Writing with Dragon (Dragon Professional Individual)

Is Dragon Professional Individual worth it? 

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I have used Dragon Professional Individual, the dictation app, on and off for years, and my experience has been extremely hit-and-miss. Reviews suggest I am not alone. When Dragon works, magic happens, and it’s the best thing ever to watch your dictated words magically appear on the screen as you speak. And when Dragon refuses to cooperate, your urge is to slay the beast as the words either come out incoherent or not at all. It’s a love-hate relationship; what else can I say? Dragon is temperamental, but I’ll share how I tamed the dragon.

For the past 6 weeks, I have engaged with Dragon exclusively to dictate my novel. The boost in productivity is rewarding. The glitches have been a madhouse and the worst part is I can’t use my expressive four-letter words in frustration without Dragon inserting them into the document. Alas!

Beyond dictation, Dragon can control computers with voice commands, but I can’t comment on anything other than dictation. Mostly I have been dictating fiction. Overall, my word count doubles when I use Dragon, compared to typing. My hands love me for it. At the moment Dragon is the best dictation app on the market for people with disabilities because of its diverse functions. I won’t address the ridiculous pricing tag, because that’s consumer choice if they want to pay for a premium product. My objective is to share my experience.

Switching to Dictation

Switching to dictation… For many of us, there is a learning curve. I’m from the last era of kids that went through school where handwriting was the norm. My handwriting was so bad I typed my assignments up. Typing my thoughts directly onto a computer didn’t compute. My brain was wired for thoughts on paper. But I knew I was doubling my workload by handwriting, then typing. By the time I started university, I embraced directly typing my ideas on my laptop. The transition took practice. My brain rewired

My experience with Dragon was much the same. After a while, adding punctuation as you dictate becomes normal, second nature. The key is not to give up. It’s a new skill. Sometimes I hybrid write. Dictate what I can and type in the words I know Dragon will fudge up. I will admit, there are some scenes I need to type to get out. They are usually emotionally charged scenes. Diving deep. I clam up if try to verbalise how the protagonist is feeling. Typing is like a meditative state. Action scenes are fantastic with dictation and hit the page faster.

Training Your Dragon

While Dragon works pretty much straight out of the box, the power comes from training the beast as you use it. If a word is wrong, verbally select the word and Dragon will offer a pop-up box with suggestions (or you can type a new word in) — this is training your dragon. I won’t go into detail on how to train. Over time, Dragon learns to recognise names and quirky words. For example, one of my regular characters is called “Nix”. Dragon no longer inserts “Nick”. However, Dragon refuses to acknowledge “Tannille”. How rude! 

Training slows the writing process down and can be a pain in the butt. The payoff is less error later. My novel is based on a shipwreck. Dragon has learnt I mean “sea” rather than “see”. To make my life easier, I’ve converted character names into generic names. Judick is Judy, Lucrecia is Lucy, and so on. When I finish I will do a search and replace. Much easier to use common names Dragon knows than battling Dragon for custom ones.

Voice Quality and Dragon Professional

Dragon Professional recommends users speak normally — this is a lie! Well, in my experience. As an Australian, I tend to speak fast naturally. If I speak normally, Dragon throws a tantrum, and the accuracy is atrocious. When I slow my speech down and treat Dragon like an idiot, there are no issues. Dragon accepts my accent and the quirky ways I pronounce some words. Admittedly, I have been told my accent is on the universal side rather than broad. The odd time a sentence comes out wonky, I know as soon as the word escapes my lips with a sloppy pronunciation. 

I find the most I can dictate without ruining my throat is between 90 and 120 minutes. Sipping on water and breaks helps. My speech also drops in quality and so too does Dragon. Nighttime also renders poorer results. I assume end-of-day fatigue is to blame. Everyone’s prime time is different.

Microphone Quality and Dragon Professional

Dragon also needs a decent-quality microphone. The mic on my Dell XPS 15 (2019) is a horror story and Dragon’s accuracy is terrible. I hooked up a Blue Yeti mic and the magic happened. I refuse to use headsets, but they are an option. Currently, I am using a Surface Pro 8 with Dragon. The internal mic works fine and there is no need for the Blue Yeti. This makes the experience more reliable and enjoyable. The Surface Pro gives me the luxury of portability. 

Warning: Dragon Professional Hates Noise

Dragon throws a hissy fit if fans and air conditioners are on full blast. Yes, I learnt the hard way. Humming and fan noises don’t bother me. My ears filter them out. One summer day, Dragon stopped being efficient. I caught on when my nighttime writing session went fine but Dragon spat again the next day. Pick the battles you fight. I switch to typing when the air conditioner is noisy.

Warning: Windows Updates can break Dragon Professional

If Dragon is behaving, don’t poke sticks and change its lair with a Windows Update. You’re tempting fate. Dragon can pump accurate sentences on one day and the next WTF — why are you so slow and stuffing everything I say up? Trust me, a simple Windows Update can cripple Dragon. Luckily, I uninstalled the update and Dragon played nice again. 

Warning: Use MS Word with Dragon Professional

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When I first started using Dragon, the two recommended text apps were DragonPad (a feature of Dragon) and MS Word. I opt for DragonPad. Too cheap to pay for MS Word. One major problem, DragonPad started crushing… I lost so many words. Lots of tears and four-letter words. I switched to MS Word, auto-save is your friend. No lost work since. A few freezes but no lost work.

Also, don’t install MS Word plug-ins. The ProWritingAid plug-in for MS Word can clash with Dragon. 

As a bonus observation: Dragon doesn’t like long documents. It starts cursor jumping. I keep my documents under 2000 words. Dragon also has behavioural issues if I write between paragraphs. In other words, Dragon likes to write chronologically.

Warning: Computer Specs and Dragon Professional

Dragon is an energy-demanding little shite. The more CPU, ram, and other nerdy stuff a machine has, the better. My Dell XPS 15 sits a little above the minimum requirements and is frustratingly slow to the point I gave up on Dragon. My Surface Pro 8 is a dream machine in comparison. Perhaps a high-end spec machine would run Dragon even faster? 

Warning: Mac Users and Dragon Professional

Unfortunately, Nuance killed the Mac Dragon many eons ago. Purchasing Parallels (or another Windows stimulator) is an option. I found using Parallels on my pimped-up MacBook Pro to load up Windows and operating Dragon crashed my machine after 30 mins, sending the fans and CPU crazy. Maybe the story is different on other machines?

Voice-to-Text Competition

I have experimented with Google’s and Apple’s voice-to-text. Both lacked commands. Although Google is the better of the two. If people want to try dictation, Google Docs is the best place to start. Free and offer most dictation commands. For general use, the accuracy of dictation is impressive. As a creative writer, I found Google struggles with fiction writing. Google expects everyday language. Fiction pulls in all sorts of phrases and words, beyond everyday sentences. Dragon learns new words, and the more you train your Dragon with your voice, the more Dragon learns and adapts to your speech patterns. The learning capability makes Dragon the better choice for fiction writers. 

Take Away

After 6 weeks of working solidly with Dragon, I found myself in a state when Dragon threw a tantrum over the latest Windows update. I’ve come to rely on my Dragon. Typing was slower and the donkey’s pace agitated me, upsetting my creative flow. I want to dictate! Dragon is restored, and all is good in the world. 

What are your thoughts on Dragon Professional? Are you keen to try Dragon? Have you mastered dictation?

Categories: Technology, Writing

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