Are you ready to ditch your keyboard?
Scott Baker is an expert in all things Dragon Dictation. If you want to learn to train your Dragon, Scott’s your man.
Scott’s official bio: Scott Baker has written dozens of books under various pen names and spent most of the last decade working as a freelance writer for numerous publications in the UK. He first began dabbling with Dragon voice recognition software in the late 1990s when it was, quite frankly, terrible. Things have improved dramatically since then and Scott now uses dictation on a daily basis, taking advantage of the tricks and techniques used by professionals within the speech recognition industry to write thousands of words per hour.
More importantly, he’s developed books and courses to help you master Dragon Dictation and incorporate it into your writing lifestyle.
What you need to know: Learning Dragon Dictation will cost you money, time and practice.
In this episode, we chat about the following:
- boosting your workflow
- 2-10k words
- what equipment you will need to invest in
- training your dragon
- Alexa, Google Home & Siri
- ditching your keyboard
- and much more
You can find out more about Scott, and Training Your Dragon books and courses here.
You can listen to my first podcast chat with Scott here.
You can download Issue 3 of Author Success Magazine here.
Mel Scott Baker is an expert in all things Dragon Dictation. If you want to learn to train your Dragon, he’s your man. In this interview, we’re getting into the nitty gritty of how we can use the dictation tool to improve our writing. Scott, tell us about the course you’re running.
Scott It basically takes you through everything you need to get started with Dragon and make the software part of your writing workflow. It’s available for both Mac and PC, and explores not just Dragon specifically but dictation itself – the act of using dictation, as opposed to just perfecting your use of the software. I made the course because, although I’ve written a book on this subject (‘How to Train Your Dragon’), there’s only so much you can put in a book. The amount of questions I get every single day… Most of my day is just answering emails, and I eventually thought it’d be easier if I could just show everyone – if I could just put it in a course. So that’s what I did.
It’s hours and hours and hours long, but that’s okay because literally every single step is covered, from setting up to making it as accurate as it can be over time. It’s a course about using dictation as part of a business; about integrating it and viewing it as a long-term thing. The goal is to use dictation instead of a keyboard, really. Forget the keyboard – that’s for editing, later. The course is about getting your first draft done with Dragon.
Mel Let’s start at the beginning. What’s the first thing we need to know?
Scott I get a lot of people asking me that same question – how do I start? Unfortunately you’re going to have to accept that this is going to cost money. Whichever way you look at it, the software is expensive. But it’s an investment – an investment in your writing career. Dictation leads to an enormous boost to your workflow. Part of the reason I got started with it is I can’t type very fast. I’ve had back problems for most of my adult life, so I decided I needed something to level the playing field for me, especially when I was working as a freelancer and had deadlines that had to be met. Dragon was the answer. It was the key.
The first thing to do is to get used to dictation software. Use some form of dictation whenever you can – on your phone, or through Alexa or Google Home or whatever. Ask it things throughout the day and just get used to talking to a machine.
I think these are the keys: first, to accept that it’s going to be an investment in money; second, accept that it’s going to be an investment in time; and third, just do it. Do it as much as you can, dictate as much as you can. I barely ever type anything these days – I dictate all the time. One day you wake up and go, ‘I don’t even think about it anymore.’ I’ve been like that for a while, and I think most people will once they get used to it.
Mel Let’s talk about equipment for a minute. I’ve got a Mac and I’ve been in all sorts of trouble lately.
Scott Yes. Unfortunately the software has been discontinued for Mac in the past few months, which is a bit of a blow. So you’re probably going to be looking to use the PC software, either on a PC or through parallels on your Mac.
Mel I’ve been looking at parallel programs for my Mac and they cost about $150. Money well spent, isn’t it?
Scott It is, but I will say that it’s not just $150. You have to buy the PC version of Dragon as well to go with it. That’s another $300, although it’s frequently discounted. I’d keep an eye out – I’ve known people who’ve picked it up for $99, $150. It seems the pricing is all over the place. One thing I would say is don’t be tempted to go and buy a cheap copy of eBay or somewhere like that. You’re going to be buying a pirated version. If it looks too cheap, it is too cheap. Only official resellers are allowed to sell it, so you can get it on Amazon. You can also get it from Digital River, the online distribution arm of Nuance (the company that makes Dragon Dictation). But other than that, I wouldn’t go buying copies that look extremely cheap, because they’re usually dodgy. As far as I know, the official price is still around $300, but I barely know anyone who’s paid that. I did, because I’m foolish. But I’d keep an eye out for discounts.
