The latter first. It’s basically a huge database, into which you can chuck anything that comes your way – pdfs, pictures, text files, web pages, docs. You can then tag items and catagorise them into folders. But the programme can also look for links between the items. For the first time I feel like the mass of data on my hard drive is actually beginning to get organised. It’s already fixed itself as the first step of my workflow: shove data and anything that interests me into DevonThink, shape it and develop it in Tinderbox, and then write it all in the glory that is Scrivener.
Or don’t write it. Speak it. Because my other big discovery this week is Dragon Dictate. It costs a chunk of money, but it’s worth it. It’s a dictation programme: you talk and it types and – here’s the killer – it is really, really accurate. Of course there’s a learning curve – there are lots of special commands you can learn, and teaching it to type ‘Achaia’ has been challenging – but I’ve been really impressed with the extent of the vocabulary and the power of the programme. It’s not good for every type of writing, of course. For the stuff involving a lot of footnotes, for the real detail work, you probably want a keyboard. But for the broad brush stuff, the narrative or the semi-coherent rants which seem to fill my writing more and more, it’s brilliant. And what’s interesting is that when you ‘talk’ a book, rather than think it and then type it, it sets you off in all kinds of directions. I have always been someone who likes to think out loud, to think as I speak and discuss. (some would say I should think a little bit before I speak, but that would spoil the surprise.) So in my writing this week, as I’ve learned to relax into this speaking process, it’s gone in some unexpected directions in which it’s gone! I’ve always prepared talks by wandering around the office or another room just improvising and then shaping, editing and structuring afterwards. It will be really interesting to see how the same process affects my writing. Of course, it also helps that I write in a fairly conversational, informal way.
The other cool thing is that you can issue global commands to your computer as well. So you sit there telling your computer to do things, feeling like somone from a sci-fi movie. I still haven’t really mastered this thing yet, but when it works it’s awesome.
Of course, the downside of this is that I end up standing in an office, looking like someone from a call centre and speaking to myself. Perhaps the next version will speak back. You know, maybe they could add a feature where it will respond to my typing with helpful, encouraging phrases such as ‘wow Nick, that’s really interesting’ and ‘it’s a thrill listening to you’ and, ‘pay no attention to that critic, they just don’t understand genius.’ or something like that.
Just a thought.