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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]

Year of the Dog

According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2008 was the year of the rat, but in our house, it was the year of the dog. Specifically, a golden retriever we named Zoe Isabella.

Zoe as new puppy with boys petting her

Zoe sleeping on shoesIf you follow me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you may have seen her a few (hundred) times.

Zoe and Gwen closeup

Zoe sleeping, arm outstretchedQuitting my day job in 2008 not only made it possible for us to bring Zoe into our lives, but for me to start writing. I started on romance in early 2009, and Zoe has been with me from the very beginning, forcing me to leave my writing cave for fresh air and sunshine.

 

Young Zoe on leash

Zoe in front of a tree-lined lake

So, since she turned nine this week: Happy birthday, Zoe!

Zoe in the grass

(Dis)connected

© Thorsten | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Do you ever wish you could disconnect from the Internet? We are plugged in via social media, on-demand television, virtual helpers like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo (Alexa), smart thermostats, email, our cars, online banking, and more. We don’t even realize how dependent we are until the connection goes down or we lose power.

Smart computer systems, using access to immense amounts of data, can use our browsing history to recommend new products, guess that we’re pregnant before our own family members, and predict the fastest route from our home to the beach at 5pm tomorrow.

How did I live without all this technology in the first half of my life?

And yet, I sometimes miss that disconnected life. I sometimes envy those who have managed to let it all pass them by, even as they become disassociated from mainstream society. Last year, I found myself almost jealous of the characters in the dystopian novel Station Eleven because they had no obligations to a small glass and metal rectangular object through which an astonishing amount of my life plays out.

I’m not a Luddite by any means. I love technology. I love having two-click access to almost any information, and the ability to turn on my lights with a voice command or “visit” my far-flung family members via FaceTime.

But sometimes, I need to disconnect. I need to go into my backyard, walk the dog, take a hike, or go to the beach, and live screen free for a while. Not just screen free, but instant-access free.

The problem with on-demand everything is that the minute we think a question, we can run off and answer it. But maybe it would be better to merely ponder it for a while. Enjoy the quiet act of thinking without distraction. To stew in our thoughts without always feeding our eyeballs with information.

I’m reading a book (on my iPad, of course) called The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. It talks about the types of innovations we can expect to see in the future, and how we’re only going to be more integrated. There are a lot of exciting things coming.

But I’m still going to need a break from it all.

Even now, I feel better when I take some time out of my day to unplug. This is one of the reasons why I run. And do yoga. Or brainstorm with—gasp!—paper and pen.

I don’t want to ditch my devices and move off grid, but I am trying to purposely schedule sanity breaks into my day. I imagine they’ll be even more important as we march inevitably forward into the connected abyss.

What are your thoughts on our expanding connectedness?

Facing the blank canvas

blank piece of paper on a table with pens and coffee mug

© creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The ability to write anything is scary.

I liken it to being given a blank canvas and told to “Paint something.” It’s paralyzing. But if the same person gave you the canvas and said, “Paint a tree,” you’d probably think for a minute about what a tree looks like to you, and then dive in.

In that way, parameters can actually free up your creativity rather than stifling it.

Once I know how my story starts, then I know which path I’m on. I might take some unexpected detours along the way, but I’m not switching mountains halfway through. (Unless, maybe, killer plot twist?)

I’m trying to work on the next book in my Men of Steele series, and this is where I remember how messed up my process is. No matter which method I use, I end up starting the story about 50 different ways before I figure out how to get into it.

I do have a few constraints to help me out. I know I’m writing romantic suspense, and that it takes place within the world of my Men of Steele series. And I know who the hero is.

But if a character can be stubborn, Kurt Steele is the worst. I’m not one of those writers who believes my characters have control, but once they form in my mind, that’s pretty much what I’m stuck with. (See Scott Kramer of Blindsided, who came to me as a Marine scout sniper, even though I’d been researching and writing Air Force PJ heroes.)

I’ve tried to write Kurt’s book several times now, and he doesn’t cooperate. At all. This time, I’m determined to write him a happily ever after, but I may turn gray doing it.

Wish me luck!

If you’re a writer, have you ever struggled with a particular character’s story? Got any suggestions?

The Great Capitol Crimes Writers Workshop

If you’re in Northern California and looking for an inexpensive, one-day workshop for writers, check out The Great Capitol Crimes Writers Workshop in Rancho Cordova (Sacramento) on April 22nd. It’s sponsored by the local chapter of Sisters in Crime, but the topics are relevant for any fiction author.

The lunchtime keynote speaker is New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter.

And, I’ll be there, talking about—what else?—Scrivener. 😉 I’ve cut back on appearances since the move, and this is my only scheduled in-person workshop (so far) this year. Maybe I’ll see you there!

SINCC conference flyer

By the way, if your group or conference would like a Scrivener presentation, contact me about putting on a one-hour or half-day workshop. I’m also available for group presentations via teleconference.