Using Google Lens/Google Documents to transcribe handwritten work

UPDATE 5/8/20! Google posted a new feature of Lens that allows you to upload the text to your computer directly, provided that you are logged into the same version of Chrome on both your phone and your computer. Now all you need to do is use Lens to take a picture, select “send to computer”, and it will go to your computer’s clipboard. Then, you just paste it in whatever program you want. Easy peasy and so sweet!


You know the two posts I wrote over Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Those two posts came from a handwritten journal entry I wrote on the Thursday before those days.

What you don’t know is that instead of rewriting those posts from scratch, I had them transcribed using Google Lens.

What is Google Lens? It’s a feature that comes in the Camera app in Android. It turns your camera into something like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that you point it at something and it can do funky things. You have a plant you’re trying to identify? Point Lens at it and it will pull up a search of likely plants. See a restaurant on a walk? Take a picture of the storefront with Lens and it will pull up a menu. Trying to read a text in a foreign language? Use Lens and the words will be translated for you on your phone.

In fact, I first discovered Google Lens back in January when I brought a fountain pen and couldn’t figure out how to open it, even with the pictures, because the instructions were in Japanese. After searching the web, I came across the instructions for Lens, pointed my phone at the Japanese instructions, clicked the translate function, and on the screen, the Japanese turned to English! Granted, it took a few tries for it to be meaningful English, but still.

(At which point, I shrieked and ran down to my library and pulled out all my Sailor Moon manga and doujinshi because HECK YEAH AUTOMATIC TRANSLATION FOR THE WIN!!!!)

But the true gamechanger came when I learned that there was a text function in Lens. If you point it at text, any text, it will copy and transcribe the text for you. This apparently works for handwritten text if it’s written legibly. You can find steps on how to do it in this article.

This was amazing because I’ve been handwriting drafts for a long time, but never had a good way to transcribe that text into my laptop. Either I had to type in a whole fresh draft, or dictate it using Google Notes. Now, if I have a page or shorter of handwritten text, I use Lens to copy it, then paste it into a Google Document or a Keep Note. Then I can move it into Scrivener later on.

But what if I have two or three pages of handwritten text? Or what if I’m at a place where I’ve written something and I want to keep a picture of what I’ve written as well?

Ho, ho, friendly reader, here is another way to transcribe your text. Google Drive also has the capability to transcribe text. Take a picture of your pages to Drive, then open the photos with Google Docs. It will open the picture with a transcription of the text below it. You can also scan the pages into a single PDF if you want to transcribe multiple pages; however, you only get the transcription — similar to the Lens function. I like transcribing the photo rather a scan because not only is it taking a backup of my handwritten note, but if I’m revising and I don’t have access to my notebook, the picture of my handwriting is right there.

Want to see it in action? You can view the first few paragraphs of my Good Friday post here (a short page) and here (a full page). You’ll immediately notice that it’s not super perfect — it does weird fonts and spacing. Also, it can’t figure out formatting. The key to this is that your writing has to be legible. My handwriting is pretty decent, but towards the 5th page, my handwriting was getting more scrawly, so I had more errors pop up. But when I do this, I’m not looking for perfection. I just want to get it into text form. If anything, when I’m going through it, I treat it like a second draft. You can also view this video that shows you the steps; you don’t have to get Grammerly if you don’t want to, but it does make it easier for cleaning up the text.

I’ve been doing this for four months now AND HOLY COW THIS IS THE BEST WRITING HACK EVER IT’S AWESOME AND WONDERFUL AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I’m also surprised that no one else has written about this yet, particularly since Google Lens has been around since 2017. Then again, we are in the midst of a pandemic, and okay, yeah, the world has been a bit of a trash fire for that long. Consider this a gift, then, from little ol’ me as a way to shine a tiny light into the ever-present darkness.

Okay. Back to novel edits for me.

Creating in a crisis (Or not)

So I’m finally getting around to doing a blog post. What a weird wild time it’s been huh? All of you healthy out there? Staying home? Washing your hands? I hope you are.

I’ve been wanting to put a blog post out now for the past couple of weeks, but there’s a difference between having the urge to do it and actually doing it. But I felt that I needed to do it because so many other people were doing it.

But I couldn’t. Mainly because the world was sort of collapsing on me. In February, I had plans to have an awesome birthday in April. I had been asked to do a conversation with Veronica Roth for our local bookstore for her new book coming out, The Chosen Ones. On my actual birthday. And the venue was going to be held at our main public library. Two days after that, I was going to travel to Michigan to participate in the Festival of Faith and Writing as a Festival Circle Leader talking about how to weave your faith in science fiction and fantasy fiction. It was going to be so awesome.

