W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Monday, May 16, 2005

No. 26. Listening to What We Write

Let your computer read to you. Guest Editor

Many Text-To-Speech (TTS) programs are inexpensive, have almost human voices, and are designed for sighted people to operate. In the past, writers read their work aloud in order to catch grammatical errors and to edit mistakes more effectively. Even improper word choices which spell checkers might miss can be spotted and corrected with the help of synthetic voice software. Why not rest your eyes and let the computer read to you?

One of these inexpensive Windows-based software packages and one of the best as far as voice quality goes, is Fonix' i Speak. It can be purchased at the www.fonix.com web site. Not only does this program read text from the clipboard, highlighted portions, and from files but it can create MP3 versions of the text. This is useful for listening to your writing on an MP3 player while away from the computer, perhaps on a long bus trip or while jogging.
Read Please www.readplease.com offers a number of voices to choose from and it highlights the words or sentences being spoken. It also offers translations into four languages.
Real Speak www.scansoft.com can speak 21 different languages plus this software works in Linux as well as Windows.

Text Aloud www.nextup.com also makes MP3 versions of text files and is inexpensive too.
If you want to make use of an old PC, HELP Read www.helpread.com is free and runs with Windows 3.1.

Unfortunately there aren't many Mac TTS programs. Information regarding outSPOKEN, plain Talk, and KeyRead can be found at the www.apple.com/speech/ page. outSpoken won't work on Mac OS X and is not supported by ALVA Access Group but it still can be obtained for use with

Earlier OS versions. E-mail info@enablemart.com to learn more. Mac OS X, Windows 2000, and Windows XP have built-in TTS programs, making it even more convenient to hear your writing.
The previously mentioned programs are not screen readers, designed to verbalize everything on the monitor. People with extremely low vision or none at all need to use software packages like Window Eyes www.gwmicro.com, JAWS www.freedomscientific.com or HAL www.dolphinoceanic.com These programs are in the $1000-$2000 range but are a boon for computer users who can't see the screen. The next release of Mac OS X will have a built-in screen reader called Spoken Interface.

Speech-To-Text (SST) programs are a great help to writers who can't type, have diseases like carpal tunnel, or who express themselves more freely by talking. IBM's Via Voice www.scansoft.com and Dragon Naturally Speaking www.vocalinks.com are two of the best in this category.

There's a ViaVoice version for Mac users too. Another nice thing about these programs is that they have demo versions, allowing people to decide if the program is worth buying. Some demos are full working versions which run for a specific amount of time while others have built-in limitations.

Either way, this gives writers a chance to use and intelligently choose suitable software for your needs.

In keeping with the topic, I decided to use as samples that have the word listening in them. Very few people are good listeners but listening is an active, not a passive skill. Writers may listen more closely than the general public but we often superimpose our own stories on what is being said.

Example 1

"He did not know whether it was late or early. The candles had all burned out. Dolly had just been in the study and had suggested to the doctor that he should lie down. Levin sat listening to the doctor's stories of a quack mesmeriser and looking at the ashes of his cigarette. There had been a period of repose, and he had sunk into oblivion. He had completely forgotten what was going on now. He heard the doctor's chat and understood it." Leo Tolstoy ANNA KARENIN

Example 2
The Lion once gave out that he was sick unto death and summoned the animals to come and hear his last Will and Testament. So the Fox came to the Lion's cave, and stopped there listening for a long time. Then a Sheep went in and before she came out a Calf came up to receive the last wishes of the Lord of the Beasts. But soon the Lion seemed to recover and came to the mouth of his cave and saw the Fox who had been waiting for some time. "Why do you not come to pay your respects to me?" said the Lion to the Fox.

