Some Alternatives to Keep You Writing Happily Despite an Injury

writer with a broken arm can't writeI have tendinitis in my wrists, which has made typing — shall we say — a tad difficult. No typing meant I couldn’t even dream of meeting my word count goal of 1,500 words per day towards my latest novel.

After a week of Netflix bingeing, my husband was like, “You need to do some writing.” To which I responded, “I can’t.” To which he replied, “Why don’t you dictate it?” Well, that’s when I decided to look into some ways to create that didn’t involve me sitting at my computer typing.

Obviously, if the limbs you use for writing are injured — tendinitis, a broken arm, carpal tunnel — the best alternative is to learn to type with your feet. Kidding. The best alternative is probably to speak what you would have written. If you want to do that, there are two options: speaking into a recording device and having it transcribed or using speech-to-text software.

Let’s look at the first option, since my husband loves it more than he loves me (he’s been suggesting I dictate for years). If you want to dictate, you are going to need a recording device. Most smartphones and most computers have digital recorders on them. If you can’t find one on your phone or computer, Google “free recording software” or “free recording app” and download one. The average person speaks between 110-150 words per minute. So, following that logic, you’ll actually get more done recording than you would typing. The average typing speed is 40 words per minute, and fast is considered 80-100 words per minute, so that’s still a lot fewer words than speaking.

Once you have finished your recording (or recordings, if you ended up stopping and starting), you can get it transcribed. I Googled “cheap transcription services” and got several hits. Services seemed to vary in price from $0.75 to $2.00 per recorded minute transcribed. Turnaround times were often fairly quick, such as 24 to 48 hours. If a person wanted to write their entire book this way, using the 150 words per minute number, it would take 400 recorded minutes to get a 60,000 word manuscript. If you went to a service that costs $1 per minute, that would run you $400 to get the novel transcribed, before you even edited it. If this seems like it costs too much, there are some pieces of software out there that say they can transcribe audio files. However, it’s not clear how good they are, but it may be worth checking out if you think you’d like to go audio.

If you’re concerned transcription costs might be too high, then you’ll want to go for the other auditory option. Speech-to-text software allows you to speak into your computer’s microphone and will turn that speech into text as you dictate it. There are several free online apps as well as software you can purchase. Generally, speech-to-text technology requires you to speak much slower than you normally would. It will take you much longer to dictate your novel using speech-to-text than it would take for you to dictate your novel into a recorder. Speech-to-text quality level varies depending on the service, but you’ll probably have a decent amount of cleanup to do after it converts your speech to text.

To test out speech-to-text, I used free online software to write this article. The one I used was nice in that when you said words like “period” and “comma,” it actually inserted that particular text into punctuation. The service I used did not translate quote or quotation marks to the punctuation mark, so I would find writing my novel that way frustrating unless I wanted to spend a ton of time adding in quote marks once I finished speaking (I imagine paid services are more useful in this arena).

Whether you use recording software or speech-to-text software, I will say that doing either may require a slight change in your mindset. You need to have it clear in your mind what you want to say when you begin, so that you can speak it clearly into the microphone. If you’re a pantser, it won’t work well when you try recording or speech-to-text. When I first started dictating the article, I ended up saying several useless things and deleting them before I realized I needed some bullet points so to get me started. You don’t need a super-detailed structure when speaking your text, but you need something. I suggest getting a starting point and jotting a couple of key points you want to make sure you cover.

Using a speaking method means you’ve got to clean up whatever you get. Transcription services promise varying levels of accuracy, but their transcriptions are only as good as what the transcriptionist hears. So, you’ll have to look over whatever is transcribed for accuracy. The same goes with speech-to-text. However, with speech-to-text, you know as you watch the stuff on the screen whether the computer got it right or not.

If you write fantasy and have a lot of unusual names, I imagine speech-to-text will be no fun. Freeware offered very little by way of understandability of names. Paid software may be better, but again, it will depend on the software. If you’re using a transcription service, you can at the beginning of the recording say all the names you’ll be using and provide the spellings, so the transcriptionist knows to use them throughout the document.

