Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Thu Jan 5 2012

Learning to think before I speak

In this post I talked about my childhood nickname, Chatterbox, and how my dad tried to train me to tell a story succinctly.

In this post I talked about the repetitive strain injury I get in my wrists, and the dictation software (a.k.a. Dragon) that Andy bought me to help relieve/avoid the pain.

A week before Christmas, I attended a work holiday party with Andy. I was nervous for a variety of reasons. (We would be the youngest couple there, people were going to ask about my writing, etc.) But one person managed to put me completely at ease: Andy’s boss’s wife. I’ll call her C.

Only a few years older than us, C made the best first impression of anyone I’ve met in a long, long time. Born and raised in Spain, educated in America, the daughter of a pilot, and an avid reader, she was worldly, warm, and well-spoken. When I told her that I write “books for teens,” she said, “Oh, you mean Young Adult?” I think my girl crush started right then and there. We talked at length about books, culture, and travel, and by the end of the night I pretty much wanted to be C when I grew up.

(This is all related and going somewhere, I promise.)

Part of what I admired in C was her eloquence. She didn’t hurry to speak, she didn’t add unnecessary thoughts, she didn’t stumble over her words. I’m kind of the opposite. I speak before I think, my jokes and anecdotes come out all jumbled, and sometimes I even forget what I’m trying to say in the middle of saying it. Because it’s fueled by enthusiasm, sometimes it can come off as cute. But I’m 26 now and (unfortunately) only getting older. Cute won’t work forever.

Part of what my dad was trying to get me to do — besides just not annoying him — was to arrange my thoughts ahead of time. Figure out how to say what I wanted to say in an interesting and effective manner. That was probably too much to ask of someone who still played with Polly Pockets, but it’s a skill I would very much like to have — or at least develop — now.

Enter the Dragon.

Dictating e-mails, blog posts and comments, etc. isn’t so weird. I just kind of pretend that I’m talking to whoever is on the receiving end, as opposed to my shiny MacBook. But stories are, well, a different story. I don’t naturally think out loud. Or rather, when I do, my thoughts come out rather clunky and rambling. Not exactly the words you want applied to your manuscript.

But maybe this is a good thing. Maybe using my Dragon more will not only prevent my RSI, but also teach me to think before I speak. To be able to edit my words in my head as well as on the page. Maybe I too can seem as worldly, warm, and well-spoken as C.

Or maybe I’ll just look like a crazy person talking to myself. Only time will tell.

filed Personal, Reading/Writing
15 Comments
  1. Shari says:
    Thu Jan 5 2012 at 4:35 PM

    I am really curious to hear how it goes if/when you choose to use the Dragon more with your manuscripts. I’m the same as you when I write – the thoughts unfold so much more naturally in my head, I think because it’s easier to relate to the thoughts unfolding in my characters’ heads that way. My neck pain’s been getting more persistent, though, and even though I don’t know for sure that it’s a RSI, I’ve still been searching for ways to work less on the computer, just in case. Dragon sounds like a fantastic alternative.

    Also, entirely unrelated, but do you love your MacBook? After four years, my laptop’s having more and more issues, and I’m starting to think about replacing it. I was actually just at Best Buy today to look at the Macs.

    And, finally – you are warm, well-spoken, and totally awesome yourself :)

  2. Juliann Wetz says:
    Fri Jan 6 2012 at 12:12 PM

    I keep meaning to try Dragon. This was a nice reminder.

    And I’m sure your words are not as cluncky as you think. C probably thought you were eloquent and interesting, too. Who knows — she may be wishing to be more like YOU!

  3. s.p.bowers says:
    Fri Jan 6 2012 at 2:06 PM

    Ooo, let us know if it helps with the thinking before speaking. I really need to learn that skill. And I’m 36. Way beyond the cute stage.

  4. Sonje says:
    Fri Jan 6 2012 at 2:50 PM

    I don’t know how you “write” by speaking. It would be such a different experience for me. But maybe that’s a good reason to give it a try one of these days. Could loosen something up or add another dimension to my stories.

  5. Iliadfan says:
    Fri Jan 6 2012 at 3:41 PM

    How are you finding the actual process of using Dragon? Even with all the training, I found it a bit frustrating to use. Thinking of giving it another shot, though.

  6. kathryn magendie says:
    Sat Jan 7 2012 at 12:39 PM

    (visiting from Writer Unboxed) . . .

    My family and friends used to tell me I had “foot in mouth disease” – I was always speaking and doing things impulsively – can we say I many times found myself in not so great situations because of what I’d blurted out or did? lawd!

    But something happened and I’m not sure if it came with age (in my later 40’s) or finally wising up, or finding my confidence, or all of those, but I find I don’t rush to speak now, and I’m perfectly fine if I say nothing at all and someone else speaks. It’s much more relaxing not worrying about what I’ll talk about or say in response to someone’s chatter.

    So, welcome your 40’s and beyond *laugh* :-D

  7. Jon says:
    Sat Jan 7 2012 at 1:58 PM

    That’s so awesome! I don’t know if I could do Dragon, I am always revising as I go. Can Dragon do that?

