Tag Archives: editing

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.

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.

Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Writing

Hello readers! In keeping with this month’s blog challenge of writing a new post everyday for the month of July, I am finding it difficult to stay ahead but I will keep pushing through. Now that we have sailed into the doldrums of week two, that primal energy of week one has faded, leaving some of us to splash and flail to keep from drowning. I am one of those and it’s only the beginning.In order to not bore you with a long intro, let’s get straight to the point. Here are the top ten things I wish I knew before I started writing.

1) Don’t let others tell you what your book should be about.

You will come across people who want to dictate what you write. Sometimes these people are other writers, sometimes they are not. The ones who are not will never be able to comprehend why you just don’t listen to them and their great ideas for a fiction masterpiece. Yet instead of trying to write anything themselves, they feel the need to try and pull your puppet strings. Don’t give in.

Write the story that’s in your gut. It’s okay to listen to feedback from others but that doesn’t mean you have to follow every single things others say. Stay true to your vision.

2) The mind is a dark place. You don’t need to stand in your own shadow.

Self-sabotage is real and we all have done it at least once in our lives. Many of us do it on a daily basis. Stop talking down to yourself. There will be enough other people doing that for you. Some of them will be “friends,” others will be family.

3) The inner editor is a quiet drunk.

I don’t drink as much as I used to but I’ve noticed a single shot of anything is enough to quiet that pesky inner editor. It’s the fastest and most efficient way to shut it up.

4) You get out what you put in.

If it were easy, every one would do it. Don’t expect it to be a road of rainbows or double rainbows. Writing is challenging. No matter how skilled you are, it’s always a challenge. Put the work in. You have to just like a workout routine. Put the work in for a great body, get a great body and a better quality of life. Put the work into your writing, become a better writer and produce more material. It’s a simple equation.

5) “What if?” is not an evil question.

I had an English teacher in the seventh grade who refused to answer a question if it started with the words “what if.” For a long time after that I grew up thinking that “what if” questions were some kind of bad. “What if” is the creator’s greatest question. Always ask, “what if?”

6) “There is no magic hand.” or “I’ll write that someday.”

No one else will do this for you. Even if you hire a ghostwriter, it won’t be your voice. It won’t be you. Only you can write your story. This “no magic hand” quote I often saw written by self-made millionaire, Amanda Hocking. She often says that she realized this shortly before she kicked her butt into high gear.

Also, I’ve been a firm supporter of the whole, “I’ll write that someday” or “I’ll finish the book one day.” Guess what? “One day” and “Someday” are not days of the week. Saying that means it will never get done. Set a date. Get ‘er done!

7) Everything you need is already inside of you.

Yes, I love traveling and exploring and being inspired. Who doesn’t want to be inspired? But what you need to write your story is really already inside of you. You don’t NEED anything else. You already have it. It’s called sorcery.

8) Writing is not a sprint or a race. It’s a marathon. Community counts.

In high school, I ran cross country and distance track. Like writing, running can be very solitary. After all, every run is usually about competing against your previous run. Being alone, training in the middle of the woods, I never felt alone. I had a team with me, scattered along the trail.

Writers have communities. Find yours. Even though you’re not competing with them, you need their support and encouragement. It’s a long journey. Let your team help you along the way. Let them help you across the finish line. Propel each other.

9) Education is priceless. Read all. Study all.

Okay. I did just say in a previous point that everything you need is inside of you, which is true. But I wished I would have paid more attention to the opportunities given to me through my education. Instead, I was always in a hurry to grow up and get out of school. Slow down. Stop and smell the roses. Literally. They are lovely. Absorb everything. Take it in.

10) Only other creators understand the creative process no amount of explaining will do.

I am cursed. Every day I walk into a day job where no one reads or writes. No one creates. No one understands. I didn’t think it would be possible to find this many book-haters in one place. But it exists. I work in a place of rigidity. Or rules, regulations and procedures. It’s a prison for me and I’m surrounded by enemies. I’m surrounded by people who mock the artsy or ignore us because “we’re weird.” Don’t waste your breath on these people.

“Work hard in silence. Let your success be your noise.” -Frank Ocean.

Happy creating!

Blog Art from Dreamstime.

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.

The French Scene: How to Break Your Fiction Into Smaller Bites

No. A french scene is not when one character sticks their tongue into another character’s mouth during the scene. It was a term we used in the theater department to break a play into more manageable parts. Allow me to explain.

Having been a theater major in college as opposed to an English major, has given me a different outlook on writing fiction. I’m not sure what all goes on in those fiction-writing classes but I’ve never heard an English major (or any other writer for that matter) talk about French Scenes. Nor have I heard them mention Triggers, Heaps and Beats but that is another blog post! Studying fiction from an acting and directing perspective, has broadened my understanding of storytelling. In the end, I think English majors could learn a thing or two from us theater folk especially when it comes to writing dialogue.

Now I’m not a master of the craft (who is?) But I’ve noticed that when writing a first draft or editing later drafts that larger chunks of work can be overwhelming. It’s daunting – looking at a 7,000 word chapter and knowing you need to break that shit down. So I’d like to introduce to you the concept of a French Scene.

What is a French Scene?

By definition, “A “French scene” is a scene in which the beginning and end are marked by a change in the presence of characters onstage, rather than by the lights going up or down or the set being changed.-Wikipedia

So basically, anytime a character enters or leaves a scene. You may have some french scenes which consist of three lines of dialogue, and some which last more than a page. Granted, this doesn’t work for every work of fiction. In Emma Donoghue’s Room, a large part of the story consists of dialogue between Ma and Jack. The french scenes for this work would be very long. However, there are other ways to break up chunks of fiction.

Some elect to edit page by page or even break their editing up into paragraph by paragraph. I find that when I edit this way, my fiction is clunkier and doesn’t flow as well. Instead, treat each new thought or topic of conversation as a character entering or leaving the scene. This way, you’d still be utilizing the french scene method.

What is the Function of a French Scene?

I first came across the term during a Stage Management class during my sophomore year of college. It was one of the most fascinating and influential classes I took during my college career. The stage manager, much like the author of a novel, is the god of the play’s production. They keep track of EVERYTHING for that production from the stage lighting cues in the script to each actor’s audition papers.

There is even a specific short-hand language and way of writing that we had to learn so that should something happen to the stage manager during a production, someone else can easily replace them. Seriously, we had an entire assignment on the quickest way to hand write (with instructions on how to write every letter of the alphabet, capitalized and lower case) in the least amount of pen strokes.

Please let me know in the comments below how you break down your fiction. You never know when your pearl of wisdom just might help the next greatest writer tackle their work.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about stage production, Angela Mitchell has a fantastic series of blog posts on the topic. I highly recommend checking out her work.

#NaNoWriMoBlogChallange #NaNoBloCha
NaNo Challenge for the day:

It’s July 4th. Blow something up. It’s what our Founding Fathers would have wanted. ‘Merica!

Blog Art made with Canva

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.