By the 2nd week of March, I watched helplessly as both those events were canceled/postponed.

Of course, it wasn’t just me that was affected. It threw off everyone’s plans. It certainly affected others more deeply. There were others who lost income because of those cancellations. For me, (I told myself) it was a mere inconvenience. I should be grateful that I’m in a good position, and right now, I needed to support those who were more directly affected. Besides, the Festival was only postponed to next year. This isn’t about me. And besides, canceling those events are good. This is the best way to care for those who are sick and vulnerable. 

But as the cases of Covid-19 rose, and as people were told to stay at home, and as the schools closed, and the reality that we really were in the middle of a pandemic hit, I couldn’t really function. All I could do was scroll social media and stare at the news, and watch the panic, and occasionally break into tears. 

Of course, my productivity went down the tubes. 

At some point, though, I came to the realization that what I was experiencing was a form of grief. I told myself that I was grieving because the world was upset and I was simply empathizing with those emotions, but it took me a while for me to say that I was grieving also for me. Maybe it’s some sort of Christian thing that constantly tells you to put others before yourself. But if you’re doing that and you’re not in a healthy place yourself, you can collapse real fast, or worse, be next to useless. It’s akin to how airline attendents instruct you how to put on masks in an emergency. If you’re traveling with a child or vulnerable person, you don’t rush to put the masks on them first; you put one on yourself, then them.

Once I realized that, I decided to treat myself more gently. I listened to 80s pop Japanese music all day. I binge-watched a bunch of Simpsons cartoons. I played Tales of the Abyss on my 3DS. And I mourned.

Because, really, you guys, I was going to interview Veronica Roth in front of a live audience. Veronica Roth. And then I was going to go to the Festival of Faith and Writing. It would have been the first time I would’ve been at a writing conference that also dealt with faith. I was looking forward to it because Saladin Ahmed had been an invited author there, and if he could read a vulgarity-laced story that was deeply about faith, then dang, I would be in good company. It would’ve been such an awesome, awesome birthday week.

Getting those cancellations hurt. It really did. 

This morning, I woke up. The sun was out. The sky was blue. I got up, made tea. Did work from home. I had started regrowing bok choy from the bottom of a stalk in a bowl of water, and I was stunned to see its growth in such a few short hours. My next-door neighbor was across the street, writing inspirational quotes on the sidewalk with chalk. I chatted with her from the safety of my porch. 

Then I came down to my library, shut off social media, and wrote out this post. 

Everyone responds differently to crises. But if you’re in a place where you’re telling yourself you should be writing, and instead you can barely function, then take care of yourself. Let yourself cry. Watch as many videos as you need. Play as many video games you want. Talk to people, mentors, counselors, journal, etc. If you need permission, doggoneit, I give you permission.

And don’t feel bad if you feel like everyone is writing stuff instead of you. Some writers churn out stuff instantly as the news update in real time. Then there are those (like me) who need time to observe and deal with things before they can write up anything. And that’s fine too. It’s not like there’s a hard deadline. We’re going to be processing this for years. So if you can’t write now, just observe. You will know when you are ready. 

***

One more thing that I may expand on in another post, once I’m done with all the feely emotions. You see, I had a little story published back in 2018. A fun little story that had alternate versions of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie dealing with contagion and face masks and quarantines and hand washing. When I wrote it, I did a lot of research on quarantines and pandemics and such. And yeah, I also read up on warnings that we were primed to experience a pandemic in our lifetime at some point. 

I had no clue that it would happen, like, now

So yeah, on top of the above, I’ve been having a bit of a freakout because MY STORY PREDICTED THIS and WHOA I’M A FUTURIST NOW MAYBE?, especially since I’m now seeing recommendations that people wear masks when we finally emerge from this. And HOLY COW DOES THIS MEAN THAT ANYTHING I WRITE NOW WILL COME TRUE and CRAP I’M WORKING ON A NOVEL THAT TALKS ABOUT PROPHECIES THAT BRING ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP

Maybe I need to write a story about unicorns. Yeah. Happy unicorns. 

When to go full-time writing? (Answer: Get yourself a plan.)

Quick note: I started writing this blog post last week, and then this week exploded on me, like even today. So rather than shoehorn everything into this post, just follow me on Twitter and you’ll get more up to date stuff that happens to me.

Or continue to follow me here…looks like I’m gonna have to start updating the blog more.

