Software I use

By , 4 July 2008 6:42 pm

Just occasionally I get asked various things about the technicalities of writing and what software I use. Unsurprisingly, I do the final editing of anything in Word, which seems to have become the universal format for documents. But for what it’s worth – and it isn’t a lot – let me tell you about a couple of favourites for writing.

The first of these is the flawed-but-when-it-works-absolutely-wonderful Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition program by Nuance software. Once you have trained the software, you put on the microphone and click the little icon on the desktop and then speak away. And after an initial pause your words start to appear on the screen with the barest minimum of delay. I’d say the accuracy is around 95%, maybe 98%. Or at least for me. I have a fairly deep voice and speak standard English: for higher frequency voices and people with pronounced accents I don’t know what the rate would be. But it gives me the ability to input text as fast as the best typist and allows me to keep going for several hours if I need to.

It is not perfect: for some obscure reason it really doesn’t like the word ‘because’; it is resource intensive and for me only works well with 3 Gb of RAM and even here I try to close down most other background programs. But it’s the only way I can manage to do a blog at the end of a long and wearying week. One curiosity is that unlike dictating to a human, the most satisfactory results are to be had by speaking in a slow, deliberate, monotone. So if you are writing something thrilling you have to not reveal the excitement in your voice or the computer will get confused. Weird! Anyway I recommend it, but I’m hoping that the next version will be better.

A second software package is probably less well-known and one that I have only just acquired. It is a program called PageFour by the splendidly named Bad Wolf Software. Let me simply repeat how it describes itself: “PageFour is a tabbed word processor and outliner for creative writers. Where other word processors were designed with the business user in mind, PageFour aims to meet the needs of a different class of writer. It does not improve your prose or make you a better writer – only you can do that, but PageFour does make your job just that little bit easier.”

That’s pretty much it. It’s a fairly basic and pared down word processor coupled with a fine outlining/card file element. So if I’m writing a book and I want to access information on a place or a person I shift the mouse over a mini-directory in the corner and call up the relevant note. This database type of thing is of course something that Word manifestly fails to do. The PageFour program is not terribly expensive and if you’re thinking about writing a novel you could do far worse. There is a programme for the Mac called Scrivener which does pretty much the same thing, but in a slightly more stylish fashion. The problem is, these wonderful tools notwithstanding, at the end of the day you still have to get down and write.

Now a word of warning. Our elder son and his dear wife are due to have their first baby very soon. When the event happens we will head on up to see them, and as a result, dear reader, this blog may hang fire for several days. We have also got some holiday occurring at some point and – trusting soul that I am – I am not going to announce the dates on the blog. So over the next six weeks or so this blog may be slightly interrupted and posting your comments may be delayed. Never mind: all being well I will be back.

Have a good week.

5 Responses to “Software I use”

  1. Terry says:

    Chris,

    Interesting stuff on the software – I didn’t realize that voice recognition programs were as accurate as you describe. And, as you say, they’re bound to get better.

    Blessings on your expected grandchild! May all go well, and the event be all you and your family hope for.

    And ditto on the holiday. We look forward to the blogs, of course, but I suspect we’ll survive. Where do the British (or Welsh, in this case) go to holiday? Other than some of the out-of-the-way places in Ireland and Scotland, I’m afraid I’m not aware of good places to holiday in your part of the world. Perhaps you could sideline as a tour information agent…

    Take care,

    Terry

  2. Anonymous says:

    well I finished the infinite day!
    so heres an impromptu review WARNING: SPOILERS POSSIBLE!
    well my overall impression was you should’ve pulled a chris paolini and made it 2 books. The space battles that you said you would have to skip, as well as the day the 22 worlds fell really would’ve been nice if there had been a tad more detail…..I mean there was some real good fodder for nice battle scenes there 😉
    but your way was OK too so comments on that…ummm…IDK I can’t seem to think right now I am incredibly sleepy…but anyway I actually liked the ending. I thought it worked out nicely.
    I will try to get more into detail about what I liked later…liked after 12 hours of sleep maybe 😉

  3. Charles Self says:

    Mr. Wally I am probably posting this incorrectly. I have just finished reading The Infinite Day today. I was eaigerly awaiting its arrival in the bookstore for months now. It is an excellent book and series that I will highly recommend to others.
    Thank you

    Charles Self

  4. davec777 says:

    Noticed that you haven’t posted on 7/11/08. Hope your new grandbaby has arrived by now – congrats! Loved Infinite Day – still trying to process it all! I will leave a positive review on Amazon here soon!

  5. Dr. Elwin Ransom says:

    Hmm … is that “Bad Wolf Software” as in Doctor Who “Bad Wolf”?

    Meanwhile, Chris, I finally finished The Shadow and Night, and am anticipating picking up The Dark Foundations very soon!

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