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Dictating your manuscript for increased word count (and reduced pain)

dictation headset overlaid with blog titleToday, I wrote almost 1700 words in less than an hour. More precisely, I dictated them. While working out on the elliptical at home, no less. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love efficiency?)

Are they perfect words? Hardly. Do I have a scene that I didn’t have yesterday? Yes!

I’m still amazed at how much I can progress if I dictate instead of typing. I think it works for me for a few reasons.

I can be in motion. I don’t have to sit, my hands don’t have to work, I can even do things like fold laundry or chop vegetables (though usually, I just walk around or get on the elliptical).

I can produce words without typing. I started dictating because all the time I spend on my computer was exacerbating my tennis elbow (from snow shoveling in my Boston days). Talking instead of typing gives my overworked arms, hands, and fingers a break.

Standing on the cross-trainer wearing my headset with an hour of dedicated time ahead of me forces me to think out what has to come next in the story and just get started. It’s similar to doing a writing “sprint.”

Also, like a writing sprint, dictating means I can’t edit as I go. This is huge for me, because I tend to write a few paragraphs, edit them, write a few more and so on. Very slow and inefficient, especially since I often end up completely changing or even deleting a scene later. Yes, the words I produce during dictation might be ugly, but I’d have to edit regardless of how I produced the scene in the first place.

If I lose my place after a long pause to think, I just start from what I remember and fix it later. If I have an idea for a change that needs to be made to an earlier section, I add it in parentheses and keep going.

Okay, but it can’t be all perfect, right?

It’s not. There are a few drawbacks.

I’m reluctant to dictate if anyone else is in the house.

I sometimes feel like I haven’t accomplished anything because I wasn’t in front of a computer. I can easily get over this one. 😉

When I’m done dictating, it often feels like very little has happened in the story, and yet I’ve laid down a surprising number of words and moved things forward. And when I read it, the scene is usually much better than I expected.

Despite the overall positive aspects of dictating, I still sometimes have to force myself to start. I’ve associated writing with being on a keyboard for such a long time now, that changing my process so drastically is an adjustment. I think the adjustment is worth it.

Have you ever tried dictating instead of typing? What was your experience. If you haven’t tried it, would you?

My Dictation and Transcription Process

I dictate to an iPhone app called PureAudio Live Recorder, which is super easy to use and currently only $5. From that, I can download the .wav file via Wi-Fi to my computer and have Dragon transcribe it. I save the transcription as an RTF which I then import into Scrivener.

I’m using Dragon Premium 13 for Windows, but I write on a Mac, so I save the RTF to Dropbox so I can import it to Scrivener on my Mac (File>Import>Files).

Where to Get Help with Dictation and Dragon

A good place to find more info is the dictation group on Facebook called Dragon Riders. Start with the pinned post at the top, which has a collection of the most commonly asked questions and their answers. The group has great info on how to get started, the best equipment, best practices, troubleshooting, and so on.

For more help, you might try Scott Baker’s books The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon and Quick Cheats for Writing with Dragon (free on Amazon). I haven’t looked at them yet, but have heard good things from people in Dragon Riders. Apparently, Scott also offers classes.

[Edited 8/18/17 to include my process and additional resources]

20 Comments

  1. Mike Korner

    Reply

    I haven’t done it but I have considered it (using Dragon Naturally Speaking). Just curious … Are you dictating into the phone or a recorder or ? How do you get it to Scrivener or whatever on your Mac?

    • Reply

      Mike: I dictate to an iPhone app called PureAudioLive, which is super easy to use and only $5 (http://www.andreaelectronics.com/pureaudio-live-for-ios-devices/). From that, I can download the .wav file via Wi-Fi to my computer and have Dragon transcribe it. I can save the transcription as an RTF which I then import into Scrivener.

      Because I had seen a lot of negative reviews about Dragon for Mac, I got it for the PC (v13, I think), so I have an added step of saving the RTF to Dropbox so I can import it to Scrivener on my Mac (File>Import>Files), but that’s not a big deal. Recently, I’ve heard better things about the Dragon for Mac version. A good place to get more info is the dictation group on Facebook called Dragon Riders (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1648134245442422). Tons of info on how to get started, the best equipment, best practices, troubleshooting, and so on.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Reply

    One of my authors writes her whole story in longhand, then reads the pages into Dragon Naturally Speaking. Saves so much time, and the process of handwriting vs typing squelches the internal editor.

    • Reply

      That’s an interesting way to do it, Janet. I sometimes brainstorm in longhand because it triggers something different in my brain, but I’d have to work up to writing that way. I write by hand so little that my hand tires quickly. But it’s a great option. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Maria

    Reply

    I have tried using Windows voice recorder when I had problems with my wrist tendons. I think the problem for me was learning the different voice commands for the words to go on screen and to edit. I didn’t have time then to practise this. I can however see the benefits. It was faster and maybe something I should make the effort to do.

    • Reply

      Hi, Maria. Since I am still able to type and use my hands, I still use the keyboard for editing and all of that, so I never dealt with the commands either. Also, while I did some Dragon “training,” I probably didn’t give it as much time as I should to really improve its accuracy. I’ve found it easier for me to edit the finished product. I’m probably lazy. 😉

  4. Kay

    Reply

    This was a helpful reminder to go back to dictating and I am happy you told us the “how to” and especially how to get it into Scrivener! “Writing” in different ways improves a text, just like editing in different ways does. Great post!

    • Reply

      Great, Kay! I agree that having different options for writing can really help. I still sometimes just type out a scene, but I’m amazed at how much slower that process is. Thanks!

  5. Reply

    Congratulations Gwen! Thank you for joining the millions of us who dictate rather than type. I have been using voice recognition software (on both PC and Mac) for a long time. I dictated my first book and I’m working on my second.

    It has not been a choice for me, since car accidents disabled me in the 90s. However, keeping everything ergonomic and not having to use my shoulders or elbows or wrists or hands is completely marvelous.

    I teach poetry to senior citizens in my town. When they are having problems, I recommend that they use voice recognition software because most of us are used to talking and not typing.

    I’m actually dictating my comments to you! 🙂

    • Reply

      Thanks, Barbara. I’m sorry to hear about your accident, but I’m glad you found a solution that allows you to keep writing/working on the computer without exacerbating your injuries. Good luck with book two!

  6. Reply

    Gwen, you are inspiring me to look into this.
    I used to dictate all the time in my attorney job, so I’m comfortable with it and have wondered how I could speed up novel writing.
    I don’t have Dragon software, but I’ve used my phone’s voice input to dictate research notes into Evernote very successfully. I think I’ll try dictating novel scenes into Evernote, then importing them into Scrivener via cut and paste. Should work. Thanks for spurring me to try this.
    Theresa

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