Here are some resources I found if you are interested in looking into this (just copy and paste the link):

Transcription Services


Free speech to text software

  • Google Docs – Built in to Google Docs is a speech-to-text option. Go to the top menu and scroll across to ADD-ONS, then Select Get Add-on and find a Speech-to-text program (There are a couple of speech to text add-ons available, so search “Speech to Text and then pick the program you want)

Author: RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist turned novelist. By day, she writes thrillers with a touch of romance. By night, she practices the art of ninja mom. To learn more about her or her books, visit her website or her Author Central page.

26 thoughts on “Some Alternatives to Keep You Writing Happily Despite an Injury”

  1. Good post RJ, I hope you heal fast & well. Thanks for the interesting info on the transcription services, that’s something I never thought of. Using the keyboard every day, hours at a time hurts most of us. You didn’t mention the Dragon program by name but it seems to be the one software that is pushed for writers (discounts given if you complete NaNoWriMo ) I tried the newer version, bought a good set of headphones, still it didn’t work well for me. Even after trying to get the software to ‘learn’ my New England accent, there were more word mistakes than tolerable. I’d rather type in pain. I’m impressed you were able to use software to write this post 🙂 Heal well.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I haven’t tried Dragon. I mainly write on a Chromebook, so I can’t really add software to it, so I tried some free things. And the level of confusion with the spoken word was more than I wanted.

      However, if I have hand problems that persist, I might try something else. I think I like transcription services better, as an idea, given that they’d be less prone to error. But, the price is higher than I want to pay at this point in time.

    1. Yes, Yvonne, I think it’s rough for people who are used to doing something to suddenly have to do it a different way. When I was finishing my morning walk today, I saw a woman walking with an older gentleman who used a cane and appeared to be visually impaired. She was asking him if he read much when he was younger, and he said he was an avid reader, loved books, but now he had to listen to them. But he still enjoys them. And it made me remember that the key thing is still getting a chance to do the things you love, even if you have to do them a different way.

    1. A broken arm can’t be fun, and neither can typing one-handed. Though, you still came up with a solution that kinda worked, which is all we writers want. Just something to get those ideas out of our heads and into the world. 🙂

  2. Great info, RJ, thank you, and I hope you’re healing well. I had a bad bout of tendinitis way back when, and I opted for MacDictate, which became Dragon. I dictated blog posts, daily pages, and an entire NaNoWriMo novel. I resisted at first, thinking I couldn’t possibly switch my mind around, but it’s surprising what our brains can learn. It felt pretty strange to dictate punctuation, though. I even started thinking that way: “Open quote leave me alone comma close quote she said period.” (And I had a really amusing–but not at the time–moment during an argument where I spoke the punctuation, the husband looking at me like I had three heads. Also, the early versions had a spelling mode for words it didn’t understand, but you had to use the military alphabet. So I had a lot of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments.

    1. That’s really cool to know, Laurie. Having the quote marks translate to punctuation is big for authors. I think the mindset is the important thing. If you can go with it (which I’ve been resisting), it’s not bad. When my husband worked at a law firm, they dictated memos to save time, and he loved it. He keeps saying I should dictate more often.

  3. We can all sympathize, RJ. For me, it’s chronic migraines. I can be down for three days with one. I try to write longhand in a notebook, since staring at a computer screen is impossible. Often, I feel frustrated–but I remind myself, “And this too shall pass.” At least until the next time!

    1. Linda, so sorry to hear about the migraines. That’s a tough one to work through. Glad you’re managing to do some writing, though.

      I think the key is that when we’re not well physically, but still want to write, we find a way.

  4. This is wonderful, RJ. Once the tendonitis settles down, I hope they can suggest some glove or appliance that will allow you to go back to the keyboard. But in the meantime, I appreciate the research and sharing of alternatives! I have arthritis in my hands, and am allowed only one more steroid injection, and that will be for the right hand. The left one is the worst of the two (although I’m right-handed.)

    My alternative is surgery, but I’ve been resisting that because … writing! Maybe now I can experiment with Dragon on my iPhone and Mac to see about using that when the time comes. In the meantime, I just need something to help me keep playing bridge!

