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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

The Ins And Outs of Dictating Your Novel

Dragon NaturallySpeaking entered the tech market in 1997, almost twenty-five years ago, and its release introduced a new option for writers looking for productivity hacks: dictation. Dictation attracts authors for any number of reasons, ranging from speed to physical comfort to daily flexibility on the go.

While paid options like Dragon still top the chart as being among the most popular software out there for writers looking to up their game, a number of free competitors give everyone a sample of what to expect if you decide to dictate a story.

What can you expect if you take the plunge?

I’ve changed my mind on the issue a few times and still don’t know whether I love my sprees of talking my favorite moments into the chapter or whether I prefer clacking the old-fashioned way. The following gives an overview of what I’ve discovered through dictating passages and why you may want to check out dictation for yourself.

The Experience

Among the first things you’ll notice if you start dictating a chapter is the unusual and disjointed feeling of writing without, well, writing. Many authors who dictate their books do so while physically doing something else because of how easily your hands will grow restless without the touch of the keyboard beneath them. This feeling can also be liberating: if you don’t need to type, you’re free to do any number of other tasks while still raising your word count.

Then comes the speed adjustment. Even you type fluently, you’ll still speak faster when trying to express your thoughts. This means that dictating a passage won’t take as much time as typing it out, allowing for you to delve into details and nuances you might have skipped when typing. This is sadly paired with a series of odd silences where you have to remember what you wanted this scene to turn into. Eventually, I mitigated the silence by typing out brief outlines and notes of each scene before dictating. I still do that with any articles and blog posts I choose to dictate.

Dictation grows easier with practice. When you start, you’ll have a lot of stop-and-go moments not unlike when you first learn to drive a car. As you continue dictating and grow more comfortable with it, you’ll relax and fall into a pleasant rhythm of storytelling, flowering it with details and keeping up a healthy pace. You start to enjoy it after a time and walk away feeling fulfilled and amazed at how much you’ve typed.

The speed of dictation is impressive and one of its winning attributes. However, like all good things, this productivity boost comes with a price: accuracy. It’s impossible to write a novel without typos, and many of us allow our mis-typings to go unnoticed until we finish drafting. Spellcheckers help with this and make any obvious misspelling easy to spot and fix when reviewing a draft. Unfortunately, dictation doesn’t offer typical typos. Instead, it might confuse one thing you say with something else, at times leading to paragraphs that barely resemble what you remember dictating and that makes no sense despite every wrongly-recorded word being properly spelled.

These errors are at times impossible to catch and necessitate a human proof-reader before you release any of your writing in public.

The Advantages of Dictation

First of all, the speed. Even if you’re already a fast typist, your dictation speed will be significantly faster. Many writers who publish multiple books every year rely on dictation to match their schedules. After all, why strain over two thousand words when you could dictate ten thousand words instead?

Dictation also serves as a healthier form of writing if you suffer from any kind of repetitive strain. When you dictate, you can free your hands and wrists from typing, your neck and back from hunching over, and your eyes from staring constantly at a white screen.

You don’t have to dictate at your computer. Some writers use a dictation and transcription app on their phones to record writing any time, anywhere. This is especially great if you get inspiration while going on a walk or working out, or if you need additional flexibility to write throughout your day.

Something remains to be said for the experience of dictation. Talking through your ideas instead of writing them down allows for a more natural flow of thought and captures details you otherwise might have left unwritten. This allows you to create more colorful, detailed scenes that you can later edit to perfection as well as a less broken flow of ideas present on the page.

Disadvantages of Dictation

As I mentioned earlier and discovered to my horror during my own exploits, dictation means typos--and not the kind of typos that will get a nifty red line from Grammarly underneath. Regardless the service or software you use, you will need to check the transcript periodically to make sure it reads well and is roughly on track with what you wanted it to say.

The dictation software or service you use also makes a difference. Dragon NaturallySpeaking offers a full array of commands that give you total control over what you want it to type when, including corrections that you want to make after dictating. Free alternatives (such as Google’s Voice Typing) have more limited functions and punctuation options which become tedious when narrating a complicated fictional scene.

The changes that dictation introduces to the writing experience also bring their share of negatives. For one thing, listening to music while writing becomes nearly impossible as you look for instrumental options that won’t be mistakenly added to your transcript. Fans of typing will also have a hard time moving to a form that doesn’t give your fingers anything to do.

Dictation is a skill and takes practice before you get comfortable with it, meaning that you will have to put up with a learning curve and be patient with yourself as you adjust.

Is Dictation Right for You?

Dictation isn’t for everyone. If you love typing while rocking away to your favorite tunes, it’s probably more important to keep your familiar groove going than to switch to a routine of dictating in silence.

But with free options so easily available for anyone who wants to check it out, dictation can be a great way to build on your productivity, save yourself needless strain, and explore a new facet of your writing that you likely never considered before.

As always, please share your thoughts on dictation in the comment section below. You can also find further discussion on our Facebook page for self-published fiction writers.


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