Improve Your Writing With Dictation

You’ll never guess where I’m writing from? I’m in my car!

Before you get upset, rest assured I am not driving with my laptop on the steering wheel. I’m using voice dictation and speech recognition software to take down what I’m saying.

Voice recognition software has been around for a long time but with recent advances in Mobile technology, especially Google speak, it has finally got to the point where it is extremely accessible. Even from the road.

I was inspired to give this a try from a recent article I read featuring a prolific author whose name unfortunately escapes me. She in turn referenced another couple of authors, one of which who was also extremely prolific; Russel Blake. This man writes at a pace of one book every 5 weeks and has become a cottage industry unto himself.

And word is that he does a lot of this writing through voice dictation while walking.

This makes a lot of sense to me as one of my big struggles with writing articles on the side is the fact that in a typical work day I’m already spending most of my time on a computer. So they have to go back to the keyboard during my time off is sometimes more than I can bear.

So how is this done?

It was an offhand comment during a conversation with my wife that sparked the search which led me to the article, which led me here, driving down the highway from Louisiana to Texas composing this. She mentioned an author who had been using the built-in software with his McIntosh to complete his work. So I was searching for reference to this guy, when I went down the rabbit hole on these other authors who are doing the same thing.

I’ve mentioned the Google Keep app in passing a number of times now and it has been truly the greatest new efficiency tool of come across this year. This simple app acts as a Post-It note format although with some advanced power user features that makes it truly spectacular. It can be synced across your devices so that what you writing your phone is available on your desktop is available on your tablet. You can save notes as pictures, drawings, or text.

And you can write them with your voice using Google’s built-in speech recognition software as I am doing now.

Really, this couldn’t be easier. Here I am driving down the road with my headphones plugged in to my phone comma and just talking away. The software works so well that I expect it will only take minimal editing on the computer once I get home to finish up this article (Note: I didn’t get to editing until almost a week later, but as expected, it was a breeze!).

There are a variety of speech commands that you need to learn in order to work with this software, but really it only takes a few to get going.  Then, when I’m back at the house, I’ll just open Google Keep on my computer and copy the text that is being generated into my word program for a final edit. This will consist of punctuation, spacing, and formatting. There is also a little bit of cleaning up of the language to be done, this a result of the sometimes awkward way in which the sentences come out of your mouth!

Some tips to help get this right

The first thing to consider is that the software is going to capture every turn of phrase or slip of the tongue. While you can clean up the uhm’s and ah’s on your computer later it is better if they are never introduced in the first place. This forces you to really think about what you’re going to say before you say it. I feel that an outline will help with this too very great effect, although I’m just going free free form jazz on this one!

The software pauses itself automatically after a period of silence. This is both good and bad. Good, because it allows you to collect your thoughts in between phrases and play with them out loud before committing it to paper. Bad because sometimes you’ll be speaking and then look to realize that nothing has been recorded.

There can also be a bit of lag in between your speech and the text getting down onto the screen which can be disconcerting. However the more you use this software the better the feel you get for how it’s going to behave and the better you can anticipate it’s reaction.

Final thoughts

This is my first attempt at writing like this but it will definitely not be my last.  I try to write a little bit every day because it is the little things, performed consistently, that equal big things. This just happens naturally over time and before you realize it you created something of magnitude where is in the moment you you only need to focus on creating that one small thing.

But some days I have trouble getting something on paper. Whether it’s been a long day at work or a full day on the road, it can be difficult to find the time and motivation. However, by using this tool I can turn previously unproductive time into a chance to create something. While I think the best results are going to happen with some pre-planning, the creation of an outline at a minimum, the increased productivity and words per hour that can be generated through this method will more than make up for the additional outlining and revision time required by this method.

On the topic of word speed, while I have not yet done enough testing to know what I am personally capable of, third party reports show that a well planned out, dictated session, can run upwards of five thousand words per hour. Which to a writer is an incredible output.  I had just over 1,100 words in my rough draft of this article, all spoken in 24 minutes.  This was well on the way towards 2,500 words per hour, with I’ll take any day of the week.

What’s your take on dictation as part of the creative process?  Have you tried it yet?  I’m very interested to hear how other people set up their work flows.

2 thoughts on “Improve Your Writing With Dictation

  1. Interesting, I tried this when “Dragon” came out I found it easier to type and promptly gave up. I’m not sure I would have spotted it was a dictated article, though I notice the software seems to pick up everything you say.
    Personally I find that if an Author gets too prolific I can’t keep up and tend to stop read (that’s you Mr. Patterson if you’re reading) quality not quantity counts the most for me. Nice thought provoking article. TTFN

  2. Fair point. There are some that push out far too much material. I’ve been looking at it more as a way to stay productive without having to plop down in front of a computer, yet again.

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