Category Archives: Productivity

Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

This article is originally published by Descript.

If you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your gut that pairs poorly with the jug of coffee you drank earlier.

If you know that rumble all too well: this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Here’s the core idea: thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot — of convenience, affordability and accuracy—that makes it practical to use it more casually. And I’ve found it increasingly useful for generating a sort of proto-first draft: an alternative approach to the painful process of converting the nebulous wisps inside your head into something you can actually work with.

I call this process idea extraction (though these ideas may be more accurately dubbed brain droppings).

Part I: Extraction

Here’s how my process works. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes!

  • Pick a voice recorder. Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way.
  • A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go — e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”. These will come in handy later.
  • For me, these recordings run anywhere from 20–80 minutes. Sometimes they’re much shorter, in quick succession. Whatever works.

Part II: Transcription

Once I’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

A little background: over the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of tools related to automatic speech recognition (ASR) thanks to huge steps forward in the underlying technologies.

Here’s how ASR works: you import your audio into the software, the software uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect—the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A few more tips:

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is… @#*! where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds (better yet: Airpods) so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.
  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.
  • I have a lot of ideas, good and bad, while I’m thinking out loud and playing music at the same time (in my case, guitar — but I suspect it applies more broadly). There’s something about playing the same four-chord song on auto pilot for the thousandth time that keeps my hands busy and leaves my mind free to wander.

The old ways of doing things — whether it’s with a keyboard or pen — still have their advantages. Putting words to a page can force a sort of linear thinking that is otherwise difficult to maintain. And when it comes to editing, it’s no contest: QWERTY or bust.

But for getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards)? Consider talking to yourself. Even if you wind up with a transcript full of nothing but profanity — well, have you ever seen a transcript full of profanity? You could do a lot worse.

This article is originally published by Descript.

Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.

NaNoWriMo: How to Increase Word Count

The end of July’s NaNoWriMo Camp for 2018 is fast approaching. And with that in mind many writers are looking for ways to increase word count. Myself included. I don’t know what the weather is like where all of you are living but for me I am headed into a weekend of heavy downpours and cloudy skies. In other words, perfect writing weather.

I figured for today a good blog post would focus on ways that we could all increase word count. Next week is the final inning… The home stretch. Personally, I’m about 13,000 words away from my monthly goal of 50,000 words. However, I have spent most of my writing this month on my blog and my morning pages as opposed to working on my WIP. With that in mind, I’m hoping to have an overly productive weekend of words, words, and more words. But we all know how planning for a productive weekend goes. It often results in getting nothing done. With that being said let’s help one another cross the finish line using some of these prompts and ideas.

Tips, Tools and Tricks to Increase Word Count
The Harry Potter Word Crawls

I should saved the best for last but seriously, this one is just too good. If you’re a Harry Potter fan and you haven’t heard of these, you’re missing out. A forum on Reddit has a complete list of links to all of the word count crawls. There has never been a more magical way to increase word count.

Write from All 5 Senses

For real. Go back into every scene and use more description. What are the characters smelling? Is it pleasant? Is it malodorous? What are they seeing? Use adjectives like they are going out of style. You will come back to edit and clean it up later. For now, I expect you to be describing mole hairs. Describe every sound…even the quietest places have sound. For example, my home is quiet right now but I can hear the AC running, my fingers on the keyboard and water trickling from the turtle tank filter. Leave no stone unturned!

Kill a Character – Or Several!

I’m talking Game of Thrones style! Kill three main characters off at once. Take no prisoners. Sacrifice your lambs. BURN THEM ALL! Or you could settle for torturing one of them, brainwashing him, then castrating him. Your choice.

Introduce a Character – Or Several!

I guess this could also be Game of Thrones style as that series has so freakin’ many!

Word Sprints

Word sprints, as painful as they can be, really do help. Why? Because they don’t allow you any time to think about what you’re doing. Even as someone who is a “planner,” when I’m forced to try to write as much as I can within a certain time frame, I start coming up with all sorts of crazy goodness. And by the time the buzzer goes off, I usually want to keep going. Embrace that and run with it. That scene might not make it into the final draft but it counts for this month.

