Until pretty recently I had never considered using dictation to write, and to be honest I’m not 100% sure where the idea came from. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I’m one of those crazy people who paces around my room and talks to myself. This feels like a much more natural creative state for me than sitting down and writing, in most instances. In fact, I noticed there were times where I would be sitting down writing, and then I would stand up and start pacing to try to work out a block or think of a way to expand on an idea, and then I had a hard time forcing myself to get back into the chair and start writing again.
So I started looking further into dictation, and I started hearing about other benefits of it. For example, dictation writers often say they can write much much faster in a shorter period of time. Then there are also the physical benefits. Depending on how often you’re sitting down writing, things like carpal tunnel are a real issue, or could be a real issue for you in the future, and dictation helps to avoid that. In my case it also lets me get out of the chair and stand, which I think is better for my back and posture.
Earlier this year I decided to give dictation a shot and see if it could improve my writing in the ways that were advertised. A few weeks in, I’ve found that there are certainly some benefits.
I’ve seen a noticeable appreciation in how much faster I can write my blog posts and other non-fiction articles. However, the same speed hasn’t exactly transferred to my fiction writing, at least not yet. I know for most of the non-fiction stuff I write I usually have a specific set of points to make, or sometimes I outline out what it is I want to say so I don’t get lost. But for my fiction writing I don’t always outline; I’m a bit closer to discovery writer. I think even having a loose outline really helps dictation go so much faster, and so I’m starting to integrate a little bit more beat writing and scene outlining into my fiction work so that when I am ready to do dictation I have at least an idea of where the scene is supposed to go, so that I don’t stall out.
While I haven’t seen a major increase in word counts, I have found dictation has helped with one issue I’ve come across fairly often in writing. I’m sure many authors have had this issue, regardless of whether they use dictation or not, and that’s encountering those instances where you think of something faster than you can write it, and sometimes what you thought of actually evaporates before you can get the whole thing down on paper. Dictation has helped with that problem, since I can say the thought immediately as I have it, which is a nice benefit.
There is also a little bit of a learning curve with dictation because you have to state all of the punctuation marks, new paragraphs, and so forth. I found personally that I picked up the flow of this relatively quickly, but I could see this being a struggle for some people. You will also have to use stand-in words sometimes, especially if you are a fantasy writer who uses a lot of made up lingo, because the software’s dictionary’s only so big. It has a feature where you can add words, but I’ve heard that’s a losing battle and never works out well. I haven’t tried it myself, so if someone knows otherwise I’d be happy to hear about it, but my understanding is that it’s better just to use stand-ins that you can edit later.
I won’t go into the physical benefits because those aren’t hugely apparent, but perhaps sometime down the line my body will thank me by having less back issues and no carpal tunnel.
For those of you looking to get into dictation, I recommend this video series by Author Level Up which goes through a lot of the basics of the equipment you need as well as the benefits of dictation:
As for me, I do use the Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software, which as far as I can tell is really the only name in the game. I did not extensively research this, but it doesn’t seem like there is another dictation software that is really comparable. I also use Scrivener as my writing program (mostly for the near-future when I can use it to format my e-books), and Dragon works with that. I had been using Open Office on my PC, and I was told that Dragon doesn’t work very well with that software. I haven’t tried it so I can’t say, but that might be something to be aware of if you’re thinking about going this route.
Unlike the tutorial videos I showed you, I actually use a headset mic for my dictation, and so far that is worked pretty well for me. I have this mic set up mostly for gaming, so if you already have a microphone around that you use for Skype calls, or for gaming, or for anything else, you should be good to go. I don’t know that these specific podcast mics they talk about our all that necessary, and for me it seemed like an unnecessary expense.
Recently I’ve mostly gone back to writing my fiction by hand because I find that it works best for me in terms of maintaining my creativity and focus. I usually use the dictation software to type up my work, which is faster and less annoying than typing it all up. I’ve had hit or miss sessions while dictating my fiction work, but I think that has more to do with my getting easily distracted when the computer is on rather than any issue with the software or method itself.
I will say that dictating blog posts is pretty effective. It’s definitely a very easy way to get all of my ideas down quickly, and I’ve found that to be pretty useful. I don’t do it every time I write a post, but it’s still a solid method.
I also think that writing through dictation is a much faster way to write when you’re writing things that stick to more common types of language, like blog posts. As a fantasy writer, and a writer who uses a fair number of foreign words (at least in my current work), I’ve found that the software doesn’t recognize a lot of what I would say, and so I slow down a bit to fill in points where these words come up.
I may go back to using dictation more regularly at some point largely because it is a very fast way to generate first drafts and to get ideas on paper, but for the moment I think that my old school pen and paper stylings work best.
Does anyone have any dictation stories that they want to share? Does writing this way sound interesting or intimidating to you? Leave a note in the comments and share your thoughts.
This is an interview with Monica Leonelle who is one of the most outspoken advocates for using dictation writing and even has a book on Amazon about it. If you’re considering getting into dictation, I recommend at least listening to a couple of her interviews to learn more and see if it might be a good fit for you before you spend any money on the software or other equipment.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it informative. Thanks for reading!