Friday, 17 May 2013

A Silver Lining In Every Cloud!

We all hate change. I'm the worst for it ... but this week I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I woke one morning, went to sit up in bed, using my right hand to support myself, and experienced intense pain.

The pain lasted a few hours and then suddenly disappeared. I knew I hadn't wrenched my arm, and promptly forgot all about it.  A few hours later I reached for something with the same hand and the pain returned. 

It was a terrible shooting pain up the side of my hand that radiated into my elbow.  I found that when I massaged it sometimes the pain would go away.  The problem was if I forgot and turned it in the wrong way the pain would return and each time it seemed to take longer to go away.

I persevered for a few days trying to be careful, however, by Monday I was barely sleeping because my hand hurt constantly. It was obvious to me that it was a trapped nerve, though I didn't know what had caused it.  I made an appointment with the doctor hoping that it is nothing worse. 

A few friends had said to me that it could be carpel tunnel syndrome and because I rely so much on my hands to be able to type, I was truly concerned. As it turned out it was exactly what I had thought and the doctor explained that this was RSI brought on by how much typing I do.  (My average daily output ranges from 3000 to 5000 words a day.)  The doctor advised rest and gave me some anti-inflammatory cream which I was to use four times a day.  I also had a wrist support to stop me twisting my wrist too much.

Obviously this was a source of frustration: I'm currently working on a new novel which has a tight deadline.  Thankfully a few of my facebook friends recommended some speech software.  I even discovered, via writer Steve Lockley, that my new windows 8 laptop had a voice recognition application as standard. An added bonus because it was free and meant that I didn't have to order some software only to then learn that I couldn't get along with it.

I quickly installed the speech recognition application and began to experiment with it. 

At first I found it incredibly difficult to use and almost gave up.  I found however, that trying to use my wrist too much started to give me deferred pain in my neck and shoulders as well because I was over compensating.  And so, yesterday, because I had no choice, I was ready to give the software another chance.

The first thing that struck me about the way I work is that for me, typing is an extension of my writing.  It is so automatic for me to think and then type instantaneously that I can liken it to driving or walking.  When I drive I don't think about pressing the accelerator or the brake. It just happens as a reflex.  When I begin to write my fingers are already on the keys before I've completed the thought.

Obviously writing with a speech recognition app was going to feel different. You might think that speech would come naturally to me.  Strangely that wasn't the case at all.  The first 500 words were stuttering, fragmented sentences until I realized that if I spoke them in complete sentences the software interpreted them better.  It felt as though the app was learning my pronunciation of words.  Although I'm sure this wasn't quite the case, it did seem to have a level of intelligence that helped it translate my mumbled words. Much I suppose like the human brain, but not quite as good.

The thing is, the speech software was more likely changing how I thought about the writing process and how I approached it.  It made me analyse how I write.  And forced me to consider if I could change my routine.

I've always said that it is important to have a strict regime.  Every morning I wake and start working as soon as possible because I find that if I start my day in any other way then it takes me a long time to get into my routine. I don't like noise.  I don't like interruptions.  Any distraction can ruin my writing for the day.  So the thought of changing such a major part of how I work was truly terrifying.

Even so, I persevered with the software and found as the day wore on I was beginning to write almost as much as normal.  Which really surprised me. This was indeed very fortunate because it now meant I could continue working while resting my hand.

It wasn't all plain sailing though.  I did find some difficulty in writing this way.  Firstly, the words don't seem to come as easily when I have to speak them aloud.  They feel different to when I just type them.  Second, it isn't as easy to immerse myself in the world I'm creating because the act of speaking is a distraction.  I also discovered that it is quite difficult to write any graphic description, such as a violent scenes or sexual ones.  I've been trying to analyse why this is and I think it is because of our natural inhibitors that make saying sexual or violent or even gruesome things far more difficult than writing or reading them privately. Also the sex scenes sounded hopelessly corny when spoken aloud! Something that I'm sure I will have to address when it comes to editing the book.

There are still many things I need to get used to about the software.  I haven't quite figured out all of its prompts. For example, sometimes I accidentally delete things when I don't want to.  But thank God for the undo control on Word!

Yesterday I managed to write more than 5000 words by 'speaking' to my computer.  I have occasionally had to resort to typing because my meaning just wasn't clear enough for the app. Or it became confused because I had inadvertently given it a command in a certain word order that made it do something else. So in some ways this was harder work. By the end of the day, though, I didn't feel as mentally tired as usual, so that was a plus side.

I wanted to write this blog to explore how I feel about the change that has been forced on me though.  And I'm still not sure exactly what I feel.  Do I like using the voice app?  Potentially I think it could be a really good thing.  I mean, this could free me up considerably, couldn't it?  

I have friends who use dictation machines to write all the time.  I have always thought that this would create twice as much work because I didn't realise that there was software that could translate the spoken word into a written document for you. You would still have to edit it, that stands to reason, because there are always errors in that translation, but also because nothing comes out right on the first draft. This is no different to your first draft typed version though. Errors and typos always find a home somewhere in the text, that's why we edit and proof read. 

It is really difficult to change something that is so vital to the way I work, though.  In an ideal world my hand will recover and I will go back to writing in my usual way.  However, I may find in the interim that this is a far better method.  I would just have to overcome any natural shyness about writing my usual gory sexual content!! And maybe they will be better for having vocalised them.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that we should not be afraid of change.  Change is often a good thing.  Even though sometimes it is forced upon us.  

And so this cloud has a silver lining.  It has made me think outside of the box and experiment with different ways of working despite my natural dislike of change.  Maybe one day this will even improve my productivity. One can only hope!

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