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The weird little origami-like folds of dictating your story

Posted September 4 into Writing by John Birmingham

I'm being crushed by deadline. The sequel to Zero Day Code. So naturally in the middle of this, I lost my mind and decided it was time to have a look at my productivity. I bought a book about voice recognition software. 15 Minute Dictation by Sean Platt and Neeve Silver. Although I've been using Dragon’s dictation software for more than a decade now, it was still useful.

Honest! I didn’t waste my time! There were a couple of tricks to using dictation software, weird little origami-like folds of understanding exactly how you hold a story in your head, I suppose, that I hadn't really thought about before. And they were interacting with the way I use the pomodoro method to fuck me up, just a little bit. So I tweaked my method.

I normally work in half-hour bursts if I'm doing something I really don't want to do. That is the beating heart of the pomodoro method. Even if some writing task is completely fucking loathsome, you should be able to gut it out for twenty-five minutes. And by focusing for that small window of time you normally get past your resistance to doing The Bad Thing and the job starts to move.

When I'm working on something that I actually do want to do, I can stretch the pomodoro timer out to nearly an hour. Either 50 or 55 minutes is best. But it's not easy to talk to yourself for just under an hour. Not if you want to maintain steady progress on a narrative. It's always tempting to go back and fix up every phrase or sentence or scrap of dialogue you’ve just written. This is a completely natural process when you're typing. You don't even think about it. The words come out, they could be a little bit better, you tweak them and move on. A simple, intuitive, almost thoughtless process when typing. But not when you are using dictation software.

Oh my fucking God no.

So one of the tips for young players that this book recommended was knowing what you're going to write before you write it. This is an old hack’s trick. It is why so many of us plot out rather than just plunge into the story. You are at your most glacial when you’re trying to figure out what you are writing while you write. But you're even slower if you’re also correcting the grammar and the aesthetics of the language as you go. So slow in fact, that you can lose all of the benefits of dictation, which can be three or five or even ten times faster than composing something by hand.

So what I tried to do was reorganise the way I move through those 55-minute blocks of writing time. Rather than trying to just talk to the software for nearly an hour without a break, I wrote out the entire chapter, paragraph by paragraph, in the form of a one line summary for each par.

I then had a blueprint to refer to while I was ‘writing’ (ie, dictating).

But—and here’s the money shot—I wouldn't just look at the blueprint and try and talk my way through it, expanding each one line summary as I went. Instead I looked at the synopsis of the first par and asked myself “What is going to happen in this?”

I spent about a minute figuring it out, imagining the scene in my head, and all of the dialogue to be spoken in it. I wasn't looking for a perfect word-by-word facsimile in my head of what would soon appear on screen. I simply wanted to know what was going to happen. The story beats of the paragraph, if you will. The narrative waypoints. There’s not many of them in a single par.

This meant I was dictating about two- to three hundred words in the space of 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat the process over an hour and you get about five or six slabs of wordage, totalling 1200 or 1300 words in all.

Fuckin' romantic, innit, eh?

I didn’t edit or second guess myself as I went, I just tried to move as quickly through those short bursts of ‘writing’ as I could - after roughly figuring out where they would go, narratively. A short break followed, five minutes or so, and then I moved onto half an hours editing of the just transcribed copy.

It’s always best to edit dictated sections on the same day. The software is much better than it used to be, but there will still be errors and you’re more likely to clean them up accurately when the composition is fresh in your mind.

A developer who (I think) also writes video game storylines asked me on Twitter how I changed gears between creation and the ‘analysis’ of editing. She found it difficult to switch. It might be as simple a trick as thinking of those short, immediate bursts of editing, not as editing, but simply as more writing. You’re expanding and sculpting and refining the copy you just threw at the screen. I normally add another 25% in volume at this point. Structural and copy editing are different and can wait until later.

4 Responses to ‘The weird little origami-like folds of dictating your story’

Matthew F. puts forth...

Posted September 5
+++But it's not easy to talk to yourself for just under an hour.+++

Oh, I don't know, I manage it pretty well when I'm on a task or out walking and have something on my mind and forget there are people around. And then I stop to take stock, or waiting to cross a road, and see all the looks I'm getting and get that sinking realisation that my internal monologue wasn't quite so internal for a little while there.

Anyway. Probably not what you meant. Carry on.

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Doccs mutters...

Posted September 9
Thank You JB-I’ve been struggling with VR software as part of my work.
Your idea kinda gels with what I’ve learnt that you have to speak in phrases, ie ones you’ve already thought out.

Will give your method a try.

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NBlob asserts...

