October 23, 2017

Hey, I’m now writing à la hi-tech!

By John Guy LaPlante.

Yes, after all these years! I have a new way of getting the words down. I can’t believe it.

You know, I have been writing for more than 75 years. I’m not talking about writing a letter to one of my kids. Or postcards to friends while on a vacation trip. I’m talking about writing for publication – for an audience of readers – including many that I have never met, and probably never will. Just what I’ve been doing for so long.

I got started in writing way back in prep school. Writing skills were considered important and we were given challenging assignments. I enjoyed that. In fact I even

Yes, I'm writing in my new way. But any idea what I'm doing exactly? If you want to know in detail, you'll find out at the end of my piece. And if you write, I hope this new way of mine will help you.

Yes, I’m writing in my new way. But any idea what I’m doing exactly? If you want to know  you’ll find out at the end of my piece. And if you write, I hope this new way of mine will help you.

enjoyed grammar. Sounds crazy, I know. Our teachers read what we wrote, of course, but also critiqued it! How fortunate we were.

We did all our writing in long hand. Scribbled it. Corrected it. Then wrote it out nice and neat and turned it in. I remember that I had a nice Esterbrook fountain pen—famous because you could attach the nib you liked best.

In the summer before college, my folks had a surprising idea. They sent me to a local secretarial school to learn to type. It didn’t sound like fun but I was a good kid and went. One hour every morning Monday through Friday. I never found out how that came about.

But in just six weeks, I got pretty good. I could type with all 10 fingers on the QWERTY keyboard, so-called (it’s the same layout we all use every day) and without looking at the keys. I was proud of myself. My parents were tickled.

But we didn’t have a typewriter, so what was the point? I brought that up and my dad said he’d spring 50% for one. But only 50%. I’d have to come up with the other 50%. But how? He had that figured out. I’d work in his furniture store for the summer, which was nothing new, but he’d deduct a bit from my paycheck every Saturday. I’d be all paid up September.

And that’s how I got my dandy Royal portable. It cost $65, a lot of money. That was after the discount he got—he bought his office supplies from that store. So it was mine for $32.50. There was a good lesson in that.

I started college and I was the only kid with a typewriter. I was the envy of everybody. My teachers had never seen such a thing. I used my Royal for everything. I mean everything, even my Latin and Greek assignments to the extent possible (incredible what we were forced to study). And I could really bang away. That was a terrific idea my folks had had.

We had a small newspaper and in my junior year I was told I’d be the editor. So it was my job to plan it and do everything needed to get it ready for the printing company. I handed out assignments. I gave myself assignments, too. Which I typed, of course, Then I edited everything. Laid out the newspaper. Wrote the headlines and photo captions. In fact, took a picture or two. And gosh, I really enjoyed that. That’s how I started thinking about journalism someday maybe.

By the way, that was Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. In the Greendale neighborhood. Greendale had a little community weekly. I introduced myself to the editor. I was 19. I offered to write some stories. Whatever he thought might be appropriate. He agreed to pay me. I think it was a nickel per column inch. Summer came and I was going home. I stopped by to collect. He said yes, yes, yes. But he never paid me a penny. Not an auspicious start in journalism.

Finally I did become a journalist, with a graduate degree that said so. And got a job as editor, mind you, of the Express, the weekly in little Thomaston, Conn. And then the Sunday Star in Woonsocket, R.I. So I typed and typed. Then on a big paper, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. I also wrote freelance articles on the side. I was typing every day.

Then Assumption recruited me to be its PR director. That included editing its magazine, among other things. Then started my own business, and writing was the core of that. So typing was one of my ongoing bread and butter skills. It continued right into the computer age. I typed for decades!

I was a very fast and a very accurate typist. Everybody makes a typo or two, but pro that I was, sure, I’d make a typo but rarely. I continued typing all through my years in Connecticut, then through my Peace Corps service in Ukraine. I’ve never stopped typing

But in the last five years, I began making more typos. Why? Arthritis in my fingers. In fact, my middle fingers on both hands became grossly distorted. And I suppose old age has been a factor. I was getting clumsy. So frustrating. So embarrassing. Besides, it was slowing me down.