    1. Oh no. Surgery is not a fun alternative. I hope you don’t have to go that route. But, definitely try some speech to text to see how you like it. Maybe with less typing, you’ll be able to play bridge longer. 🙂

  5. Thanks, RJ. Hope you are all well soon. I’ve had Dragon Naturally Speaking for years, but the one they sent me isn’t very smart. I did use it when I first got it for awhile, but never really gave it a chance. Maybe I should upgrade to a newer, smarter one and try again.

    1. Again, I haven’t used the fee-based ones, and I’m not ready to invest in one to try, especially with two children running around the house. When I’m typing,they can make all the noise they want, and unless they’re injured, I’m not gonna pay much attention. I tune out when I write. But, I imagine software needs a little less background noise.

  6. Tell me about injuries! In June of 2013, I had a freak accident in my parents’ home. I slipped on a linoleum floor while carrying a gallon glass jug of tea to a secondary refrigerator. I stepped in a puddle of water that I didn’t see and I literally went airborne. I dropped the jug, which shattered into a thousand pieces, rotated 180° and fell onto some of the glass. One large shard cut the ulnar nerve in my right arm. I thought I’d broken the arm, but it was just the nerve that had been severed. When the e.r. doctor asked if I was allergic to anything, I said “stupid people.” Everyone laughed, but I was serious! Still am! They did what they could to repair the initial damage, but I ended up visiting a hand surgeon. She did surgery on my right hand three months after the accident. I’ve regained a lot of strength and most of my previous usage in that hand, but I still have no feeling in the little finger.

    Typing on my computer hasn’t been so bad. In fact, I get more aggravation from what I call ‘office-chair-butt’ syndrome; you know – the condition that occurs after you sit for so long you feel your lower extremities have lost function. Ironically, I shared my hospital room with a man who lost his lower right leg because he had a pinched nerve from hell. By the time he saw a nerve specialist, it was too late; that portion of the leg had to be amputated. His other leg was on its way there, but they were able to save that one. But he had the best attitude towards the entire ordeal, so I realized I’d be okay.

    I was also glad computers had become the norm by then, so I didn’t have to handwrite anything. I had maintained a regular journal since 1983, which I’d kept in spiral-bound notebooks. After the accident, I created a digital journal in MS Word. Even with this injury, I never considered a voice-activated writing system. I guess that’s, in part, because I don’t like the sound of my voice, but also because I don’t know well such a program will capture the various nuances that I put into my writing. You know auto-correct often goes haywire!

    Good luck in dealing with that tendinitis, RJ. I have an aunt who underwent unnecessary carpal tunnel surgery in both wrists some 20 years ago and had the hardest time recovering from it.

    1. Wow, talk about freak injuries! I’m glad you’ve got most of the movement back, but still sounds like an awful ordeal. I’m thankful mine is minor compared to that.

  7. Dragon doesn’t understand a Scots accent! It also seems to take time for both user and software to get habituated. After that, it’s a good program. 🙂

    1. I hadn’t even thought of the accent issue. I wonder if Bostonians or New Yorkers have similar problems. 😉 Even though English is spoken in lots of places, it can sound very different, depending on the accent.

  8. It also depends on whether you’re using English English, American English, South African English or are a non-native speaker t might struggle with Geordie too but that’s dialect. 🙂

  9. You may wish to have your doctor test your thyroid. I had the exact same issue and once I was on thyroid meds (I had an underactive thyroid), the pain completely went away and I was able to return to writing in comfort (I also checked out audio software, etc., before talking with my doctor). I suspect thyroid since both your wrists/hands are affected. Not every doctor is aware that this pain can be from a thyroid issue. If it was tendinitis or carpal tunnel, it is usually just one wrist/hand involved… Two suggest thyroid. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Carrie Ann. I’d never heard of thyroid causing wrist pain. I’ll keep that in mind in the future. I was actually doing some planking exercises and yoga positions that aggravated both wrists, so I don’t believe it’s thyroid related this time.

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