Also, if you look over to the right, you’ll see a new button called “Buy me a coffee!” I do talk about that in the post below, so read on, 🙂


A couple of weeks ago, the SFF community was going off on this article about a writer who had gotten a huge advance on her trilogy, quit her job, moved to New York, then was startled when her advances for subsequent books shrunk, which meant cranking out more books, and why hadn’t anyone told her something like this would happen? 

I don’t have time to dive too much into it, and anyway, other writers broke the post down better than I could

But I wanted to zero in on what happened when this writer received her first, then her second advance, because I’m pretty sure that, had if I sold my novel series and had gotten the same advances like that, I would’ve done the same thing. Not so much move to New York, or buy $15 drinks (I usually don’t do drinks at cons all that much anymore, and sorry NY, but I’m a south side Chicagoan through and thorugh), but quit my job? Absolutely. That’s the dream of all of us writers, right? That once we hit the big-time, we can say bye-bye to that nastything dayjob.  That’s why I got so excited when I finished my novel earlier this year. I was getting closer to reaching my dream. That’s means that one day, I could quit the dayjob and making this a full-time gig, right?  

But then, I started talking to my writer friends who have books out and are way more experienced in these matters than I am.  A whole lot of them told me the same thing: don’t quit the dayjob unless you have a plan. 

I also follow a lot of writers who write about the struggle of balancing writing with dayjobs, and post their yearly writing incomes to show what they’ve earned, because if there’s one thing we writers love to do, it’s talking about whether or not you should go full-time. And basically, what I got from those conversations were don’t quit the dayjob unless you have a plan.

And then, well, there was this article which talks about the decline in authors’ earnings, or even if I search “reality of becoming a full-time writer” in Google. Even the ones who are gung-ho about it say the same freakin thing: DON’T QUIT THE DAYJOB UNLESS YOU HAVE A PLAN HOLY COW IT’S ALL RIGHT THERE ALL SHE HAD TO DO WAS GOOGLE BECOMING A FULL TIME WRITER HOW COULD SHE NOT KNOW IT’S ALL RIGHT THERE AUUUGHHHHHH

Er, hm. 

It looks discouraging, true. It got me to wondering: is it even possible to make a living from writing? After talking to my friends and doing some research, the answer I came up with is: well, it depends.

Different writers have different ways to get income. For most, it involves having a dayjob. For others, it means freelancing. For even others, they have saved enough money to live on while they write, then do contract or freelance work when times are slim. There are several writers I know who do all three. There are some who do, like some who publish independently, but they have a whole lot of books under their belt and are constantly hustling to get their name out there. And then there are some full-time writers who had to go back to work due to circumstances that was no fault of their own. Being a full-time writer doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll stay a full-time writer. 

The point is, there are a lot of writers who do make a living from writing. But no one I knew was getting money from just fiction. They had learned to diversify their income streams. Some from teaching and doing speaking events. Some got their money from freelancing. Others got theirs from dayjobs. Which got me to thinking–what’s wrong with having a dayjob? What exactly am I thinking of when I say I want to be a full-time writer? 

So the real question I should be asking is not should I quit the dayjob, but am I ready to step into freelance writing full-time?

At this point, no. I haven’t sold a novel yet. I know that at this point in my life, I’m not making anything off my writing that I can quit the dayjob. I sold a couple of stories and a bunch of articles last year that netted me a whopping thousand bucks. Which…actually, is pretty darn good for someone who has a full-time job. But it’s not paying bills right now, nor does it account for other things like benefits or retirement. I still need the dayjob for that.

But it gives me a goal to work towards now. I can start planning on how to do that. I can make a business plan (shout out to Monica Valentinelli for talking to me about that). It means researching on what it meant to be a freelancer. Joining freelancing groups. Even taking a business class.  I’m blessed in that I have a partner who also works full-time and my kid is old enough that he does homework while I do writing. But we’ll have to do a lot of planning if I decide to move into full-time freelance.

And maybe that won’t happen. Maybe I’ll find that sweet spot of balancing the dayjob with the freelance job. The trick is finding the right dayjob. I actually really like the dayjob I have now–it gives me the change to move around, which is helpful for me for putting writing brainstorming on the backburner. But my ideal dayjob would be something that is flexible, even have some benefits like retirement and time off pay, and allows me to work from home.

