By B.J. Quinn
In the Zone
We all want to write right, right? But what exactly is entailed in this endeavor? This series is mainly directed at captioners, but actually anyone who wants to improve their realtime writing skills should be able to benefit from it.
Over the next twelve months I will be bringing you articles every other month, aimed at different perspectives into the process of improving and writing better captions, thus better realtime.
First, you should all know by now after my "Diary of a Newbie" series that I am, by no means, perfect. I tell you this because if I held myself out to be perfect, you would probably say something like, "I can't do what she is telling me about. I'm not perfect."
I digest concepts easier, and I am able to more easily accept the teachings of those who had to struggle for their knowledge. While I admire and strive for perfection, I know that realistically none of us are perfect. But like all captioners, I strive for perfection every day.
However, the standards for broadcast captioning excellence are increasing every day. The market is demanding and deserves the best. Therefore, there is always something we can learn to assist us in the pursuit of clean captions or clean realtime.
In that vein, I hope that you will find this series a candid and open look into what it takes, and what it should take, to deliver clean captions to our viewing audience. So let's get started.
I have often heard captioners talk about "being in the zone." Generally, I have taken that to mean they are having a good day, they are focused, and clean captions are flowing smoothly.
But what exactly does it take to be in that zone? We really can't answer that question until we first analyze the types of things that prevent us from being in that zone, or bring us out of that zone. There's a whole host of things that can break our concentration and detract from clean captions.
Here's a list, in no particular order, of some of these detractors to clean captions. This list is not exhaustive, but will probably help you to come up with some of your own detractors.
When you come to work -- and, yes, even if you are working remotely from your home, this is a job, and you should approach it that way -- leave all the excess baggage at the door to your office. Leave those troubles behind. Personal problems can be a huge detractor. While it is sometimes difficult to separate those problems from your job, when you are working from home, a good captioner never loses sight of the fact that they are delivering a service. They are the ears for someone who could not otherwise hear. A captioner needs full concentration. We do a great disservice to our clients if we give them anything less.
OUTSIDE ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCE:
This could be anything from a child entering your captioning studio, to a dog barking, a doorbell ringing, and a whole host of other things that happen innocently in the real world. Take extra care to make sure that your captioning studio is far away from the everyday distractions of life, and is off limits to family members when you are on air. I know that this is a purist approach, but you want to write right, right? This should be your commitment. If your workspace is not secure from distractions, you can't possibly hope to get "in the zone."
What makes a realtime writer hesitate? I could dedicate an entire article to this, because I think of it all the time. I can only speak for myself, but it would be a helpful exercise for you to give some thought to those things that make you hesitate, and then try to come up with a plan to diminish or delete hesitation when writing.
For me, I hesitate when I am trying to remember a writing theory I am working on changing. Solution: Develop some drills off air to perfect that new theory so it becomes automatic. I also hesitate when I am not sure if something is in my dictionary. Solution: Get comfortable with fast fingerspelling, a good captioner is always able to fingerspell at maximum speeds. So I am working on that. I have found that in the time it takes me to hesitate and then come up with a way to write a foreign word, I can fingerspell it faster and alleviate the possible untran or mistran that might be broadcast. I force myself not to hesitate when I hear a foreign word such as Khordokovsky, and just fly right into fingerspelling. This keeps my nerves in check and keeps me in a smooth pattern of writing. Just remember, the minute you hesitate, you have come out of "the zone."
CONFLICTING WRITING THEORIES:
In an ideal world, we should have one theory and it should be well founded, avoiding word boundary errors, and untrans. However, if you have been writing for a long time, as I have, you pick things up a long the way. There is a good chance you have conflicting writing theories. You need to have one sound theory and apply the principles to all things that you write.
For example, if you use SO*N as your suffix for ~son, and you decide that is working well for you, so you apply that same theory to the suffix ~ton, and ~man. Then one day on air you encounter the proper name Mann, and you suddenly realize, you can't use MA*N for your suffix. So you rethink the process and come up with MAUN for your suffix. Now, what happens is every time you write a word that has a suffix ~ton or ~son, you are hesitating because you wonder if you use SAUN and TAUN or SO*N and TO*N.
Why not apply your theory principle across the board so all three suffixes are handled the same way? In this way you alleviate your hesitation and develop sound theory.
Also, as an aside, remember it is not simply enough to change the way you write a prefix or a word, you must also go through your dictionary and delete the old ways it exists in there. I call those "old" ways of writing time bombs. If you don't get rid of the time bombs, they will explode one day. Your dictionary should be your friend, not a minefield. Regular dictionary maintenance keeps it that way.
I must caution you, however, there are some software programs that have a feature that will delete entries you haven't used in a specific period of time. As a captioner, you should not wholesale delete entries from your dictionary based on the fact that the entry hasn't been used in the past year. We, as broadcast captioners, come across such a variety of different words and different stories in any given day. We need those huge dictionaries. Just because it hasn't been written in the past year does not mean it is a faulty entry. Do manual reviews of your dictionaries, rather than wholesale deletions.
LACK OF PREPARATION:
While this is self-explanatory, it is easy to get a little lax, and think: I did this program yesterday, so I have it nailed. Or, I do this program all the time, so I don't really need to invest too much into preparation. Preparation makes the broadcast captioner.
Review the websites for the TV station and the program you are covering. Here's an example: I do international news five days a week, with a one-hour break in between the two shows. It would be such a temptation to think that the second hour is a repeat of what was covered in the first hour. While frequently that is the case, I always do a review of the website in between shows. On a recent morning when I was in between shows, a brand new story popped up about the English Parliament and the Tory Party. If I had not done some prep before that second hour, I would have been fingerspelling "Tory" and "Tories" for a half hour, because that is just about how much time they dedicated to that story.
You never know exactly what will come up , and it is simply safer to go on air armed with good preparation. This is one place you should never cut corners on if you are hoping to get in "the zone" when you write.
AUDIO OR EQUIPMENT PROBLEMS:
This is something that has happened to all of us, and it can be a very distracting factor in our work. Yet, there are some steps you can take to avoid the very basic problems.
Invest in a good pair of headphones. I bought a pair that is used at racetracks, and they have an audio control button on the actual headset. This gives me an extra boost in the audio from the amplifier when I need it, and it also allows me to adjust my audio downward without removing my hand too far from my steno machine.
Secondly, make it a good habit to check out your Gentner, dual modems, and steno machine weekly. Make it a point to check the tuning of each key on that steno machine. Don't assume it is always going to stay in tune. Beating on it every day of the week for multiple hours a day is bound to bring it out of alignment.
Attention to these details will always give you a leg up on writing in "the zone."
We have analyzed the kinds of things that break our concentration and detract from clean captions, the things that keep us from writing "in the zone." Perhaps this has prompted you to think of some of your very own detractors.
Take the time after reading this article to give that some thought. Sometimes, if you just break down what is standing between you and clean captions, you are better able to combat the problem and write right.
The next segment will deal with a very important aspect of getting into "the zone," the art of listening.
See you then, and happy captioning.
About the Author
BJ Quinn is a broadcast captioner with Vitac. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the Zone