Ever since I wrote the article on speedwriting, my mind has been pushing the idea about disabilities and writing. I know it seems funny that they go hand in hand, but for many of us authors, they really do. Some authors you enjoy reading suffer from various ailments and they push through, trying their hardest to deliver their best for their readers. Sometimes the disabilities are physical, some are mental, some are a mixture of things. In the end, what sets those who succeed apart aren’t that they stubbornly persist, it’s that they find what truly works for them and their bodies. They find a routine that both nourishes their soul and helps them to succeed in the best way possible without doing more damage. It means taking the core of BICHOK and rearranging it to what works for them.
BICHOK stands for Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard. It means sit down and write. Don’t stop, don’t make excuses, get writing and don’t stop until you get your daily goal met. I used to be a huge believer in this method of writing. I was a fierce supporter of this method for myself and for others right until 2007 when my mom was diagnosed with end stage lung cancer. The doctors weren’t hopeful, giving her only 6 months to live, even with chemotherapy and other treatments. My family and I were a wreck, though I turned to my writing trying to write my mom a new ending. See, earlier, I had put my mom in one of my books– guaranteeing her a sort of immortality that only authors can do for someone. But now, now I was trying to find a way to stop what I knew was coming. What I hadn’t realized is that with my mom’s declining health, my declining health (I had problems I didn’t know about and some I wasn’t taking care of), and a boat load of stress, I was winding my way towards something I wasn’t looking forward to seeing.
In January 2008, my mom died. My cheerleader of my writing died and a piece of me died too that day. I can admit it now, but that’s what happens when you do therapy. A year later, in 2009, my wall hit me hard. I had a breakdown. A massive fallout from everything. I needed a CPAP for my sleep apnea, I couldn’t cope with work, my dad had remarried, and basically, my past came up and slapped me silly. Oh yeah, the methods I used to keep my ADD in check– they were gone. Completely. Had I known I had ADD? I had wondered over the years, but thought that maybe my younger sisters did, but I was the lucky one who didn’t get that– I got the other stuff– arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia. Special, aren’t I? Like I said, I hadn’t been taking care of myself. 2009 became the year that Cyn had to learn to do for her. It was also the year where she almost quit writing.
I don’t say that easily. From 2009-2013, I struggled. I picked up and put down writing a lot. I tried all the ways we’ve been told over and over again on how to write consistently, how to sit in the chair and focus. None of them worked for me. In fact, I had a very difficult time with my diagnosis of ADD from the doctor. So much so, I had another doctor have me retested. Yeah, I’m that kind of patient. Doesn’t help when I used to be in the medical field. I don’t always make a good patient. I did write some, in fact, my writing had deepened in some aspects, but focusing, gods it was awful. Sitting for longer than 30 minutes and doing only one thing– I thought I was being slaughtered. Then there was the pain. Not just the mental pain, but the physical pain that I had been ignoring for years. I had gained too much weight and I hadn’t been doing enough stretching exercises for my back and legs. Needless to say, I was now paying the price. Pain. Suffering. No focus. Why write anymore, I thought. It’s useless because I can’t finish anything. I can’t sit and do 5k a week. I can’t focus or remember how my stories are supposed to go anymore. I can’t write like I used to, I complained to my therapist.
I had a hard time confiding in my closest friends about my breakdown, but they knew because I had pulled away from them all. Finally, they ganged up on me. Looking back, I’m glad they did. I will say this–you need your friends on your side as a writer. You honestly do. Especially when you have a disability. Writing is lonely at times. Having people who understand you as a person and that can understand the writing process, they are sacred. So they did everything they could to help encourage me to write. We did Word Wars (speedwriting), we worked side by side on IM, they would email me for chapter updates, and more. I did manage to get a couple of books out during this time, and I am amazed I did. It was some of the toughest of times for me. Without my friends, I don’t know if I could have done it. Depression was closer to me than anything– yet my friends didn’t let me give up even when things were the bleakest. Even my male encouraged me not to give up.
But I learned something through this time– the usual methods- they weren’t working for me. Not with the ADD being like it was. I hadn’t truly accepted the damage it had done to me. I hadn’t learned to accept that I was not the same person I was in 2007. That person basically had died. The person I was now, she had problems. She had challenges in focusing. There were issues in keeping the story alive in her mind. Sometimes she’d forget key elements in the story that she used to be able to balance in her head along with two other stories, no problem. But I’m no longer that person. Things had to change. My view of writing had to change. So, in the last quarter of 2012, I made a pact with myself to try something new. On advice of one of my writing buddies, I tried a program I had tried before and hadn’t really liked but hadn’t disliked either– Dragon Naturally Speaking. I had version 10 at the time. This time, I really spent time training it, working with it. I found it useful when I was sitting down because by this time, I had taken some workshops on how to deal with ADD. (I know you’re laughing at me- but trust me– the workshops help. They teach you things you think you know, but you haven’t really accepted.) It was like someone had given me a gift of typing without typing, which helped ease the arthritis and carpal tunnel pain. In January, I bought Dragon 12 and I’ve been flying high ever since. If you can get Dragon 12, especially if you suffer from arthritis, carpal tunnel, ADD, and other disabilities, the advantages are immense. It has apps so you can dictate to a recorder, your smart phone and if you get the premium edition (which I did), you can buy a wireless headset, so you can walk around your room and talk!