Posted September 11
#SausageMaking
In a previous career I schlepped AV equipment. One day a very casually dressed bloke asked if I minded him working in the back of a room I was setting for a show. Of course, so we each got on with our work. I noticed he wore a headset and would occasionally talk. I assumed a phone call. As I finished up we had a brief conversation. He is/was one of the lord high poo-bahs of the Federal Family Court. He was reading submissions and dictating notes via Dragon. I mentioned I knew a bloke who wrangled words professionally and who was down one arm at the time who spoke to the Dragon. He showed me how it learnt to understand him and the specific arcana of law-speak. He mentioned how unlike Ye olde memorex cassette & typist transcription, he composed each note in his head before speaking. An additional 30 seconds before clicking resulted in a significant decrease in edit & revision. Also some sweet ass tagging methods for subsequent analysis.

So when can we have a Spoilerific Spoily thread on 0DC &/or TCS ?

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Doccs is gonna tell you...

Posted September 12
Thanks Nblob-helps me understand a bit more.

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She’ll be back

Posted September 4 into Movies by John Birmingham

Great profile of Linda Hamilton, aka Sarah Connor from the best of the Terminator movies. She’s back with James Cameron and Arnie for the new one. There's some fascinating stuff about how she turned some pretty shitty moments of her personal life into the completely remade Sarah of the second movie:

What she hadn’t dreamed of was a sequel. Years later, when Cameron contacted her out of the blue to see if she’d commit to “Terminator 2,” Hamilton had only one request: Instead of playing the damsel in distress again, she wanted Sarah to go crazy. “I wrote it to the hilt based on her directive,” Cameron told me.

This version of Sarah Connor, locked away in a psychiatric institution, had war in her eyes and a body trained like a weapon. In order to play her, Hamilton would have to get into staggeringly good shape, since Sarah’s robo-apocalypse training included pull-ups and, eventually, bicep-straining shotgun pumps. There was just one thing: “I was six months pregnant when Jim came to me,” Hamilton said, “and I carry my babies big...

Her then husband left her shortly after the birth of their child. She channeled the rage and fear from that into her role.

Totes worth a read at The New York Times.

4 Responses to ‘She’ll be back’

FormerlyKnownAsSimon ducks in to say...

Posted September 4
i know the world is never just black&white but is there a douchier move than to dump someone after they give birth to their child?

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted September 4
No. There is not.

jl would have you know...

Posted September 4
Agreed. Pretty bad.

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she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted September 5
I'm so excited for this, the Terminator franchise is nothing without Linda Hamilton. Sarah Connor had such an impact on my younger self.

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Burgertime in Canberra

Posted August 23 by John Birmingham

I’m at the festival tomorrow, doing sessions at lunch time and in the evening. The night time one is a bummer cos it’s 7.30-8.30 so it craters the evening for any catch up.

But I could be talked into a fizzy Herbert before. I’m meeting Abe after the earlier session. If you’re around let me know here or on the twitters.

2 Responses to ‘Burgertime in Canberra’

Dave W puts forth...

Posted August 26
I ambushed JB at the Capital Brewery, I was sunburnt and 5 pints deep at the time. I saw him leaving with his entourage and launched out shouting JB JB JB, it's me, Dave! I hope he didn't mind.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon would have you know...

Posted August 26
bahaha. I'd have to make a bloody long trip to coincide with one of these. Although i do have to go to Brisvegas next week for a work thing . . . but Mon/Tues night conference trips is usually reserved for a beer and a book in some likely pub (those types of nights don't come often). Actually - does anyone have any recommendations for me? Staying on the South Bank. Elgoog shows a place called the tipplers tap is near where i'm staying. Closed Monday (boo).

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The Cruelest Stars

Posted August 23 by John Birmingham

After a book drops into the world I like to cast the movie. It's much cheaper than actually making a movie and you can get anyone you want. Before I even had a chance to think about casting The Cruel Stars, however, one of my handlers at the Penguin House emailed and asked if I'd like to write a blog post for Marshal Zeringue who's particular kink is casting unmade movies from just published books.

I was totally up for that and you can the entry here. One pick wasn't just obvious, it was virtually compulsory.

See if you can guess who before...

Of fuck that. No. It's just too obvious.

I dont care how much money Steven Spielberg is offering. Unless Frazer McLennan is placed by Peter Capaldi this movie is just not fecking happening...

You can read it all here.

20 Responses to ‘The Cruelest Stars’

insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted August 24
10 years ago a Google search for my name might have revealed half a dozen results, then I started writing articles for work and things took off, now it's going all splodey. Some doubts but no regrets.

