A year ago, I added a Dragon to my working repertoire. Before you raise your eyebrow at me, let me be clear I’m talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking the voice software recognition system. This software allows me to dictate words to a text editor rather than type them using my hands.
The Two Reasons I Started Voice Dictation
The main reason I added this software was to increase my word productivity. It’s that simple.
- I wanted to produce more words, and
- I wanted to do it safely and easily.
When it comes to producing words safely and easily, you may have questions. How hard and how dangerous can typing be? Well, when you’re producing over a half-million words a year, the issue is one of repetitive stress injury. I am reading about more and more writers who are struggling with finger and wrist problems and I’d rather not be included in their number.
My main concern was whether using software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking would increase my word count or whether it would be “one more thing” to complicate my life.
I Have Past Experience With The Mac Version
A few years ago, I installed this software on my Mac and it was an unmitigated disaster. The software was buggy, and after two weeks of trying to make it work, I gave up.
This time around, I did a significant amount of research about the topic, read some author blogs, listened to a few podcasts, and I even purchased an e-book. I was satisfied this software had developed enough to make it useful, but I took it one step further.
Even though I work on a Mac system, the recommendations were to use the Windows version of this software because the Mac version isn’t as good. (I don’t want to enter any conversation about whether Mac or Windows is better but in this case Windows wins any contest.)
To run the Windows version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, it was necessary to first install a virtual machine on my iMac. While there are several options available, I went with software named Parallels.
After Parallels was installed, I then had to download and install Windows 10 to run the voice recognition software. With Parallels running Windows 10 I installed Dragon Naturally Speaking.
My Personal Reaction To This
- Talking to a microphone instead of typing is an interesting change in work behavior. There are a few things that I need to do in order to become productive:
- I need to relax when I’m talking.
- I needed to work out a workflow so I know what I will talk about.
- I need to learn the software commands so I can add it to the finish dictation and teach the software to be more efficient and accurate. I’m told I should be able to achieve a 98% accuracy rate after training.
- I need to learn to know all the things I don’t know yet. Or, the things I don’t know I don’t know yet.
My personal sense of this is that I can type approximately 1000 words an hour of nonfiction. But I know 100 words is roughly one minute of a podcast. That means if I’m speaking at 100 words per minute, I’m producing significantly more words per hour than if I were typing them.
That assumes I can learn how to speak or create as fast by using my voice as I do when I am typing.
You’re seeing this in action, or rather reading the first output of this right now in this article. And it took approximately 20 minutes for me to dictate the (approx) 680 words.
Update After Several Months Between The Rough Article And Reality.
I confess that using Parallels running on a virtual machine on my Mac, was clumsy and while the software itself worked well, I decided I wanted something that would run as a native program. Frankly, I also resented paying $100 a year for the Parallels software. I did not try any other virtual machine and I did not use the Mac System of installing windows. Either of those two options would not have given me a native and smooth transition.
My biggest mistake in 2018
I then made a serious error in judgment. I purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking for the Mac.
For the life of me, I cannot see how any company can put out a product so bad, and one that is so buggy and full of errors as to make it unusable, and charge money for it. I reviewed it on Amazon, which is where I bought it, and my only regret is that I had to give it one star– I could not give it zero.
Nuance — the makers of Dragon — have discontinued the updating of Dragon for Mac. Those of us who own the software may continue using it but it is no longer supported. There will be no new versions.
Side by Side Tests:
I will not post the data here, but I then ran a series of the side by side tests with Dragon Naturally Speaking versus the native Apple Dictate. (if you have a Mac, enable Voice Dictation in System Preferences>Accessibility and then press the function key twice to enable Dictate and again to close it.)
I found the Apple software to be as good as, if not slightly better than the Mac Dragon. But it’s not ready for a writer’s demands as it still makes too many mistakes.
The only advantage the Dragon had was that it would do transcription from my iphone recording software Voice Record Pro. I note the transcription on the Mac was as bad as the direct dictation results.
The Windows version works fine from transcription.
I am committed to a dictation software system.
There’s a learning curve to dictating and the best advice I can give you is to “just do it.” Cut yourself off from the keyboard and rely on the dictation system for the rough words. Use the keyboard for editing.
Check out Scott Baker’s page as he’s one of the experts in using this software.
He’s written a book here on Amazon (not affiliate link)
Before you buy, ensure your computer has the technical requirements to run the software. Seriously — do not screw up here as Dragon is a power hog.
My Current Work System
Given that I write for a living, and that it is important to me to push the words out:
I bought a Windows laptop,
Installed Dragon and use the laptop as a dictating system.
Cut and paste the words into Evernote to easily transfer it to my working Mac (and Vellum for layout if needed.
Update again (May 2020)
I now use an iPhone app called Just Press Record It works well enough, is really inexpensive compared to Dragon. I dictate, share/upload to Evernote inside the app and then copy/paste from Evernote to Scrivener.
Scrivener Software Issue
Scrivener is my writer’s word processor and for large projects it can’t be beat but…
I also experimented with dictating into the current version of Scrivener for Windows, saving to Dropbox and then opening it on my Mac.
But the Mac and Windows versions of Scrivener are no longer compatible. If you open a Windows Scrivener file on your Mac, the software modifies it such that Windows can’t open it again. That’s why I moved to transferring files via Evernote. (As of June ‘19)
If you’re looking for a serious productivity improvement as a writer, dictation software is the way to go but the state of the art is in flux.
Update March ’21
I’m now using the native Mac dictation that’s available by pressing the Function key (fn) twice. It works well enough for first drafts.
The downside is it’s “time limited”. You only have a minute or so before the system times out (Siri must be very busy.)
This addition to Apple hardware is not meant to be a replacement for Dragon. Pity…
I continue to use the Just Press Record if I’m using my iphone for notes. But I’m back to typing and thinking about whether I’ll invest in a simple Windows machine for my next project.