"I beg your Majesty's pardon," said the Fox, "but I noticed the track of the animals that already come to you; and while I see many hoof-marks going in, I see none coming out. Till the animals that have entered your cave come out again, I prefer to remain in the open air."Moral: It is easier to get into the enemy's toils than out again.Fable

Example 4
I should not dare to leave my friend,
Because - because if he should die
While I was gone, and
I - too late - Should reach the heart that wanted me,
If I should disappoint the eyes
That hunted, hunted so, to see,And could not bear to shut until
They "noticed" me - they noticed me;
If I should stab the patient faith
So sure I'd come - so sure I'd come,
It listening, listening, went to sleep
Telling my tardy name, -
My heart would wish it broke before,
Since breaking then, since breaking then,
Were useless as next morning's sun,
Where midnight's frosts had lain!
Emily Dickinson. Poem 76

If you don't have listening software read your writing into a tape recorder and listen to it. If you don't have the software or a tape recorder, ask someone you trust to read it to you. Keep your eyes closed and listen. Listen a second time following the text on the paper. Mark whatever sounds the least bit out of kilter.

Conduct an interview and record it. Ask open and closed questions. (An open question has unlimited possibilities for answers. How did you feel about that? A closed question asks something that has a simple answer. How old are you? What is your favourite color?). www.businesspotential.com/charles_listen.htm and www.joansvoboda.com/listening_skills.htm have good information on how to improve your listening skills.

NOTES (guest writer and editor)
Bruce Atchison is a legally blind freelance writer who has appeared in a range of paying and non-paying magazines. He has written articles on a diverse range of topics ranging from being a cheapskate to the time some friends and I had a clandestine tea party in the blind school dorm after midnight. He is reviewer of electronic music.

Take a second each day to help. Subscribers to W3 come from over 16 countries. All industrialized countries except the US have some system of universal health care. In June it was reported that during 2003 82 million Americans at one point or another had no health insurance. One of the problems is that many people go without treatment including women who can not afford to have mammograms. The Breast Cancer site www.thebreastcancersite.com has a number of sponsors that if people click on the site once a day will fund a free mammogram for a woman who can not afford it. At the moment they are having trouble getting enough people to click. Please do this daily even if you are outside the US.

If you run a writing circle and want a special course for your group, I will come to you. Reasonable rates. donna-lane.nelson@wanadoo.fr or call +33 4 68 37 90 11. I will also work with you online or here in my nest in Argel├Ęs- sur-mer France. (doesn't include accommodations but inexpensive housing and kitchen facilities available).

Warnings: How do we know if a magazine will pay us, an agent is honest, or a publisher is on the up and up? The internet makes it easier to check. Here are some sites to look at. www.sfwa.org/Beware/. Likewise another warning list www.nwu.org/alerts/alrthome.htm/ However,one warning holds true NEVER PAY A READING FEE. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER Another source of unreliable payers for free lance writers is www.writersweekly.com. Most of this is directed toward American writers, but any warnings from anywhere else of people who take advantage of writers will always be gratefully received and will be passed on to W3 readers.

Here is a list of 400 agents http://www.authorsteam.com/agents/ I have not verified quality.
Although many writers write me, the letter below brought me great joy.
Hi DonnaJust thought I 'd say many thanks for your excellent newsletter. In particular I sent off my first two query letters using the guidelines in your newsletter. Both replies were swift and exciting. I chose one. In short I've now signed a contract for a collection of short stories.
Thank you so much for your help

Cleveland W. Gibson

Cleve was willing to share his letter with our readers in the hopes that it will help others.

I am seeking representation for my ever-growing collection of short stories, Pure Adventure, currently at 38,000 words. I am enclosing a synopsis of the stories and a sample story.
All the characters are portrayed in an exciting way, often as being dark and ruthless yet imbedded in surreal surroundings. It is the interaction of characters with settings that create a spark of danger, tension and intrigue.

As a writer I already have credits to my name. I have been an associate member of the National Association of Writers Groups. My work has appeared in Acorn, Auguries, Link, LBF books, Thriller UK, Creature Features, Thirteen Magazine , Lost In The Dark, and other magazines. Some of the stories have appeared on the RD Larson and Mike Broemmel web site as well as the Star Trek web site. RD Larson is an EPPE award finalist and Mike Broemmel is author of 'The Miller Moth.' I have also had work broadcast by the BBC. I am a BeWrite.net writer
Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Cleveland W. Gibson


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