Dictate Your Writing with Speech Recognition Software

Microphoneby C.K. Macleod

Have you tried dictating your writing with speech recognition software? Dictation is another tool in your toolkit for easing repetitive strain injury (RSI).

If you use a PC, your version of Windows likely comes with Windows Speech Recognition (WSR). This dictation software has been compared to Dragon Naturally Speaking, the gold standard of speech recognition software.

Tips for Getting Started

1. Complete the tutorial. The first time you launch WSR, it takes you through a 15-minute tutorial. I’d recommend taking the time to work through the tutorial because it’ll help you learn commonly used voice commands while training WSR to listen for your voice. All speech recognition software requires training, so don’t skip this step.

Note: You may need a microphone in order for WSR to work.

2.  Decide how you’ll use WSR. You can use speech recognition software for a variety of purposes:

  • to write an article
  • to compose email messages
  • to open and close applications and navigate your computer
  • to surf the internet

To reduce my use of the keyboard and mouse, I decided to use WSR to dictate email messages and to navigate my computer. I initially attempted to write an article in Scrivener—my preferred first-draft software—but I encountered two road blocks:

  • WSR only works with Microsoft products (e.g. Word, Windows Live Mail, Internet Explorer); and
  • learning to talk out your writing is an acquired skill.

So, I cut my WSR teeth by dictating email messages to a recipient who would be gracious about my learning curve. (Bonus: I won’t be at all surprised if WSR helps me to improve my speaking skills.)

3. Learn a short list of voice commands. This is easy enough to do if you work through the WSR tutorial (see step 1.). There are hundreds of voice commands for WSR. Here are the ones I use the most:

Tip: If, while using WSR, you say “How do I say,” WSR will pull up a menu of voice commands for you.

By using WSR in my workflow, I reduced my keyboarding and mousing enough to ease the pain in my wrist. Learning WSR took time, but it was well worth the effort.

Image by Grant

Blogging in Markdown—Without a Plug-in

Go around please sign

by C.K. MacLeod

Writing in markdown can make your blogging process more efficient. If you’ve been blogging in WordPress, until now, you’ve been able to use a markdown plug-in, such as Markdown Quicktags, to convert markdown to HTML for reliably formatted blog posts.

Unfortunately, Markdown Quicktags no longer works with WordPress 4.0, and the developers have no plans to update the plug-in (thanks to Nina Amir for this information). What’s a blogger to do? Until better options become apparent to me, it’s time for a temporary workaround.

A Workaround

This workaround involves a few extra steps, but it’ll work.

  1. Write your blog post in markdown, in a word processor of your choice.

  2. Copy and paste your post into the left pane of the Jon Combe markdown editor.

Text written in markdown is on the left; the formatted version is on the right

 

 

  1. Download the HTML file generated by the Jon Combe markdown editor by clicking on the button with the angle brackets (highlighted in yellow).

Jon Combe HTML button

 

  1. Open the HTML file in a code editor like Notepad++ (free). Open the code editor first, then open the file from within the code editor. Note how you’re now able to see the HTML tags in blue.

HTML in Notepad++

  1. Select the text with HTML tags and paste it into the Text tab in WordPress’ editor.

This workaround works for Blogger, too. In Blogger, you’ll paste the text with HTML tags into the HTML tab.

Do you write in markdown? Have you discovered a new markdown plug-in that works with  Wordpress 4.0? Do you have another workaround?

Image by Taber Andrew Bain

How to Create a Keyboard Shortcut for the Snipping Tool

Scissors

by C.K. MacLeod

I’m trying to use my mouse less and my keyboard more. Why? Keyboard shortcuts can

  • reduce repetitive strain injury from too much mousing
  • help you to complete writing and editing tasks more efficiently

Save Time

Hilary Powers, in her excellent book, Making Word 2010 Work for You, has pointed out that it often takes less time to execute a keyboard shortcut than it takes for your hand to wander to your mouse, click through a menu in a word processing program or in Windows Explorer, and wander back to the keyboard. She has a point. Why leave the keyboard, if you don’t have to?