One big thing I’m doing to generate more income is that I finally decided to create a Ko-fi account. I’m not at the point where I can generate content on a consistent schedule, but if you like what I do and if you want to support me in my writing, you can buy me a coffee! It’s not much (and I’m actually a more tea person except I’ve really gotten hooked on Nitro Coffee which is amaaaaaaaaaaazing), but it’s something, and it’s set that if I do find a way to offer content monthly, I can go the subscriber route if I want to. 

Also, I got an agent! I’m now being represented by Kristopher O’Higgins at the Scribe Agency. Looking forward to working with him to get my novel out to publishers.

So, as you can see, I got a plan. We’ll see if it works.

Last week, a woman who was attending a meeting in our building came to me and said, “By the way, I came across your website. Your stories are amazing. Why aren’t you doing this full-time.”

I could’ve just said everything I just wrote above, but what came out was, “I’m…working on it?”

She said, “I’m going to pray that you do.”

Well, alrighty.

A story a week? Maybe it’s time to look into Patreon

When I was in third grade, I used to make up stories from spelling lists. Granted, the stories made no sense; but it didn’t matter. It was a great way for me to learn how to spell and how to figure out the meanings for words, and to have fun doing it. I didn’t know it at the time, but that little game was preparing me for writing fiction.

Back when I was starting to write professionally, I used to do what I called “Happy Fun Freewrites”. It was similar to the morning pages concept Julia Cameron practices in her book The Artist’s Way, where you write three pages a day about anything. In my case, I found a writing prompt and then wrote about it for 15 minutes. They weren’t meant to be published, just something for my enjoyment, but every once in a while, one of them was reworked into an actual story. (My short story “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” came out of a Happy Fun Freewrite.) It was a way to practice craft techniques. It was a way to get my morning pages in. But then I became full-time at work, and the little time I had leftover for writing was directed towards the novel or major writing projects. So I ditched the Happy Fun Freewrites because I just didn’t have the time.

Now that my time is more open again, I don’t know what to do with myself. It feels a little scary knowing that I can basically write anything I want. So rather than being frozen on figuring out what to do next, I’m going back to my roots. I’m bringing back the daily Happy Fun Freewrites. I miss that element of play and joy and discovery. And, to be really honest, it’s been a long, long, looooong time since I wrote short fiction. When I was just focusing on the novel or the novelette, I would get story ideas, and I would write them down, but I didn’t have the time or the energy to dwell on them. And over time, those ideas grew less and less, although they didn’t vanish completely.

When I was doing a bunch of organization a couple of weeks ago, I came across all my old Happy Fun Freewrites, and was surprised at just how many I wrote. It was heartening, but also scary, because it showed me that I used to do it all the time. Do I have it in me to write those again? Can I write like that again?

I decided to do a trial run this week and do the writing exercises in Ursula K Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft. I kept the exercises short. 350 words. Easy peasy. what’s 350 words? A few paragraphs. Not even a full page. On the last exercise, I wrote 600 words. Mainly because I had become engrossed and wanted to see what happened next.

Ah. Now it’s coming back to me. The joy and fun of writing.

But you know what…I think I need to bring some more incentive to it. Something that will hold me accountable. So I’m going to look into doing a Patreon or some other income generation. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do forever. I just never had the mental space to look into it…until now. It will get me back into writing fiction on a daily basis. It will help me improve my craft. And finally, it will give you, my readers, a chance to get more stories from me. 🙂

(…which is something else I’m dealing with. People actually do want to pay to read my stuff. It’s thrilling and terrifying and well, that’s the whole job of being a writer, isn’t it? So that’s the real reason why I’m doing this. It will help me improve, which gets better stories to you, which gives me a little income so I can find ways to improve more…and so forth.)

I’m still working out details and gathering information on how I want to do this. For instance, I want to offer other things besides stories: writing tips, faith thoughts, etc. And I need to figure out what type of stories I want to offer and the frequency. If I did flash stories, I can definitely churn out something every week, a la Ray Bradbury’s challenge, but a longer story will take a little more time. And I still want to send out stories to markets, so there’s that to consider. For any of you writers out there who use Patreon, or another income generating service, advice would be appreciated!

And, of course, all of this will have to wait until I get the novel out on submission, which is my biggest priority right now. So let me work on getting that out in the next couple of weeks, and then…well, stay tuned to see what happens next!

Willow Update: THE LAST ONE (unless it gets picked up)

It’s done.

The final revision of my novel is done.

I’m all done.

I started writing this in 1994. On April 28, 2019, I completed the final revision of the novel. During that time, I wrote, rewrote, tossed out, threw away the novel entirely. Started over. Revised. Finished. Threw it out again. Started over one last time, revised, went through hell, came back, and now it’s done. It came out to 140K, which is a little more than I wanted (I was shooting for 120K), but overall, I’m pleased with the word count.

