Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - Finding Another Way

Well...I'm typing this blog so as you can tell things are on the mend, but I'm going to talk to you today about something that truly saved my sanity when I fell and broke my wrist two days before Christmas.

Even when I came home Christmas morning with a cast, there was no way I could put my right hand anywhere near a keyboard. Now thankfully I am left-handed, so at least all wasn't lost. But I had a looming deadline and no idea how I was going to do any writing at all. I had to keep my arm in a sling to keep it elevated and keep the swelling down. I took the week between Christmas and New Years to read and rest. Then I talked to my editor on January 2nd about what to do.

The thought of NOT working for 6 weeks caused me more panic than the deadline itself. I knew that I would drive myself and everyone around me crazy. Plus that's a huge break to take when you're mid-book. So it was a matter of finding the BEST way to work.

Typing one handed wasn't an option. For one thing, it is WAY too slow. And for another, when I type I don't think about the keys I'm pressing. My fingers know where to go. But one handed - I have to spell each word mentally so my fingers go to the proper keys. PLEASE tell me I'm not the only one who has to do this, I feel enough of a freak already! Anyway, I knew I had to look into other options.

I talked to a couple of other authors who use VR software (voice recognition) like Dragon Naturally Speaking. Before I cracked off my visa number to order it, I thought I'd try the MS Office equivalent to see if I would even like it. I spent some time one morning "training" the utility. All was fine! I thought "hooray!"

But reading the sample is a whole other ball game from dictating and I again quickly realized it would be an exercise in frustration. "Breakfast" became "Big West" and various other combinations. Not only that, but my kids had 2 more weeks of Christmas break where they would a) have to be quiet and b) be listening to every word I entered in to the computer. Having your 9 and 7 year olds listen to your construction of a romance novel is a good way to create writer's block. It's paralyzing!

But bless my husband and his little cotton socks, he found me OCR (optical character recognition) software. And I was saved.

Basically it works like this. You print (yes, print, handwriting won't translate) your pages, scan them in your computer, convert them to text using the software, and then adjust and correct the text. It's not perfect. But it worked for me.

I used SimpleOCR. I like it because if I scan the pages and save them to file, I can then import them and choose the option to get rid of the lines on my page (because writing a book on unlined paper would be horrid). Once the lines are gone, it converts much better. We did try a program called IRIS which didn't work at all. It kept the lines and everything came up as gobbledygook. Plus you have to print in ALL CAPS which would drive me batty. Nope - the SimpleOCR worked grand. It does add extra steps so that a good day's output is 1000 to 1200 words rather than the 2000 I would normally write this close to deadline, but it was forward progress, and at the time that was enough.

It does go through a "learn" stage similar to VR software, but it does it on your work rather on something else so at least it's learning and contributing to the word count at the same time. And there are tricks you quickly learn....decent spacing between words is a big one, as well as slowing down and printing saves you lots of time in the end when you need to go back and correct the errors.

Once you're done, you accept it and it pops up and asks how you want to save it. Voila! It saves it directly to a Word file if you wish.

The last step - going in, doing a "select all" and adjusting font and line spacing, and a quick five minute glance to fix any hard returns or spaces out of whack.

Would I want to work this way ALL the time? No Way! It is definitely more time consuming. But when you're somehow unable to type, this is a brilliant option. The other benefit I see is if you tend to be inspired away from the computer and write things out. Or if you are on vacation and the mood strikes you to get out a scene. You can come home and scan your sheets in and away you go.

I don't mind going in and adding layers with the one handed typing either; after all when you are layering you're not quite so worried about losing the flow of the scene.

And now, the WIP that wouldn't seem to ever be finished is done and dusted! And my cast is off and it's all back to regular activity for the most part. But let me tell you...this program was a lifesaver in crunch time.

Donna's upcoming release is The Soldier's Homecoming, with a hero with 2 good arms but a busted leg! (And he did it doing something much more heroic than falling skating, Donna adds.) It's available this month on the eharlequin and Mills and Boon websites and in stores next month!


  1. I never did use the Dragon software my uncle sent me when I broke my wrist...but I am a horrible I don't think it slowed me down all that much.

    now once the cast came off and the scar started rubbing on the laptop edge...I hate that!

  2. Thank you so much for that info - I do write longhand on hols etc and OCR software could save me a lot of re-typing!
    Did you find you had to re-write or is your writing 'print' quality first time?

  3. Donna, I didn't know you'd broken your wrist! So glad you're on the mend now, and well done for getting the ms finished.

    I was struck by RSI during a week of 20-hour a day working sessions last November, and now have the Dragon software ready and waiting to be installed before I start my next book.

    Can't wait to dictate a sex scene. (Not...)

  4. Ray-Anne, I found that it was worth it to slow down and print clearly rather than get caught up and start to write (it won't recognize it). Also if I got going too fast, my spaces between words got smaller and it was hard for the program to distinguish.

    My biggest fear was that my actual writing would be different. I'm always going back and changing words or adding a sentence. Oddly enough, my cp's changes were minimal and I also had light revisions on this book.

    India, rsi SUCKS. I had an elbow problem last spring as well and the dr gave me some cortisone cream for it. Sadly the thing that fixed it? My 3 week vacation in the summer, so time really does heal all wounds, lol.

    Jenna, I don't have a scar, this time. Thank Goodness. But I will say the worst part right now are the muscles in the top of my hand. Unpredictable and when I tweak them, OUCH.