Create Your Own Shortcuts

In this post, I’ll describe the steps for creating your own keyboard shortcut for the Windows Snipping Tool—a handy application for taking screenshots while writing and blogging.

It’s a multi-step process to find the Snipping Tool with Windows Explorer. Instead, I’ve assigned the Snipping Tool the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Alt + K so that I can open it in seconds.

Quick Steps

  1. Find the Snipping Tool application in Windows Explorer by going to the Start menu and keying in “Snipping.” The Snipping Tool should show up in the Start menu.
  2. Right-click on the application name (Snipping Tool) and click on Properties.
  3. Next to Shortcut key: insert the key combinations you want to use to open that application. I’ve used Ctrl + Alt + K because the that key combination isn’t already being used for another action* and because the K reminds me of a pair of scissors left open on a table.
  4. Click Okay, and try your your new shortcut.

Once you integrate them into your workflow, keyboard shortcuts can save you time. What other writing-related applications could you assign a keyboard shortcut to?

*Note: Some key combinations are already assigned functions in Windows 7. Windows will let you know if you choose a combination that’s already taken.

Image by James Bowe

Wrist-Saving Keyboard Shortcuts

Hand on keyboard by Branko Collin

by C.K. MacLeod

Using keyboard shortcuts can help you to ease repetitive strain injury (RSI) in the fingers and wrist caused by overusing a mouse or touchpad. And once these shortcuts become second-nature, they can help you to write more efficiently as well.

The keyboard shortcuts listed below are not software-specific or operating system-specific—they don’t just work for Windows users, or Word users, for example. They should work on most computing devices, even the old-school intelligent keyboards that some authors, like Bryan Cohen, are experimenting with to help them focus on writing without the distractions of social media and the Internet.

Print this downloadable file and stick it next to your computer for easy reference. Do you use a Mac? Check out this post by Adrienne Montgomerie for a handful of Mac keyboard shortcuts.

Tip: When using keyboard shortcuts, be sure to keep your wrists straight, and allow your hands to float over the keys.

Hide Your Mouse

Old habits die hard. When I began to feel strain in my wrist, I was surprised to discover how often I reached for my mouse without really thinking about it. I was also shocked to discover that my hand rested rather tensely on my mouse when I wasn’t typing.

If your mousing habits are entrenched like mine are, you may need to unplug or turn off your mouse for a few minutes each day, so you can learn to rely a bit more on keyboard shortcuts. If you use a touchpad, you can put a sticky note overtop to temporarily disable it.

You don’t have to learn all of the keyboard shortcuts listed in this post—learn the ones you like. If a few of them become habit, you’ll reduce your mouse use and have a better chance of easing some of the strain.

Tip: if you learn the Jump to shortcuts first, the rest of the shortcuts are easier to learn. The keys you’ll use the most in these combinations are the Ctrl key and the arrow keys.The Jump to shortcut keys are useful for scrolling through online articles, too!

Image by  Branko Collin

Markdown for WordPress

Little girl riding a bike with training wheels.

by C.K. MacLeod

Writing in markdown can make your blogging workflow more efficient. It can also prevent formatting mishaps that show up after you hit Publish.

In a previous post, I explained why I use markdown, and how you can learn to use it in about 10 minutes. In this post, I’ll explain my writing and publishing workflow for WordPress, using markdown.

Note: You’ll use different steps for different blogging platforms. Stay tuned for a future post about markdown for Blogger.

Quick Steps

  1. Write your post in markdown.
  2. Copy your post into the Text view in WordPress.
  3. Install the plug-in Markdown QuickTags.
  4. Turn markdown into HTML, so that your post is now formatted for the web.

The Steps, Explained

1. Write your post in markdown. You can write your post in

  • Word,
  • Scrivener,
  • Google Docs, or
  • a plain text editor (like Notepad).

If you want to, you can write your post directly in the WordPress blog editor, but make sure you’re writing in the Text view and not the Visual view, where you might usually write. You’ll see why in a minute. The point is that markdown is flexible. You can write in markdown pretty much anywhere.

Text view in WordPress
Text view in WordPress

I write blog posts in Scrivener because it’s another place to store them if my website self-destructs. I also like that Scrivener will allow me to store all of my blog posts in one Scrivener project folder, so that everything is in one place.

