East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Faster than the speed of night

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… is, in fact, a song by Jim Steinman that was recorded by Bonnie Tyler in 1983, and it also gave the title to her most popular album, that I dutifully have on vinyl because I was young and reckless once, or something.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.

The thing started with a movie featuring Michael Caine – an actor I like very much – and called Pulp. You can imagine I was interested in catching it (and I think I reviewed it in the past – I’m sure WordPress will put a link in the footer of this post if I did).
While the movie is not very good, it has a beautiful BlueRay case illustration, and it’s always good watching Caine playing a suave anti-hero.

In the movie, Caine plays a writer of cheap and borderline-pornographic fiction for the paperbacks, and at the start of the story he reveals in full noir voice-over that he actually doesn’t like writing, the actual mechanical act of putting words to paper, typing them out.
But he found out early in his career about Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of Perry Mason, that did not write his novels: he dictated them.

Now that was a good idea, I thought.

I have sometimes flirted with dictation for my translations, but as a Linux user, running an excellent software like Dragon Naturally Speaking is a lengthy business.
But now there is Google Docs, that interfaces with the Google voice technology (the same that fuels Google Voice Search and all that), and you can actually dictate straight into your mic and see the words align on the screen.

This is simply excellent for translations, because you can sit with the book open in your lap and just read aloud in the destination language and voilà, you get a first draft at the translation done, at the speed of roughly 15 pages an hour. And that’s fast. Then you revise – and you would revise anyway, so it’s not an extra effort.

Writing stories is trickier, because you need to have the scene nicely formed in your mind. But if you manage, then you can easily put down a rubbish first draft (all first drafts are rubbish) at the rhythm of 20 pages per hour – because in the end, it all depends on the speed at which you talk.

Now for the nice part – writing by dictation works on the Google app of any Android smartphone, and finally it justifies the ten bucks I’m paying each month for my service – that includes a load of web traffic that I normally do not use. I belong to the Phone Box Generation, so I use my smartphone mostly to phone, and occasionally to shoot photos.
But now the web traffic finally has a reason – I can go for a walk, hook-up with the web, access Google Docs, and dictate my rubbish first draft as I take a walk.

Then, of course, I need to revise but once again – I’d have to revise anyway.

Indeed, this post was written while walking along the levee of the Belbo river, searching without success for a breath of fresh air.
It seems to work.
Now I can really write faster than the speed of night – sit outside in the courtyard after sunset, have a cold tea and dictate into the wee small hours of darkness.

Like Bonnie Tyler sang, it’s all we ever wanted, it’s all we ever needed.
The neighbors will think I’m crazy, but they already do.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

One thought on “Faster than the speed of night

  1. Another one who actually used to dictate his words to a secretary or using some kind of tool like a wax cylinder was Edgar Wallace.
    Probably more drived from a necessity of prolificity.

    Liked by 1 person

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