Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing Blind

Hey folks,

Before I begin today’s post, semi-final voting for the Goodreads Choice Awards has begun. Go vote for your favorite authors. It’s important.

Okay, this week I’m going to talk about “writing blind.” As a legally blind writer, I’ve discovered a couple of “tricks” that I’d like to share. I put “tricks” in quotation marks because, to me, they are just how I work. To the sighted writer, they may be “tricks.”

Anyway, what do I mean by “writing blind?” A week or so ago I was talking to a writer friend of mine. We were complaining about (that all-time favorite activity) revising. Writer friend said “It’s so hard not to edit as I write. When I see the little lines pop up under stuff on Microsoft Word, I want to go back and fix it.”

Normally, this is a very good quality in a writer—feeling compelled to fix errors. But what about when you just want to write. No stops. No editing. Just getting the words down. I’ve heard it said, and I’ve experienced it. Turning off the inner editor is difficult. One of my first Writer’s Wednesday posts focused on editing and how to approach it. Now, I’m telling you to avoid it.

K, “avoid” isn’t the right word. I have a potential solution to the “little red and green lines in Microsoft Word” problem is more accurate.

A few years ago, a blind friend of mine had a Mac. I’ve never been much for Macs, but Apple computers do have one very neat feature that I, so far, have not seen on Windows. They come with the ability to turn the screen completely off. Yes, the computer’s on, but there’s nothing on the screen. (If there’s a way to do this with Windows, feel free to share.)

Why is this helpful? Well, if you can’t see the little lines in Microsoft Word, they can’t bother you, right?

I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t turn off my computer screen. I won’t be able to see to turn it back on.”

This is true, but never fear. Covering your PC’s screen with a piece of paper or cardboard or, heck, a shirt achieves the same thing. If you want to get really creative, you can use your favorite shirt and punish yourself. “Every time I peek under the shirt, that’s another week I can’t wear the shirt.” All right, that might be a little extreme, but you’re laughing now instead of being terrified about the prospect of using the computer without a monitor.

Not laughing and still panicking about the idea of not using a monitor? Just try it. (You can use the paper. The shirt is not mandatory.) Seriously, what harm can it do? It might even help. Worst case scenario, you end up with completely useless material (which may have happened anyway).

While I’m here, another idea to try. Since the summer before my junior year of college, I’ve used a screen reader called JAWS (Job Access With Speech). Before JAWS I used a program called ZoomText, which involved a lot of squinting and headache-getting on my part. Needless to say, I like JAWS a lot better.

What’s a screen reader? Exactly what it sounds like. It reads what’s on the screen.

How is this helpful? They say to read your work aloud to get a sense of how it, well, sounds. While this does help, reading your own work does have its pitfalls. You still may read it as how you want it to read rather than what’s on the page and not notice things like missing words.

Find someone to read it to you? Not always an option.

Have your computer read it to you. If you don’t mind that there won’t be much in the way of inflection, this could be a viable alternative/additional proofreading tool. In fact, I recommend it as an addition and not a replacement for standard “reading” of work. I miss homonyms quite a bit. “Passed and past” kill me because I can’t see which is in the sentence, and they sound the same. But I find myself leaving out fewer words than most people because it makes a real impression when I hear something like “I need to shopping.”

As with my suggestion above, toss apprehensions aside. Just try it. Again, what is there to lose? If it’s obviously not working after fifteen minutes, dump the idea and move on.

Where can I get a screen reader? You could get JAWS, but it’s going to run you about a grand.

Shaking your head? I thought so.

Mac users—your computer comes with a program called “Voice Over.” It’s a built-in screen reader. Turn it on and have fun.

PC users—your computer also comes with a screen reader, Narrator. It’s not as good as Voice Over. I’ve fiddled with it. I don’t like it, and that’s not just because I’ve got a pumped up, thousand dollar version. It’s not great.

Alternative, download NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access). It’s a free, open source screen reader. Not as good as JAWS, but you’re not using it for your entire computing experience (like me). It’ll get the job done.

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Wednesday Word Tally

The urban fantasy has gone from 30 to 29 chapters but has, oddly enough, gained words.

Word count at start of week: 97,060
Current word count: 97,833

I’ve revised up to and through Chapter 24. Only 5 more to go!

-Nanowrimo

As I suspected, I’m behind. Lol. What did I expect from a project entitled “Miscellaneous Short Stories and Other Projects?” I just passed 15k. Conceivably, I could still catch up. We’ll see, but I kind of doubt it. I did my Nano last month with the urban fantasy, really.

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