To run the PC program on the Mac, you need something called parallel desktop. You basically install a version of Windows on top of the Mac, and then you install Dragon and you can run it on your Mac. There are some limitations, but on the whole it works fantastically well, and to be honest the PC version is a lot better than the Mac version anyway. If you’re someone who likes to go out and record on the beach or hiking up a trail or something, you need to use Dragon’s transcription software – speak into a recorder while you’re out and then put the file into Dragon later. Transcription has always been light years better in the PC version. It’s so much better. I can’t even describe it. It works okay in the Mac version, but nowhere near as good as the PC equivalent. It’s a moot point now, of course, because unless you installed the Mac version earlier it’s been discontinued.
Mel Let’s go back to pricing for a minute. I see people all the time saying, “Oh, I’ll just use my phone recorder”, or “Oh, I’ll just use something cheaper.”
Scott People obviously want to save money. They want a cheaper way of doing it. You don’t have to go crazy, but you will have to spend a bit of money. The problem with other solutions, like built-in recorders or Siri, is that none of them do single-speaker dictation. When you talk to Dragon, it’s listening just to you and your voice patterns. You can adapt it and train it to your writing style. If it doesn’t recognise specific words, you can train it on those words, to the point where your accuracy is sky-high and you don’t have to mess around and make tons of changes and corrections all the time. You can just get on with writing. Siri and built-in recorders and the Google Docs voice recorder are great for doing a quick text or knocking out an email, but they’re not single-speaker dictation solutions. They’re designed to listen to anyone’s voice, throw it at a server somewhere on the Internet that figures out what the person said, and throw it back at your screen.
It’s never going to work for anything long-term – especially fiction and dialogue and things like that. Imagine having huge passages of dialogue, with complicated character names and place names and stuff like that – a solution that’s free isn’t going to recognise any of those words, so you’ll have huge amounts of clean-up afterwards. It’s not worth it. You just need to invest time and money in it. Dragon is really the only solution. There’s no competitors, unfortunately. There’s no other options. It’s Dragon or nothing.
Mel Can you get a version of Dragon to go on, say, an iPad Pro?
Scott Yes and no. There’s a program called ‘Dragon Anywhere’, and that’s the IOS version of Dragon. It’s very expensive – it’s about $15/month, and it’s very limited compared to the desktop version. It’s limited compared to the Mac version, let alone the PC version. There’s no transcription option at all. I find it crazy, because the iPad Pro is pretty powerful – the horsepower is there for Dragon to work brilliantly on it, but there’s no solution for that at the moment. You’ve got to use either a PC or a Mac right now. Obviously you can bring it over to your iPad later and edit the written file, but right now this is an issue.
Mel What about microphones? What’s the best choice there?
Scott The challenge with some mics, like some RØDE mics for example, is they’re omnidirectional. They pick up everything around them, which can be a problem if you’re sitting on the beach and there are waves crashing and wind coming off the sea. Something like a lapel mic is great if you’re in a quiet room, but because they’re omnidirectional they pick up everything around them and that’s no good. Dragon just wants your voice, nothing else.
Mel I used a lapel mic originally, but I’ve got a HS2 headset now.
Scott That kind of headset is what’s called a super cardioid mic. It positions the mic by the corner of your mouth, and just picks up sound from that area. That’s what you want, because it gives you a very pure, high-quality audio file to work with. The other thing I would mention is what’s called a ‘dead cat’ – the little fluffy thing that looks like a dead cat. You can get different sizes to suit different mics. You put it on the end of a mic and it works brilliantly to filter out tons of wind and background noise. It almost eradicates it. Something like that will make something like a headset mic even better when you’re out and about. It’s a couple of dollars on Amazon or eBay and that’s the wind problem solved.
Mel That’s amazing. Okay, let’s talk through the actual use of this thing. Let’s say we’re dictating a chapter of a romance novel, on the beach with everyone looking at us strangely. How do we go about it?
Scott I think the first thing you have to do is accept that you’re going to look silly if you do it in public. Who cares? I gave up on caring what people thought a long time ago. The way I look at it is – people don’t really care. I’m not even sure they notice. And if they do, who cares? These are transient moments when someone might look at you and think, ‘What a weirdo,’ then they carry on with their life, just like you are carrying on with yours. The important thing is you’re out and about and you’re getting work done. You’re being productive; you’re being creative. I’m not sure I’d set it up in a coffee shop and sit back and dictate my magnum opus, but being out and about and talking into the mic isn’t really an issue. I do a lot of dictating on walks. I know people who do it on treadmills! I couldn’t do that, but good luck to them.
I’m not sure doing it out in public is as odd anymore as it was a while ago. There’s a generation now that just doesn’t care. They talk into their phones all day long. They don’t care – maybe we should be a bit more like that. You see people strolling around holding their headset or holding their phone next to their mouth, just talking, talking, talking. I think this idea of talking to a machine has to a machine has to be something we get over. You’ve just got to get over it and do it. Once you do that, you’re off and running.