2. Copy your finished post  and paste it into the Text view in WordPress. Save it. This is the same place where you’d paste text with HTML tags, too.

3. Download the free WordPress plug-in Markdown QuickTags*. Activate the plug-in and go back to your saved post. Markdown QuickTags has added some features to your WordPress editor.

4. Make sure you’re in the Text view of the editor and click on Render in the bottom right.

Render option in Markdown QuickTags
Render option in Markdown QuickTags

Your markdown text will be converted to HTML, the language of the web. Click on the View tab to see your formatted post.

And that’s it!

Markdown is training wheels for HTML. So, if you don’t know how to write in HTML, markdown is an easy way to tap into the benefits of HTML, and prevent formatting mishaps in your blog posts.

*I learned about the Markdown QuickTags from Joseph Michael in his Learn Scrivener Fast course.

Image by Jenn Durfey

Markdown for Bloggers

 

Coding is the new literacy

by C.K. MacLeod

Writing in markdown is an efficient way to write blog posts. In fact, it will forever change the way you blog.

So, what is markdown? It’s a coding language like HTML, only much, much simpler, and you don’t have to be tech savvy to learn it. It takes about 10 minutes to learn, if that.

Why I Use Markdown

Here’s why I use markdown:

  • Markdown is easy to learn.
  • I don’t have to fuss with the formatting features of a word processor when I write, which means I won’t introduce wonky formatting into my writing when it comes time to publish a post.
  • I can copy and paste my writing to and from Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, a text editor, Blogger, WordPress, etc. and the formatting codes will travel with it.
  • Markdown can convert to HTML, so if you’ve never been able to figure out how to write in HTML, you may not need to (see below).
  • It makes my blog writing and publishing process more efficient.

What does it look like?

Here’s what markdown looks like in action:

Text written in markdown is on the left; the formatted version is on the right

The text in the left pane is written in markdown. It kind of looks like plain text, right? That’s because it is. It’s pretty much what your writing would like if you only used your keyboard and didn’t click on any of the fancy formatting buttons in your word processor.

The text on the the right is what the published product will look like. Pretty, right? This particular markdown editor took the codes from the text on the left and converted it to formatted text. Do you see the codes? No? Read on…

Commonly Used Markdown Codes

Here are the markdown codes I use the most in my writing (I’ve left this list in plain text so that you can copy and paste it into Scrivener. if you like):

Headings
#Heading 1
##Heading 2
###Heading 3

*italic*

**boldface**

Horizontal rule

Links
[Tech Tools for Writers](hyperlink) – no space between square brackets and parentheses

Images
![alt text: description of image for people with visual impairments](image link)

Block quote/pull quote
>first line of paragraph

Ordered list
1. first list item
2. second list item
3. thirdlist item

Unordered list
– list item
– list item
– list item
Can also use * instead of –

Soft break (poetry)
Line is followed by two spaces
First line [space, space]
Second line [space, space]

Other
em dash: Alt+ 0151
en dash: Alt + 0150
hyphen –

Go back to the image above. Do you see the markdown codes now? Allow me to highlight some of them for you:

Markdown sample
The markdown syntax in this sample is highlighted in yellow.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for on my markdown list, check out this markdown cheat sheet. Print it and stick it next to your computer.

Or, if you write your blog posts in Scrivener like I do, you can copy and paste my list of markdown codes into the Project Notes menu in Scrivener’s Inspector, where it’ll always be available when you need it.

Markdown in Scrivener's Project Notes
Markdown in Scrivener’s Project Notes

Try This

If you’d like to learn markdown, but you’re not convinced that it’s easy, try this guided, step-by-step interactive tutorial. I dare you to say it’s hard after trying this tutorial.

If you’d like to see markdown transform to polished text right before your eyes, try John Combe’s* free markdown editor. Use my markdown “cheat sheet” above and write something in the left pane. Watch your markdown text turn to beautifully formatted text.

In my next post, I’ll explain how I use markdown for blogging on WordPress, and I’ll share my writing and publishing process with you.