One day my son Arthur, a lawyer, told me of a lawyer on his staff who was using a computer program called Dragon Dictate. Published by a company called Nuance. With this program he would dictate into a microphone. Then Dragon Dictate would transcribe his spoken words into printed words. Miraculous!

Oh, it wasn’t perfect. But darn good. He reached the point that he no longer needed a secretary. My, oh my

Well, of course I bought Dragon Dictate. It came with a headset—a microphone and earphones. And a tutorial. Getting the hang of it was so daunting that I thought of quitting. But practice makes perfect, right? Well, better at least. And that’s how I write now.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s not foolproof. My dictation isn’t perfect. And Dragon Dictate doesn’t work 100 percent. But this is certainly a better way.

The story’s not over. Last year I heard about a remarkable gadget. The Sony Digital Voice Recorder. A small thing, smaller than my cell phone. It’s a wonder.

To use Dragon Dictate I have to sit at my computer. My little voice recorder liberates me from that. I can use it t anywhere that is reasonably quiet. In my office, of course. My living room. My car…but parked…after an interview, say. Or a library nook.

Dictating into that is another art. Again, takes practice.

So what’s my next step? I plug the voice recorder into my computer. And then through another program which teams up with my Dragon Dictate—this second program, “Sound Organizer,” comes with the Sony—my dictated words get transcribed into printed words. Again, miraculous! You have to see it to believe it.

Again, nothing is perfect. My dictated versions were impressive but always required some fixing. So I decided on another  approach.

I began handwriting my first draft. Just as I did back in prep school. Talk about regressing! Then with my pencil edited it. Crossed out a few words, put in a few. Moved a sentence or a paragraph up or down with a quick, simple arrow. Finally I was satisfied.

Now I turned on my voice recorder. Held it close to my mouth. Pronouncing crisply and distinctly–this takes practice, too–I read my edited script into it.

Then I plug the recorder into my computer. And then, in a few more steps, the computer starts punching out my words on the screen. I’ve saved so much time and aggravation. It’s so amazing.

Again it takes a bit of tweaking and fixing. I admit it. But now I am so much more productive. And what a kick I get out of this.

That’s how I’ve created this post for you. It doesn’t look different. But it’s a happy combination of the digital wizardry of today and my handwriting skill of long ago as a schoolboy

I want you to know that I always take any opportunity to get youngsters to learn to type. I considered this a priority and got all three of my children to learn. I have a standard bit of advice for youngsters: “Learn to type well. Get good at it. Make sure you do that. Learning to type with all 10 fingers–without looking at the keys–is just as important as learning to drive!”

But wait a minute. Is that so? Before long, driving will be outmoded. Unnecessary. The driverless car is coming!

And before long, my little voice recorder will be unnecessary. Yes, unnecessary. I see it happening already. I can dictate into my cell phone. You can, too. I dictate into it every day. To shoot off an email. Make an entry in my calendar. Write a memo to myself.

Just the other day I was watching my grandson Thomas texting on his cell phone. He’s a junior in college. Amazing how fast he was. With just two fingers, not all 10!

So here I am, writing à la hi-tech 2016. But no way can I envision what it will be like to write in 2026, say. I am sure it would blow my mind.

Now to keep my promise made under my photo:

The pad I’m holding has my finished hand-written draft. I am dictating all those words, all the sentences, into the voice recorder I’m holding close to my mouth. It’s so small that it’s hardly visible, sorry. I’m also recording all the punctuation and special instructions—such as comma, period, question mark, exclamation point, open quotation marks or close quotation marks, new paragraph, and so on

When I’m finished, I’ll connect the voice recorder to my computer, as explained above. The Sound Organizer program will turn on, and it, in conjunction with my Dragon Dictate app, and with a few keystrokes by me, will begin transcribing my words. I’ll see them appearing word by word, and sentence by sentence, on my screen until finished. Not done yet. For sure I’ll find one little thing or another to fix. And pray I haven’t missed any.

We all know an iceberg has eight-ninths of it invisible because underwater. Surprise! So does an article like this. It’s not as easy as it looks.

One more thing. Very important! If you do spot a typo in this, please, please spare me. Don’t tell me. Be merciful! I’d die to hear that after all this, I’m still committing #@%*&!!#$ typos!

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