Mel The best part is when someone comes past and says, “Oh, haven’t you got a cute dog?” and you say, “Yeah, he’s cute” – and then it comes out in the middle of your story.
Scott Yes. You can just pull it out and pause it, and I don’t think people would mind – but you forget to do it sometimes. Then you look at the transcription and you’re like, “What was that?”
But of course, you do need to make sure you’re comfortable in your environment, otherwise you’re going to clam up and produce terrible work. You need to be somewhere comfortable to be creative. If that means being alone, in the house or on top of a cliff or whatever, then do what works for you. Getting used to talking out loud is the first hurdle. Once you’re past that, it’s easy. It’s liberating.
Mel The commands are fairly simple, aren’t they? You really just need ‘open quote’, ‘close quote’, ‘full stop’, ‘comma’, and ‘new line’.
Scott Absolutely. People get hung up on that – “I don’t want to have to do the quotations, the punctuation…” You’ve just got to rip the Band-Aid off and do it. It’s an avoidance thing – people don’t want to have to worry about saying ‘full stop’, ‘comma’, ‘semicolon’. But at some point you’ve just got to do it. If you don’t, you’ve got tons of clean-up later, and that puts you off dictation. You spend all your time cleaning up the draft and it takes longer than typing. Then you haven’t solved anything. It’s not just about the time you save – it’s about RSI and being healthy and dictating on top of mountains, being out in the world. You’ve just got to accept it and make it part of your workflow, and eventually you get to the point where you don’t think about it anymore.
My son had some homework to do recently, about Elizabethan art. He asked, “What should I put for this bit?” I started saying, “Say this, full stop. Type this, comma,” and I was starting to drop the punctuation in as he was typing it on his screen. I thought, ‘I’m even dictating here now.’ You get used to it. It just becomes part of your vocabulary.
Mel One problem I haven’t been able to overcome is the indents or the paragraphing. I still have to do it manually.
Scott A lot of it’s dependent on the app or program that you’re dictating into – whether you’ve got paragraph style set up, for example. When I did freelance, they’d send me a very specific document layout that had to be adhered to, and so I never even attempted to dictate into that. I would just dictate into the most basic program possible – TextEdit on your Mac, Notepad on the PC. There’s no formatting – it literally just spits out plain text. I would then copy and paste it wherever I needed later. Dragon really is a first-draft tool. There are some people who use it for more than that, but for me it works best when you take the formatting out of it completely, and edit later in Word or Scrivener.
Mel I saw in your course you had some tips about dictating directly into Scrivener.
Scott I demonstrate it in the course, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you absolutely have to. Dragon has to have something called full text control, which means when you dictate into another program it gives full control of the text to Dragon. Dragon can then track where the cursor is and that sort of thing, so you can make corrections and jump about.
Scrivener doesn’t allow that in Windows. If you absolutely have to, there’s a setting you can use that allows you to dictate directly into programs that don’t allow full text control. It will work as normal for dictation, but it won’t allow you to make corrections. If, for example, you get a word wrong, you can’t say ‘correct that word’. Instead of making the correction, it will type out ‘correct that word’ into the document. So it’s really a last resort, and I don’t recommend it. I’d always stick to a program that allows full text control, because otherwise Dragon will never learn – it assumes it gets everything right. Unless you tell it otherwise and make corrections, it doesn’t get better. In fact, over time it gets worse, because you’re not adjusting it to your writing style and voice. So I’d stick to the copy and paste method.
You also can’t correct transcription in the obsolete Mac version. It just spits out the file as a Word document or rich text file. But you can correct transcription in the PC version, and it will learn from it, just as it would from dictation. You can get your transcription up to 98%, 99% accuracy, by taking a look at what Dragon has transcribed and correcting it where it’s wrong. Interestingly, the latest version of Dragon for the PC – version 15 – uses the same profile for dictation and transcription. You don’t have to differentiate at all. It just takes everything you’ve ever dictated and applies that to whatever you feed into it – it’s a holistic approach to accuracy.
Mel Are there other differences between dictation and transcription?
Scott Transcription tends to be more freeform – you just tend to talk and talk. That can lead to overwriting sometimes. You might find that dictating to your computer changes that, because you see what you’re saying appearing on the screen. Your inner editor might kick in a little and say, ‘Hold on – do I need that? Maybe I should rework this.’ It’s worth trying both to see if it changes how you dictate.
Mel Let’s talk about the writing itself. I find that my voice is a lot more natural when I’m dictating. We were storytellers before we were story writers.
Scott Correct. A lot of things have come along to enable us to tell stories over the years – the quill; the pen; the electric typewriter – that’s how old I’m getting, I had an electric typewriter; the word processor; the PC; the Mac; the iPad. It’s staggering, really. All of these things have been evolutions of the way we tell stories, and Dragon, or voice, is just the next evolution. It’s the next input method after the keyboard.