*I learned about the John Combe markdown editor from Joseph Michael in his Learn Scrivener Fast course.

Image by Michael Pollak

New Tool for Writing and Editing: WPS Writer

Apples to apples

by C.K. MacLeod

Are you unhappy that Microsoft Word 2013 is available only through subscription? Consider this alternative: WPS Writer* (formerly Kingsoft Office).

A New Tool for Editing?

Until now, Microsoft Word has been the best tool for editing, but I’d like to suggest that WPS Writer is a close contender. The lite version is free and loaded with features, and it’s part of an office suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation software (also free). The Office Suite Pro version is reasonably priced at $69.95 USD, and it has some additional features—including the ability to run macros—that you’ll want for your self-editing toolkit.

If you’re happy to forego using macros in your writing process, the lite version will provide you with most of the writing and self-editing features you’ll need. Don’t hold out on macros for too long, though. Macros can help you to pinpoint difficulties in your writing, so you can fix them.

Tablet App

WPS Writer is also available for iOS and Android tablets (free)—for authors who like to edit on-the-go. If you use Dropbox to store your files, moving back and forth between the desktop app and the tablet app is relatively seamless.

WPS Writer and Word: A Comparison

Below is a table that compares Word 2010—the last non-subscription version of Word—with WPS Writer. I’ve listed all of the features typically used by authors and editors. If I’ve missed a feature, be sure to let me know in the comments below.

Note: The table was created in WPS Writer using Table tools.

WPS Writer also comes with a comprehensive user manual. Pretty impressive, huh? So if you haven’t been one of the lucky editor-sorts to scoop up one of the remaining copies of Word 2010, WPS Writer may well be worth a look.

A special thank you to Adam Santo for inspiring me to look into this software further.

*For those who are curious: WPS stands for Writer, Presentation, and Spreadsheets—the three components of WPS Office.

Are you a technical writer? Check out Ferry Vermeulen’s technical writing tools picks in Technical Writing Tools: The Ultimate Choice of 83 Experts.

Image by Harald Hoyer

Using Labels in Scrivener

3749662498_7c29433b82_z by C.K. MacLeod

@CKmacleodwriter

A book in progress can be an unwieldy beast, and sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of all the parts and the status of each part.

Scrivener’s labels can help you to get your head around your writing project.

You can colour code each chapter of your book to determine where you are with that chapter. For example, here are the colours I used for a book I’m writing:

  • Yellow—Notes
  • Blue—First draft
  • Turquoise—Revised draft
  • Pink—Final draft

After I work on a chapter, I assign it a label so that the next time I open Scrivener, I can tell, at a glance, which chapters need attention and what kind of attention they need.

Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

Here’s how you can apply labels to your writing project in Scrivener:

Labels in Scrivener Quick Steps

  1. Adjust your settings in Scrivener. Go to View, Use Label Color In, and select Binder. This will ensure that colour is applied not just to your cue cards, but in your Binder as well.
  2. Click on a file in Scrivener’s Binder. That’s the file the label will be added to.
  3. Open the Inspector Pane by clicking on the i button in the top right.
  4. Click on the triangle in the General Meta-Data area.
  5. Click on the down arrow in the Label area.
  6. Add an existing label to your Scrivener file, or create a new label by clicking on Edit, Label tab+button. To change a label’s colour, click on the coloured box next to the label and choose a new colour.

Add colour to your book’s chapters, so you can quickly tell what kind of attention those chapters need.

Image by albastrica mititica

Showing vs. Telling Macro

by @CKMacLeod

9631208527_e38342509b_m

Most writers are familiar with the adage, show, don’t tell. But sometimes it’s tricky to determine when those telling instances have crept into your writing.

Editor Janice Hardy of Fiction University explains how telling happens and offers advice for how to turn telling into showing. She and Valerie Comer of To Write a Story suggest lists of words you should avoid to prevent instances of telling.

I’ve inserted some of Valerie Comer’s and Janice Hardy’s telling words into the macro script below so you can identify them in your own writing. I’ve also included some words of my own.