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Rhino swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 25
Book - read.

Review - submitted.

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Rhino has opinions thus...

Posted August 25
I was thinking Batista for Jaco. But then I thought, CGI character. So, go with Serkis to bring to life and have Batista do the voice work. Or, possibly Vin Diesel.

Strom - The Austrian Oak.

The voice of Hero - Sirs Hopkins or Guinness. No, wait, Michael Caine.

Dave W swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 26
Re Jaco- he's a tech savant. So despite the body mods, I genuinely have whoever the dude is who plays Sheldon Cooper as the voice.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted August 26
Rhino's Strom pick is brilliant!

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she_jedi asserts...

Posted August 26
Once you pointed out who should play McLennan I couldn't unsee it, and now it's hardwired into my head canon. Brilliant choice.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon ducks in to say...

Posted September 2
Capaldi definitely strikes me as the "hang your wrinkley bits out in the air like you just don't care" kind of guy.

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Bondiboy66 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 27
Halfway through the book - I keep envisaging Coto as Dave Bautista too. Peter Capaldi as McLennan (only in Malcolm Tucker mode though) is a given. Let Jay Lambright play himself! I honestly can't think of any others at present...ask me again when I've finished the book!

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jason mutters...

Posted August 28
I know its off topic but...
DAMN YOU BIRMINGHAM.

Do i really have to wait until 2020 for the sequel? I just can't wait that long. Sleep less, forgo any family time, ignore all other projects, get em the sequel sooner.

she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 28
I support the spirit of this comment, while acknowledging the logistical difficulties in acceding to its demands.

jason is gonna tell you...

Posted August 28
If JB really loves us he will find a way.

insomniac asserts...

Posted August 28
I concur

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Therbs has opinions thus...

Posted August 28
I think Hero also needs to be Scottish. Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor or Gerard Butler.

Bondiboy66 mutters...

Posted August 29
I'd have thought something more Shakespearian ala Patrick Stewart or a Richard Burton imitator (as the original model is off-line). Or Micheal Caine for funzies!

she_jedi asserts...

Posted August 29
OMG Capaldi and Stewart, can you IMAGINE? This needs to happen.

she_jedi mutters...

Posted August 29
Although Ian McKellen would give good Hero too

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HAVOCK21 asserts...

Posted August 28
FK THAT SHIT!...WHEREs HAVOCK!!

Therbs puts forth...

Posted August 29
No room for magical time travelling submarines in this one Hav.

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Dave W swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 1
5 stars. 5 cruel cruel stars. Thank you, Mr Birmingham.

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balri reckons...

Posted September 11
I pictured Stellan Skarsgard as McLennan. And I’m thinking a young Lori Petty, a la Tank Girl as Sephina

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The sci fi machinery of publishing

Posted August 22 into Books by John Birmingham

Jason Lambright has a really lovely piece over at his Interstelar Valley blog pondering the wonder that is the production and release of a book...

A book launch by a major publisher is an astonishing display of logistics, marketing, programming, and execution.

As I stood in the little book store thousands of miles away from the author, these thoughts went through my head. I picked up a copy, leafed through it, and carried it to the register. It seemed that I wanted to purchase another hardcopy as a gift to my old Team Sergeant, so this book, copy XXXX of who knows how many thousand, left the store with me.

It rode on the back seat of my car. As I drove, I marveled at all the threads that came together to make the book’s journey complete. Had the idea to write this article, put the book in front of some Indian corn and took a picture. Sent the picture via my phone to the computer. This is another technological marvel that we take for granted.

Totally worth a read at the Valley.

2 Responses to ‘The sci fi machinery of publishing’

she_jedi reckons...

Posted August 22
That was a really lovely piece, I enjoyed reading that.


However, is Jay Lambright mostly sensible space tourist related in any way to Jason Lambright author? :)

jl puts forth...

Posted August 22
Maybe. If so, I wear my redshirt with pride.

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Nice interview and TCS extract at SyFy

Posted August 21 by John Birmingham

I did an interview with these guys (while trying to get a grumpy teen out of the door and off to school), and they grabbed and extract which you can find here.

3 Responses to ‘Nice interview and TCS extract at SyFy’

she_jedi mutters...

Posted August 21
"The Cruel Stars is a decapitation strike on a star-spanning society in more ways than one..."

So you've moved on from destroying the world, and now you're destroying galaxies??? Overachiever :P

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted August 21
surely you have the hang of getting a moody teen out the door by now, you have years of experience and treachery to rely on.

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jl would have you know...

Posted August 21
Nice that SyFy's getting the word out; good little piece.

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