People get hung up on this – “I can only think through my fingers.” That’s because you’re used to it. The keyboard was actually designed to slow us down. It was designed to stop the hammers hitting into each other. That’s why we have the QWERTY layout we’ve got. It doesn’t make sense in the modern age. There’s no reason anymore to have this layout. So we end up with people who can type 120 words a minute but end with things like RSI, because you shouldn’t be using such a torture device to type that quickly.
It’s easier to dictate quickly than to type quickly by hand, which means you spend less time working. If you spend eight or ten hours on your laptop getting your words out, it’s going to take a physical toll, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You’re sitting at a desk, crouched over, sedentary, banging away at a keyboard. There’s impact for your fingers, your posture… Dictation takes that away, to some extent. Especially if you’re doing it on your bike or walking around – you’re active, you’re getting out in the world. I don’t have an issue with any way that people work, but I just want people to be well. Dragon is just the next evolution of that. We should embrace it. I look at my kids and they’re growing up with touchscreens, using them for everything. That’s going to happen eventually with voice. We’re in a bit of a voice war at the moment, where Google and Amazon and Apple are all trying to get you to use their voice assistance, because this is going to be the future.
Mel Are you finding that your Dragon Dictation courses are becoming more popular as people realise this?
Scott Yes. I was shocked, actually, at the initial uptake. I did a pre-launch promotion and I was just blown away – signup after signup after signup. It’s been terrific to see. I still get emails from people saying they’re so glad they took my course, because they save so much time. One guy emailed me recently and said he’d gone through the entire thing in a weekend. I couldn’t believe it, because there’s so much stuff in there – hours and hours. Some of the demos alone are an hour long. He went through the whole thing in a weekend, because he just wanted to make the program accurate straight away. He said he’d been using Dragon for years, but he’d thrown out everything he knew about the program and was seeing the best accuracies, the best productivity, he’d evder had. That’s thrilling, because that’s why I made the course. I wanted to say, “Look what you can do with this! But you have to take these steps to get it to work for you.” It’s been hugely successful, and hugely humbling for me. I’ve had people with limited mobility who have accessibility requirements and who find it difficult to work straight into the computer – and they’ve built their accuracy up to 99%. I can’t really ask for much more than that. Mission accomplished.
Mel The biggest takeaways are ultimately get good equipment and practise, aren’t they?
Scott Yeah. It’s pretty simple. Initially, you need to pick a platform – Mac or PC. On my website, www.scottbakerbooks.com, there’s a post about the Mac situation. The program for Mac still works, but the reality is they’re not going to update it. It would be irresponsible for me to say to go out and buy it. So you need to work out what to do with that situation, whether it’s get the PC version on your Mac or buy a PC.
Don’t buy a cheap PC. I hear that a lot – “I’ll just get a cheap one to run Dragon.” No. If you buy a cheap PC, you’re going to get cheap performance. I think what skews a lot of people’s opinions about Windows is cheap PCs.
So pick a platform, whether it’s run the program on Mac or PC, and buy the software. Then, like you say, get a good mic, though it doesn’t have to be expensive. ‘Good’ can be $50 or $100 for a solid desktop mic. You mentioned that if you’re walking around while you’re dictating you can use wireless mics. I don’t recommend them because there aren’t any good affordable ones.
I have a desktop microphone from SpeechWare, which has a setting called ‘long range’, which allows you to dictate from the other side of the room. It constantly adjusts the volume levels as you’re walking around, so you can use it if you want to get away from your desk. Or you can use transcription – get a voice recorder, use your smartphone. Basically, you need to pick a budget, pick a platform, get a decent kit, and you’re off and running. Beyond that, it’s just about getting the program tailored to your voice and writing style – and getting your accuracy as high as possible, and keeping it that way long-term. That’s where understanding how the program works comes in.
Mel Community’s important, too – like the Dragon Riders Facebook group. You can’t go it alone.
Scott There are loads of people out there willing to help. Dragon Riders is a great group – I’m quite active on there. People often think it’s my group. It’s absolutely not. I’m just a member. But the admin team is so helpful. There’s a section on there of frequently asked questions called ‘greatest hits’, so it’s a great starting point. Of course, you could also grab a copy of my book (‘The Writers Guide to Training Your Dragon,’ available in all good eBook stores). But it’s amazing how much help there is in the Facebook group.
Mel Have you got any other projects coming up in the future?
Scott I’m trying to look into the future and figure out where the future of Dragon is. As we’ve said, we’re down to one platform. With mobile being the platform that everyone seems to be gradually moving to, where will Dragon go in the future? How is it going to work on mobile platforms? I’ve been looking at various solutions out there and testing them, to see how they compare to Dragon. I’ve also got a series coming soon that revolves around how to buy a powerful computer to use for Dragon that doesn’t cost the absolute e