tool to clear my mind to better focus on my story and brainstorm.  There's something to the repetitive motion and brain sloshing that flushes me with serotonin.  Or that's my scientific explanation for you.  But until last year, I was unable to use walking as a method to actively create.

Now the version of walking I have developed for dictation is truly more pacing than a leisurely stroll through the woods.  While I love walking outside, I too easily get caught up noticing everything around me and forget to focus on my story.

I'm much more productive for dictation if I keep myself inside, in scenery that does not distract me.  I have a long path that winds through my house that I walk in a circuit.  The repetitive motion of the pacing, with time, lulls me into that place of focus that I value so highly.

Voice Quality:
My husband is a Turk, born and raised in Turkey, and has partial hearing loss in both ears. So not only does he have difficulty hearing, but English is his second language.  I'm mentioning this here because I learned a long time ago to speak clearly and enunciate distinctly.  I think this is why voice recognition works well for me and not for some others.  You have to think about your voice quality if you want to make it work.

Flash Editing:
While I do not use the cell and voice recognition to really edit, I do flash edits as I go along.  After a paragraph or two, I will slow down and read over what I just dictated for any errors that I will not understand when I settle down to truly edit.  I will slow my walking enough to make these quick corrections then continue on.  But my focus is only on errors that could be confusing later.

Some people may be more comfortable having their hands free and speaking into an ear piece.  I'm talking directly into my cell mainly because of the reason above -- I'm giving quick edits as I go.  I learned that lesson the hard way with my Paleolithic story when I waited to long to edit and then didn't understand some of the gibberish on the page.

Is anyone else out there dictating their NaNo story?  Have you ever used voice recognition for a novel?  Would love to hear any tips you have to share.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why Not Add NaNoWalMo to Your NaNoWriMo?

I decided at the very last minute, yesterday morning around 8 am to be exact, to do NaNoWriMo this year. I'd not planned to participate this go around as I've got two edits underway of my own work plus one for the publisher I work for. There is simply no more time in my day. Or so I thought.

One of the key reasons why I changed my mind to give NaNo a go was due to a recent major discovery by me that is probably old news for everyone else out there. But I only entered the 21st century a couple of months ago. My discovery – voice recognition on cell phones these days is so good that it allows me to walk and to talk like an actual lady (meaning at the same time!). Putting Eliza Doolittle aside – I can actually do a lot with my new playtoy. Like even maybe write a novel.

NaNo Does Not Have to Mean Butt-In-Chair:

Traditionally, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is the annual time when many writers plant their butts in a chair for a whole month writing frantically to create a 50,000-word novel before the bell tolls at the end of November. We ignore jobs (as much as possible), house cleaning, cooking, childcare and whatever else you can manage to ignore for the month. Most of us will also spend a lot of that time eating mindlessly as we glance anxiously at our slowly increasing word count, trying to see if we have any prayer of earning that coveted NaNo Winners sticker.

I don't know about you, but butt-in-chair and mindless/quick food eating for a month is a recipe for disaster for me. But it doesn't have to be that way. What my new favorite tool allows me to do is to write and talk at the same time. For myself, I will be adding NaNoWalMo, National Novel Walking Month, into my WriMo with the aid of three important tools.

Toolkit Item #1 – Good Voice Recognition App on Mobile Device:

Voice recognition is so much stronger now than it used to be. As I started playing with my new phone, I discovered it could take dictation for texts and directions perfectly without missing a word, even with my Southern accent. And I thought -- if the voice recognition is this good and I can do it while mobile, why not use it for my writing?

Last time I used voice recognition, it was with the Dragon, and it did not fair so well. I may be unfair to compare the voice recognition in my cell compared to Dragon as the book I was dictating then was a Paleolithic story with lots of unusual words and names. I also made the mistake of dictating long passages before going back to edit. This time around, I'm keeping the names simple, at least while I create, and will stop to edit sooner – before I forget what any weird transcriptions actually meant.  (By the way, my phone runs Google Now, though I'm not a tech person and am sure there may be even better programs.)

Toolkit Item #2 – Fitbit (or any pedometer):

A wonderful friend gave me a Fitbit a few months ago and having that tool really helps motivate me to get more walking into my day. Most people set a goal of 10,000 steps a day, but I shoot for at least 15,000.

As I've already been walking an hour, now that I'm doing NaNoWalMo, I will simply repurpose that hour and use it along with tool #1 to write. I don't have to add any additional time to my day. Since NaNo is all about drafting and not perfection or editing, there's no reason not to use the more mobile if less perfect technology to create my new story.

Not only can I type into my manuscript I can also dictate blog post -- that's way I wrote this. I wrote 1000 words while walking 3000 steps. Editing, however, is another matter. For me, at least, real editing requires butt-in-chair in front of a big screen and keyboard.

Toolkit Item #3 – Crock Pot:

For me, health problems with NaNo are not just about the sitting but also about the food. So, I'm bringing in another beloved tool to help me with that one – my crock pot. I'm sure I'm not the only writer out there who writes better when I feel better. If I let fast and processed foods into my diet for any length of time, brain fuzz will commence and my writing will suffer for it.

Nutrition is an individual matter and everyone needs to know what works for them to keep their brain functioning at its highest level. For me that means no sugar, no wheat flour, few processed food, but lots of veggies and especially the green leafy ones. If I eat this way and do my walking, I will have the clear mind I need to write the best story I can. I like this 3-server crock pot because I can keep 3 healthy foods going, starting them a time that is convenient to me so that I don't start scrounging for the nearest edible thing when I emerge from my writing trance.

Results so Far:

I just started yesterday, but I've got 4,000 words written during an hour walk yesterday and an 1 1/2 hour walk today (which included this blog) with step totals of over 13,000 both days (so far today).  The quality of what my voice recognition dictation was great with me only having to slow down periodically to clean up a few problems that I might not recall later when I really sit down to edit.

How About You?:

How many of you have tried alternative methods to butt-in-chair to compose your stories? I know a lot of writers have treadmill desks, which I've long coveted. But with this voice recognition so clear, I'm not sure I need that anymore.

If you're interested, I'll keep this blog rolling throughout the month and post how well I'm doing with the writing and voice recognition walking. Please feel free to share your tips and experience. And maybe we can encourage other writers to NaNoWalMo along with their NaNoWriMo.

UPDATED: Read part 2 of this post at Using Voice Recognition to Walk and Talk Your Way Through NaNoWriMo