Then one of my buddies suggested since Dragon does transcription, how about using a digital recorder since one of my biggest gripes was not sitting still for long periods of time. This is common for anyone with ADD, arthritis or any kind of trauma. The idea of sitting still in a chair for any major length of time hurts. It hurts physically, mentally, and you get anxious just prepping for the idea. So, when my sister sent me a gift card for Christmas– I went to one of my favourite stores and bought myself a nice digital recorder. It was compatible for the Dragon programs, which was a big help. And off I went, dictating. (There was a problem- the fact I hadn’t memorized ANY of the commands as I was yapping into the recorder, but more on that later.) In three weeks, I had done more “writing” work than I had done all year. It was like someone had opened up the gates of writing to me once again. But how the heck was I going to get this done into an editable document.
I learned there’s an art form to transcribing. I had taken a transcription course a long time ago. It’s all come back now. Yes it has. Dragon can do the transcription, but if you don’t use the right commands it makes it all one paragraph and it doesn’t do the right punctuation and will not put in the quotation marks unless you tell it to do so. Ask me how I know. *headdesk* I’m still processing the wav files from that time, but it’s getting easier. Plus, there’s an art to dictation– use scene cards. Why? You don’t want to hear two different files with the same information with slightly different background settings. That’s how I know. But with scene cards– you put down the characters in the scene, where they are, the main points that are to be done, the emotional point that must be dealt with and make sure you get them out of the scene. This has been my latest improvement in my dictation. Oh, the changes are fantastic. No longer are there ramblings on the dictation but good scenes that link to the plot itself and move it continually forward. Yes, there’s still a lot of exposition, but I can edit that out as I check from what Dragon transcribed as I listen to myself talk. That’s how I do it. I let Dragon to the initial transcription, then I go in and fix it while listening. This helps a lot because then you’re training Dragon to be more effective. Plus, you’re training yourself to become better in how you dictate. Dictation can be done anywhere. Here’s a piece of advice I give to you for using a digital recorder– use a headset. It makes a clearer recording and you don’t have to worry about the microphone being too close or too far that way. Plus, it’ll make you more hands free. You can go walking with your scene card which gets you out of the house too. Exercise, writing, and feeling good.
Let’s review part one– people with disabilities can write. They might need to adapt things more to help them. In fact, you almost have to try alternate ideas to be more effective in your writing. But that’s okay. Once you find a way that works for you– you’ll be able to increase your tolerance for sitting, standing, walking and writing at the same time. Me, I walk my dog and go dictate from 13 minutes to a half hour. Depends on the weather, my energy and how my dog feels about the whole situation. But I do it almost every day and I feel better inside. I’m doing something for me and I’m writing. Because, yes, dictation IS writing. Don’t you forget that. You might still need to transcribe it– or find someone who would love to do it for you, but it is writing.
What can you do that doesn’t cost a lot if you want to dictate and transcribe? There are some cheap digital recorders out there. You don’t want to go too cheap– one of the best I’ve seen is an RCA for about $30. It comes with its own program to transfer the files from the recorder to your computer. It also will play those wav files so you can transcribe them. You can vary how fast or slow to play them back, which allows you to type as fast or slow, stop when you need to, or lets you add in extra details you might think of but didn’t include in the initial dictation. How awesome is that? Dragon 12 Naturally Speaking is a fantastic way to both dictate while sitting or to transcribe from a digital recorder. If you get the premium edition, you can also download the app to your smart phone and dictate to it and transfer it to your computer afterwards. Fantastic, right? Plus, with the premium edition, it allows you to have a wireless headset so you can wander around for those of us who must walk and stretch because sitting any length of time hurts.
There are other voice recognition software out there, give them a try if you want. But of the ones I’ve tried, I do recommend Dragon. The training is solid and honestly, even with my mixed accent, it didn’t make that many mistakes when I rattle sentences to it. Plus, it will post to Facebook, IMs, and do email. Many other programs don’t have that kind of support. You can also use the recording program on your computer, but you won’t be able to adjust the playback speed on it as you type. But it is another way of at least getting down your story to start. There are always options.
In the next part, we’ll deal with the mental and emotional disability issues and some ideas on how to work with them as well.