You don’t have to have an account on Twitter or Facebook to participate in them either. Host your own within your cabin! That’s what my kick ass cabin does! I almost feel like we should have a team name…

Write from a Different Medium

Sometimes I type. Other times I write long-hand and sometimes I use dictation software. Each method has its own pros and cons. (Can we say new blog post topic?) All levity aside, don’t be afraid to switch things up. If I get tired of staring at the computer screen and feel stuck or don’t know what to write next or how to write what’s next, I get up and move. That’s when I go lay on the couch or the bed with a notebook and start writing by hand.

Perhaps I know what I want to write and I’ve got the whole scene worked out in my head but it’s so long and my fingers are exhausted. Then I sit at my desk and turn on the microphone. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking but I’m sure there are many other dictation programs out there, this is what works best for me. Sometimes I catch myself rambling but it’s a great way to get the words out quickly!

I hope these tips help you reach your goals for camp this year. And please check out those Harry Potter Word Crawls! They are entertaining.

Happy Writing!

-RB

Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.

Going Viral VS. Adding Value

Good evening, readers! For a while now I’ve wanted to write a blog post on the difference between going viral and adding value. I recently had a discussion with my boss’s boss involving this subject. My statement went something like this:

“I see a lot of that in this company, especially among the directors and VPs. I don’t know all of them but from the angle I’m looking at it’s almost as though they’re all trying to trump one another. Who can get their next 15 minutes of fame? Who can outdo the previous person? And instead of focusing on adding value to their workforce, they are trying to look good in front of one another and earn themselves bonuses.

My superior agreed. He nodded his head and said, “There seems to be a lot of throwing spaghetti at the ceiling and seeing which strands will stick. And a lot of them aren’t sticking right now.” Our company as a whole is in such a dire need to change and grow because we’ve been so stagnant for so long.

There is suddenly a mad scramble to catch up from years of being closed-minded and not forward thinking.

Our leaders are scrambling to “go viral.” They are not adding value to anyone’s lives. Instead, they are over-committing and volunteering themselves for things they know they can’t uphold. By delegating those things to their workforce (a workforce that often runs without their input and has its own commitments to uphold) we all end up stressed out and unhappy with each other.

How does “adding value” apply to my writing career?

When I look at my blog and my writing, I don’t want to be one of those people who’s just trying to go viral. I want my writing to mean something. I want to add value to other people. However, I realized that by pushing myself to write a blog post every day that some of the posts (like yesterday’s for example) are not always super engaging.

I don’t know if I will keep up the “one blog post a day” momentum going after this month is over. It has been an interesting challenge and I’ve been surprised that I’ve been able to keep it up. Now I’m in the home stretch so I want to push myself to finish this month out strong. However, I don’t want to fill everyone’s blog feeds and inboxes with crap posts that mean nothing and add no value.

What is “adding value” to you?

With that being said, you all know where I stand and hopefully a little more about my goals and what I seek to do and improve upon. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions I would love to hear from you in the comments below. I’m always open to blog post ideas. Therefore, if you have any questions about minimalism or being a writer, etc. I would absolutely love to hear from you.

I know that I don’t have a lot of original work out there yet but I work at it every day and I hope to have a readership that is comfortable with talking to me about my work. I’ve always enjoyed that sort of open collaboration with artists and fans. In the hopes that I can add value to people’s lives, I am going to continue to press forward with this challenge and try my best to come up with some more thought-provoking and engaging posts for all of you.

Thank you for reading!

-RB

Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.

How To Cope With Imposter Syndrome

First of all, I want to take some time to elaborate on how difficult it was for me to find the right cover art for this blog. What exactly does an imposter look like? What does someone with imposter syndrome look like? As most of you know, I use Canva to create a lot of my blog art. At first I searched for “imposter” but nothing relevant came up in the results. After that, I searched for things like “thief,” “poser,” “wannabe,” “disguise,” “fake,” “uncomfortable,” and “outsider.” None of these terms were giving me exactly what I was looking for and eventually I stumbled upon the current cover art when I searched for “outcast.”

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Wikipedia (I know, not the most reputable source but it’ll suffice for the sake of this post) defines Imposter Syndrome as follows:

“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.[2] While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally.”

I just finished reading 52 Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner. Inside, his 21st “pep talk” is titled “Treating Imposter Syndrome.” Towards the beginning of the piece, he writes, “Authors are especially susceptible to imposter syndrome because writing is such a vexing labyrinth of self-doubt. What does it take to feel like the real thing? Writing every day? Finishing a book? Finding an agent? Publishing a book? Getting reviewed in the New York Times? Appearing on the Tonight Show? Have writer friends? Famous writer friends? Per Maya Angelou, even all of that sometimes doesn’t suffice.