  8. Joelle Wilson says:
    Sun Jan 8 2012 at 12:42 AM

    Thinking before speaking…Where’s the fun in that? (jk) It’s a good skill (still learning it)and can keep you out of trouble when you have a tendency to spew words out – which is what I normally do.

    Dragon sounds like an interesting program. May check it out.

  9. Emy Shin says:
    Sun Jan 8 2012 at 3:01 PM

    C sounds like a wonderful person — exactly the kind of person I’d love to be when I grow up as well.

    Being horribly shy, I’ve always stumbled when speaking. Thinking before I speak is definitely something I need to practice more.

    I am currently trying out Dragon Dictate (also due to RSI), but find it to be very difficult due to my accent. I’m still holding out hope, though.

  10. Kristan says:
    Sun Jan 8 2012 at 11:06 PM

    Shari-
    I think with my wrists flaring up, it’s not so much an “choose to” as a “have to.” If your neck is hurting you, and you’re using a laptop, I highly recommend buying a USB/Bluetooth keyboard so you can position the monitor and keyboard separately. The top of your screen should be about in line with your eyes when they’re parallel to the ground. Also make sure you’re in a good chair and taking frequent breaks.

    And yes, I love my MacBook. That said, it didn’t make an ounce of difference in my writing. (And sometimes I feel guilty about that, like I haven’t “earned” such a nice machine.)

    Juliann-
    Aw thanks.

    s.p.-
    Lol.

    Sonje-
    Yeah, that was Andy’s thinking too: just b/c it’s not natural doesn’t mean it will be bad. And so far he’s been right. I actually don’t think it changes my writing that much — b/c I still want the sentences to read a certain way — but I do often mumble to myself when I’m working, so I have to be sure the Dragon isn’t listening to me then. :P

    Iliadfan-
    I would say it’s about 90% accurate with me? I don’t have any accent and I speak fairly clearly, although it definitely does make errors that I have to go back and correct. Once I trained it — and myself, lol — that part wasn’t so bad. The frustrating bit is when the cache messes up and inserts letters or misplaces words. Then I have to make manual corrections and re-cache. Not the end of the world, but it does get tiring. I find that the less I jump around, and the fewer programs I have open, the better Dragon does. Which is probably a good thing, b/c I need to un-learn multi-tasking…

    kathryn-
    Welcome! Hehe. I’m glad to know this skill can be acquired over time. If it’s a maturity thing, though, I fear I may never get there… :P

    Jon-
    Yep, see my answer to Iliadfan above. You can definitely make corrections as you go — it’s just a bit tedious. But for me, and my wrists, that’s worth it.

    Emy-
    Aww, what kind of accent do you have? Doesn’t it come with some “accent adjustments” programmed in? (I have it for Mac, and I thought I remembered that option…) I would recommend doing as much Vocabulary Training as possible, and just being patient. I definitely have to enunciate and slow down when I’m working with it, which can be a pain, but the relief to my wrists is so important.

  11. Emy Shin says:
    Mon Jan 9 2012 at 12:26 PM

    I have a heavy Vietnamese accent (with English being my second language). I also have the Mac version, but didn’t know there’s an “accent adjustments” option. I’ll definitely have to look into it.

    I gave up too early because it kept messing up every other word. But if I can get it to work, that’d definitely be lovely, as my wrists are just getting worse.

  12. Kristan says:
    Mon Jan 9 2012 at 12:33 PM

    Ah, yeah. Look into the accents. If that doesn’t work, definitely think about your keyboard and screen heights. If you’re on a laptop, they’re automatically wrong. (Because when one is right, the other is too high/low.) I bought a separate keyboard back in March and that has helped a lot. I basically didn’t have to use Dragon for months (until I got lazy and worked in a bad position.) And just this morning I bought a laptop stand so I can raise my monitor.

  13. Christa says:
    Wed Jan 11 2012 at 11:40 AM

    I’m not great about thinking before I speak. I frequently do that uncomfortable talking thing to fill silence. And since I have Siri on my phone, this is even more apparent. It’s sort of hilarious, really. I can’t imagine using Dragon, but at the same time, it’s a very awesome way of reading your manuscript out loud the very first time around.

  14. Meghan Ward says:
    Sat Jan 14 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Is Dragon better than it was 10 years ago? I bought it back then and returned it because it was so difficult to get it to understand me.

    C sounds lovely, but I also find it refreshing when people say what’s on their mind instead of editing everything first. Well, except when they inadvertently insult people. Then I’d rather they edit :)

  15. Kristan says:
    Sat Jan 14 2012 at 2:22 PM

    Meghan-
    Well, I didn’t use Dragon 10 yrs ago, but it’s been bought out and overhauled since then, so yes, I would imagine it’s much better.

    Oh, I don’t think C was “holding back” (at least not anymore than any of us do when we’re in the company of new people). She just expressed herself eloquently.

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