Second book should be easier now, right? Right? Hello??

Part of me is freaking out and going oh-no-i’m-done-what-do-i-do-now and running around in circles. But the writer me, the short story me, the one who has sent out hundreds of submissions and racked up sales, is grabbing the panicking me and saying, “Stop. You already know the next step. It’s okay. Take a deep breath, do some celebrating, and then, do the thing.”

So I’m taking a week or so off to recuperate. Clean my house. Play some video games. And then there’s some things I need to do:

  • I still need to format my novel, which means compiling it from Scrivener into Word, then spell check and format it.
  • It’s finally, finally time for me to start researching agents.
  • I need to put together a list of said agents. I also have a couple of publishing houses I plan to submit to outright, but it’ll be good for me to look for an agent who can negotiate well.
  • I have to put my synopsis together, which will also include doing one for the whole series. And yes, Weeping of the Willows is the first book in a series (I was hoping a trilogy but I had to split this book in two in the initial draft, so at the least, it’s a 4-book series).
  • Then, the query letter.
  • And lastly, start submitting my book!

I don’t know how long it will take. I don’t know if it will get picked up by a publisher. I don’t know if I’ll run out of options and publish it myself. I don’t even know if I just shrug and say, “well, it was a good learning experience,” and I just never make it public.

But I can honestly say I wrote and finish a novel. That’s a huge thing to celebrate in itself. For all of you who had stuck with me this long, thanks!

In the meantime, I can finally, finally, start considering my next project. Stay tuned!

Story Notes: “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” available at FIYAH Magazine

Should’ve posted this earlier this month, but yes! I got another short story out! “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” has been published in FIYAH’s Music issue, which you can buy now! It also comes with a poppin’ Spotify Playlist and another gorgeous illustration!

Ain’t that gorgeous?

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ve heard about this one a lot. A few years ago, I stumbled onto the rockin’ blues gospel music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which I didn’t even know was a thing. That got me listening to more women who played guitars in the 1930s and 40s, and when I came across Memphis Minnie, I knew I had to get them into a story together. Also, I am so stoked that this was published a couple of months after Sister Rosetta Tharpe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Now if we can only get Minnie inducted…

I also wanted to write a story featuring my hometown, specifically, the south side of Chicago where I grew up. Fun fact–the real Sister Rosetta and Minnie actually did live in Chicago in different parts of their lives, but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever interacted. Seeing that most gospel musicians considered blues artists as heathens, I’m not surprised. On the flip side, Sister Rosetta came under a lot of fire for putting gospel hymns against “devil music”, so who knows.

The story give a couple of callouts to the history of the Chicago’s South Side: The Regal Theater, which was big for black entertainers in the 30s and 40s; the Ida Wells homes, a series of low-income housing mostly populated by blacks, and the Bronzeville and Bridgeport neighborhoods. And my favorite: Rita Moy, daughter of Frank Moy, mayor of Chinatown, who really did like to dress in men’s clothes. There’s even a picture of her!

Finally, I wrote this story because I wanted to show a relationship between two women of different beliefs. Sister Rosetta was an evangelist through and through, and she was also queer. Memphis Minnie, on the other hand, had a rough life: busking on Beale ave, doing a stint with Ringling Brothers Circus. Although Rosetta and Minnie never met in real life, it was fun imagining the sort of conversations they could have. You can read more about these women in their biographies: Shout Sister Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues. (Also for Minnie, there’s a description of her written by Langston Hughes)

And finally, listen to these women songs. I can repeat myself enough: they…are…AMAZING. Here, I’ll even get you started.

“There are no wrong answers” up at Podcastle

 

Remember the story I wrote for the What Fates Impose Anthology? “There are No Wrong Answers” is now up at Podcastle, read by the awesome Podcastle editors Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali and Jen R Albert.

I thought I had written up story notes for this, but for the most part, I gave the background to this story in the interview I had with with Jim C Hines back in 2013, during the promotion of the What Fates Impose anthology. I’ll let most of that stand for itself but I do want to reiterate:

  1. This was the first story I ever wrote from start to finish in 3 months.
  2. This might not be the last time we see Madame D.
  3. Yes Marty is real…

…huggably adorably real.

Go check out the story, and if you like it, go buy the anthology What Fates Impose . Lots of great stories in there and you can get it on Kindle for $1.99.

Plus, you’ll make Marti very happy.