Basically, it boils down to thinking that you’re a fraud, you’re going to be found out, and you’re minimizing your accomplishments.

Why do we have Imposter Syndrome?

It’s so easy for us to talk down to ourselves but we have other people talking down to us all the time. We’re brought down by society, our own friends, and our family.

I never really considered myself as having a low self-esteem. I always felt confident in my ability to write but at the same time I have a lot of moments of self-doubt and I think all writers struggle with that. At least a lot of us talk about it.

In Dr. Abigail Brenner’s post Why Do I Feel Like a Fraud? on Psychology Today, she poses questions to readers on why they might feel this way. Three topics she highlights are personal relationships, profession life and early upbringing.

Personal Relationships

Many who know me understand that I believe in the “private life,” something that people seem to not value these days. Besides my blog and Instagram, I stay away from social media. I don’t need to know who is dating who, who is getting divorced, who everyone is voting for along with their stance on every political issue, who is taking a shit at the dentist… you catch my drift. We live in a world where people no longer respect the bounds of privacy. We are a society that encourages voyeurism and encourages the sharing of too much information.

As such, my close, personal relationships are with three very select people. No one knows me better than those three in what I’d like to call “The Inner Circle.” There is an “Outer Circle” too that consists of perhaps twenty people but they are still held at arms length. Those three individuals in the “Inner Circle” are the only people in the world that I feel I can let go and truly be myself around. But even then, there are times I hesitate to say what I truly feel or mean due to fear of judgement.

It’s silly because they’ve never judged me before. In fact, that is how they go to that “Inner Circle” to begin with. But that fear is still there. Why? Probably my upbringing- done by a highly judgemental family.

Early Upbringing

I don’t feel like I can be myself around my own family. I always feel like I need to have my guard up when I visit them. Which is part of why I hate going to visit them. It’s emotionally and psychologically exhausting. It’s such a waste of time; it drains me and I don’t feel like it adds any meaning, value, or purpose to my life. After all, some of the most hurtful things about who I am, what I’ve done and what I haven’t done (to their standards) is what rings in my head most times. I grew up feeling like nothing I said had any value.

In Rachel Hollis’s bestseller, Girl, Wash Your Face, she mentions that as the youngest of four children, she was mostly ignored unless she did something good. I was also the youngest of four children and most often ignored and left to my own devises… unless I did something wrong.

When I first went to college, I was shocked when people stopped to listen to what I had to say. It took me awhile to get used to because I was so used to being talked over or ignored. Whenever I tell people that I’m not on good terms with my family, they want to know why. There’s no amount of explaining that I can do to articulate 32 years of feeling like you’re not appreciated… feeling that you’re an outsider in a family you were born into. If I truly wanted to patch up the relationship, I would but the problem is I don’t want to – I don’t care to.

To some people, family is everything. Their immediate response is that “you should patch things up.” To me, that is such a close-minded response. Not everyone’s family dynamic is the same. I know that there are shittier people out there. It could have been much worse but that doesn’t mean that bad things didn’t happen or horrible things weren’t said… Things that may affect me for the rest of my life.

Professional Life

No. I am not where I want to be with my career. Sometimes I look at my age and I think to myself, “Why wasn’t I more serious about such-and-such in college?” or “Why didn’t I see how important this one thing was and pursue it when I was younger?” We all have regrets even though we try not to. Even though I hate my current job, I recognize that without it there are many things I wouldn’t have learned… So many great people I wouldn’t have met. Whether I like it or not, it has shaped me into the person I am today.

In short, I work with imposter syndrome almost every day. Rarely, if ever, do I feel like I’m supposed to be right where I am. In Grant Faulkner’s closing remarks to his own Pep Talk he states, “Whatever you tell yourself is the truth.” He’s right there. The trust is what we make of it. That is easier said than done.

How do we cope with Imposter Syndrome?
Hold on to positive things.

I used to keep a word document filled with positive reviews of my writing. I called it “My Wall of Vanity.” The title itself suggests that I was ashamed at receiving praise for my writing… that I was being “vain” in rereading good reviews. Keeping a positive document like that is nothing to frown upon though. Those were real, organic reviews, written by people who didn’t know me from Timbuktu. I hope I still have it saved somewhere.

