The recent tour to Florida was wonderful except for one thing. In the evening I was trying to write the next chapter of Suite & Sour… with no keyboard!
Cue the scary music because that’s how it felt. I was alone in a dark house with nothing to record my thoughts but a fine tipped Sharpie and a spiral notebook. In my world, pens are for signing books, not writing them.
I know there are many people that love writing by hand and the whole old school tactile paper thing—I’m not judging. If you ask which way is better, by hand or by computer, the answer is which ever works best for you. For me, that’s a keyboard with clicky, back lit chiclet style keys. I like my back lighting green. I might be a little particular.
When I write on paper my hand feels slow. The pen drags, leaving behind scribbles and misspellings like inky spider trails. Pens make a scratchy noise that sets my teeth on edge after too long. It feels like trying to race a car with flat tires. It’s painful and I creep instead of fly. Don’t even get me started on paper cut possibilities…
But… there I was in northwest Florida with no other options but to write longhand. So I did. As my pen limped and tripped across the page, another terrible thought was whispering in the back of my mind… when you get home you have to transcribe all this junk. Cue more scary music.
Fortunately, my daughter Kyra Starr is a genius. As I was off in my work closet griping about “archaic paper” she suggested I use a program like Dragon NaturallySpeaking (usually just called DragonSpeak).
“Great idea,” I grumped. “Except I will never write by hand again and I don’t want to pay $150 for a program I might use once.”
She very rudely shooed me away from my computer, saying something about there always being a free option and paper not being all that was archaic in the house. I’m ignoring the latter commentary because she did find a wonderful, free feature in Google Docs (Google’s free, cloud-based response to Microsoft Word) that did the trick.
Called Voice Typing, this free dictation software tool comes pre-installed and requires no plugins. To access this feature, open a new Doc, select Voice Typing under the Tools menu and speak into a microphone (or crtl+shift+S). I simply read my scribbles into my headset mic and it transcribed the whole 1700 word mess into a nice document waiting for edits.
I couldn’t figure out how to “speak” quotation marks so I’m just adding those in during edits. You can say the word for some punctuation (like period or comma) and Docs will insert it. When I tried to say “quotation marks” or “quote” it just wrote that word into my story. Not a deal breaker for me.
I am a huge fan of Google Drive. Everything I’ve written in the past few years have been on Docs. If you don’t use Docs yet, here are some features that may help change your mind.
- Accessibility—Google Docs is cloud based, so you can get in and work on it from anywhere. I frequently write on my phone while I’m waiting at appointments. You can open your projects from any computer, tablet, phone etc. Whatever you are working on is always with you.
- Savability—Google saves everything automatically as you write it. If the power goes out, whatever you were working on is waiting in the cloud for the power to return. If your computer blows up, whatever you were working on is waiting in the cloud for your replacement machine. If the apocalypse happens, whatever you were working on is waiting in the cloud for the zombies to go away.
- Free and open—Google productivity products and cloud storage are almost always free (you can pay for upgraded storage, but you probably will never need to.)
- Download in just about any format—ePub, Word doc, PDF, HTML, plain txt… whatever you may need, you can download it.
- Shareability—You can share a Doc to a team or individual for edits. You can choose to track changes, just like with Word. On a side note, you can also use Docs as a secret message board by creating a Doc and inviting contributors. Everyone writes on the Doc in real time. Delete when done.
- Voice Typing feature I just tested. Works beautiful to have large chunks of handwritten text typed out. Much easier/faster than the ‘look and peck’ I was doing.
This saved me so much time this morning, I could write up a blog post on it when I would still be trying to decipher scribbles. Knowing this feature exists makes writing on paper a little less terrible.