How to write bigger, better, faster–my approach to dictation

“You must write faster if you want to be successful.”

dictation, key to writing faster

That is the single most important advice I keep hearing from successful indie authors.

It sounds so easy. Just write faster, publish faster, get those books out.

But how do you do that?

Most of us are struggling to find the time when we’re already stretched thin with the day job, child care, home schooling, you name it.

Some years ago, I wrote a blog post on this very subject. The advice in it still holds true. I would very much suggest you follow the link and have a look at it.

Fast-forward to just a few days ago.

The answer may very well be dictation.

I’m currently in Ireland with my husband, nursing his 88-year-old mother while her carer is on respite. The internet is good, my MIL is lovely, and since we’re under a two-week mandatory quarantine, what better time than to start my next book?

Unfortunately, I ran into three obstacles straight away:

1) the keyboard on my PC broke, and I’m stuck typing on a bluetooth gizmo the size of a mini ipad. Tiny, in other words.

2) I don’t have a lot of time while looking after my MIL. Whatever writing time I can squeeze out has got to be short and snappy.

3) I didn’t bring my trusty dictaphone. Or my lapel mic.

I needed a different setup. But hey, that’s what google is for, right?

Ask and ye shall find the answer!

So here is my current setup

First, I downloaded an app called Rev Voice Recorder. It’s free, records without breaks, and allows me to send the recording via email as an m4a file.

Second, I used this site to convert the file to an mp3.

And finally, I get Dragon to transcribe the mp3 into a simple notepad app.

How good is the result of dictation with this app?

Not as good as when I transcribe from my dictaphone and lapel mic. But then I spent a good bit of time training Dragon to recognize my voice through those devices.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s still good.

Getting anything on the page, even if Dragon mishears some words, is better than nothing. For every twenty minutes recording, I need about the same time to clean it up.

Which brings me to the second part of this article:

My recording protocol

For years, I tried to use dictation the same way I write, i.e. in complete sentences with perfectly structured scenes. Let me tell you—this might work for some, but it sure as heck doesn’t work for me.

dictation protocol

Once I understood that, life got a lot easier!

The big mental breakthrough happened when I moved away from doing a first draft, a second draft, a final draft.

Instead, I now do PASSES.

  • I start with a rough outline dictation pass. I’ve heard this called “vomit pass”, but eww.

All I do is imagine I’m telling the story to a good friend. There is lots of, “And then this happened. Can you imagine? And, oooh, I’ve got an idea. What if that happened? Wouldn’t that be cool?”

  • Next, I scribble down the beats for the scene on a piece of paper. I go for a walk with my notes in hand and tell the story as quickly as I can. This is not the dictation pass to go into descriptive detail, unless you’re good at that. I walk and talk, and occasionally pause when I meet other walkers. My neighbors already think I’m crazy. No need adding talking to myself in public to the list!

This is my story pass.

This is also the pass where I dictate fillers. So instead of getting into the details of a fight scene, I will literally say, “insert fight scene” or “insert sex scene.”

Once the story is told, I’m done with dictation.

I now layer passes on top of passes to sort out continuity, setting descriptions, and fill in the wonderful details that make our prose so rich and rewarding.

This approach to dictation, more than any other, has helped me speed up my writing. Last year, I published one novel. The year before, two novels. This year, I’m on track to publish four novels and a couple of short stories.

You’ve got to figure out your own way of making this work for you. There is no single approach that works for every writer out there. But you won’t find your best method if you don’t try different approaches.

As they say, “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.”

Get kissing!

How do you use dictation? Have you already integrated it into our workflow, or would you be willing to try? Let me know in the comments below!

To find more awesome blog posts, return to the main blog page.

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