Stop the comparison trap

Another way to treat Imposter Syndrome is to stop comparing yourself to others. When I was on Facebook, that was all I did. I was part of many “writing” groups and often compared myself and my work to what others had done. If anything, that made me feel like more of a fraud. I kept thinking, “Why am I in a group with someone who has published 8 books?” or “Why am I with people who write 3,000 words a day on top of working a full-time job and being a parent?” Stop comparing yourself! Everyone does things differently and that’s OK.

Add value

For a few weeks now I’ve been thinking of writing a blog about Going Viral vs Adding Value. We’ve got too many people in this world seeking their 15 seconds of fame instead of trying to help others. As long as you as genuinely interested in adding value to others’ lives as opposed to seeking self gain, you’re not a fraud.

We all make mistakes. No one is perfect.

Making an error or being wrong about something doesn’t make you a “fraud.” Everyone is wrong several times in their life. Hell, I’m wrong about something at least 5 times a day… at least. And I’m far from perfect. Stop trying to do what others expect you to do and instead, do what you feel is right. Do what you feel is what you’re meant to do. No one can live your life but you.

What about you? Have you ever felt like a fake? An imposter? Please comment below with your experiences.

-RB

Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.

Suffering from Writer’s Block? Try 750words.com

Today I wanted to share with all of you a little tool I stumbled upon called 750words.com. I don’t remember how I cam across it but it has completely changed my writing habits, more so than NaNoWriMo. As most of you know, NaNoWriMo has the intention of helping you create a writing habit – to write every day. While I have participated for many years, I could never develop that habit. Maybe I was trying to do too much at one time? Maybe 30 days just wasn’t long enough for me? Who knows?

The snapshot above was taken a few days ago. I normally find that I can write 750 words in 11 minutes. However, there have been days I’ve been exhausted and in order to not break the streak, I used Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate my words. I’m not ashamed. The words still got written! But that is why it says that my record time is 5 minutes because I talk twice as fast as I type.

I tried everything.

I was the queen of procrastination – I read blogs about forming a writing habit. Searching online, I sought out apps for productivity. I read books on writing. None of it ever caught on. I really thought that I was a lost cause and despite the fact that I wanted to spend my lifetime writing, that I was doomed for failure because I was lazy and just couldn’t motivate myself to get my butt in high gear! …Until I was introduced to 750 words.com.

When I first signed up, I had actually forgotten that I signed up. It wasn’t until months later when I was cleaning out my inbox (a minimalist cleaning ritual) that rediscovered the site. I’m so glad I did.

Due to badges like the ones above, there is a sort of reward system for keeping your streak going. I think it goes up to 1000 or 2000 day streaks for the badges – in other words, pretty freakin’ long.

Monthly Challenge

You can even sign up for their monthly challenge to write 750words a day for an entire month. If you succeed in writing every day that month, you are put on the “Wall of Awesomeness.” If you miss one day, you are placed on the “Wall of Shame.” And every one will know! How humiliating. It’s funny how little badges and rewards like these can keep us going!

 

As you can see from the picture above, there are all sorts of statistics that show up after you’ve written. This post won’t cover all of them but it’s very interesting to see and compare things like what you were writing about vs time it took to write it. Don’t get me wrong, the first time I saw this demographic I thought, “This isn’t accurate!” But the more I wrote, the more I noticed that it is actually pretty insightful and on point.

It appears that this particular day I was feeling affectionate, upset and self-important and concerned mostly about success, work and death. Not sure what that says about me.

What else can it do?

Your writing is completely private. No one else can see it but you can go back and view old entries if you’d like. Also, if you donate you earn points which are represented by coffee cup icons. Cups allow you to post testimonials and encourage other writers. Another feature is the metadata. In every post you can track things like where you were writing that day, what your energy level was, stress level, how much alcohol or caffeine was in your system, etc. Do it enough and the website will help you track the differences in your writing when you have 3 red bulls instead of 2 whiskeys.

Overall, it’s a pretty unique site. You have the option of becoming a member for $5/month and trust me when I say that it’s completely worth it. Thanks to 750words.com, I cannot miss a day of writing. And the writing can be about anything! You don’t have to spend it working on your novel, you can rant and rave about work, traffic, your children OR you can dream of lying on a beach or hiking in the mountains. You could write a short fiction piece or a few poems. The choice is yours!

So if you’re like me and you struggle with writing every day, I challenge you to 750words.com! Need some perspective? This blog post that you just finished reading it 750 words. If I can do it, anyone can!

Happy writing!

-RB

Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.