Loch Ness telling sample
TellingWords in action; writing sample by Carla Douglas, used with permission

Copy the TellingWords* macro, below, from Sub to End Sub and paste it into Word’s Visual Basic Application (VBA). When you run the macro, it will hunt down and highlight those telling words so you can tell them, I mean, show them who’s boss.


Sub TellingWords()
‘ Highlights telling words


‘ Written by Roger Mortis, revised by Subcortical, adapted by Jami Gold and tweaked by C.K. MacLeod; word list by Valerie Comer and Janice Hardy

Dim range As range
Dim i As Long
Dim TargetList
TargetList = Array(“was”, “were”, “when”, “as”, “the sound of”, “could see”, “saw”, “notice”, “noticed”, “noticing”, “consider”, “considered”, “considering”, “smell”, “smelled”, “heard”, “felt”, “tasted”, “knew”, “realize”, “realized”, “realizing”, “think”, “thought”, “thinking”, “believe”, “believed”, “believing”, “wonder”, “wondered”, “wondering”, “recognize”, “recognized”, “recognizing”, “hope”, “hoped”, “hoping”, “supposed”, “pray”, “prayed”, “praying”, “angrily”)

For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList)

Set range = ActiveDocument.range
With range.Find
.Text = TargetList(i)
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = True
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
range.HighlightColorIndex = wdPink
Loop
End With
Next
End Sub


Note: You need to use judgement with the results of any macro. This macro will highlight the telling words, but only you can decide if it’s an instance of telling.

To figure out what to do with the words the macro highlights, refer to Janice Hardy’s excellent show vs. tell posts. Also, this macro is a work in progress. Are there words I should include? Omit? Let me know in the comments section below.

Not sure what a macro is? See this post for an explanation. See also the videos for adding a macro and running a macro in Microsoft Word 2010.

What do you do with the highlighted words this macro finds? See Carla Douglas’ post at the Beyond Paper Editing blog for suggestions.

 Image by Pete

*Karen Woodward calls this macro the AddWords macro because you can add any list of words that you want the macro to find. The first version of this macro was written by Roger Mortis, revised by Subcortical, appropriated for writing by Karen Woodward, tweaked byJami Gold, and further tweaked by me, making it a true community effort.

Free Books for Samsung Users

8744538268_2ce8d98e59_m

By C.K. MacLeod

Samsung tablet and phone users — did you know that you can download one free ebook per month from Amazon? I learned about this offer from Jim Kukral and Brian Cohen in Episode 3 of the Sell More Books podcast.

Samsung users can choose from one of four selected books each month. The books are selected from different genres, so there is a bit of variety. This month’s picks are all fiction, and I’m hoping Samsung will consider nonfiction options in future, as well.

Before You Begin

Note: I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. If you have a Samsung smartphone, your instructions may be slightly different.

The first version of this app didn’t work properly and I needed to contact Amazon for support. If you can’t download your free book, uninstall the app and reinstall it. That will get you the new version.

When you first open the app, you may be required to sign in with your Samsung account. If you don’t have an account, you’ll need to create an account at the Samsung site.

The Kindle for Samsung app and Kindle for Android app communicate with each other. You may need to open your Kindle for Android app and sign in to that app with your Amazon account to ensure that the apps are communicating with each other. If you run into trouble, contact Amazon, as Samsung isn’t responsible for issues with the app.

Quick Steps for a Free Book

  1. From your tablet or phone, download the Kindle for Samsung app from the Samsung store. This is important. You need the Kindle for Samsung app to access your free book, even if you have the Kindle for Android app on your tablet or phone.
  2. Open the Kindle for Samsung app. Tap on the Navigation Drawer—the menu icon with the three lines—in the top left.
  3. Tap on Samsung Book Deals.
  4. Choose a book from this month’s selection and tap on its cover.
  5. The book you’ve chosen will be priced at $0.00. Tap on Buy Now with 1-Click.

The Samsung for Kindle app syncs with the Kindle for Android app, so if you want to, you can read your new free book on your Kindle for Android app. Both apps can coexist on your tablet. You can, however, only download your monthly free book through the Samsung for Kindle app.

Happy reading!

Image by John Karakatsanis