The Benefits of Dictation

Hello Story Empire readers! I’d like to fly – at least when it comes to writing – rather than plodding along. There’s one tool I now use to do just that: Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Good thing you don’t have to train this dragon to dictate well.

When it comes to writing a book, there is a faster way without a huge expense which also feels like flying. In my last post, I described how I was working to clear my own logjam with available time and one of those changes was to spend a little money to address my constricted writing time. I purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking and set out to dictate so I could produce more words per hour than typing. To dictate well, it requires training Dragon – which sounds like the title of a couple of movies.

Training a Dragon is simple, especially when compared to the movie – and no fish needed. At first, I tested how the software  worked and learned how to use Dragon consistently. The immediate outcome produced more words in twenty short minutes than I could type in an hour. Today, I’ll share the benefits of dictation and begin revealing useful tips in my next several posts on this topic.

Dictation is different by far than typing but it can be a very effective way to complete the all-important rough draft in a reasonable time. Doing the actual work of dictating adds words very quickly in relation to the time typing takes. The problem is that we are used to keyboarding in order to produce words instead of speaking them. It can be very uncomfortable to speak words in order to write a book.

However, once you get over that mental hurdle, actually dictating the words you need quickly becomes secondhand as you train your brain and the software to produce your content consistently and accurately. Remember, in How to Train Your Dragon, it was a two-way street. The main character, Hiccup, had to both train the dragon and learn how to guide it as well. The same is true of Dragon Naturally Speaking where you must learn to guide the software with your words.

Fancy microphones aren’t needed to dictate with accuracy.

My approach initially started with using the headset which came with my software. This can work very well, but you may find that you want to get away from the computer or practice your dictation in some other location where your computer is not handy. If that’s the case there are some easy ways to accomplish this change.  Use a phone or a digital voice recorder. I purchased a Sony digital recorder and an externally attached microphone that clips to my collar. This device allows me to dictate to the recorder and save my dictation sessions as an MP3 file. These files are easily copied to my computer using the built-in USB connector. I then use the transcription mode of Dragon to get the words into Scrivener.

The recorder was actually what I used to clear my first big hurdle with dictation. Before using the recorder, I felt like I had to sit down in front of my computer to dictate. The problem was that I often watched what was happening on the screen which was very distracting and kept me from actually dictating as much as I could. By dictating away from the computer, I’m able to continue speaking so that there is less distraction. This also allowed me to take advantage of my time in ways that were unanticipated. Then I cleared the next big hurdle.

The next obstacle was the use of time in my dictation. Because I felt like I had so many other things to do when I sat down in front of my computer, it was hard to actually dictate. When I moved my dictation session away from the computer, I dedicated my time to dictating, Intrusions were eliminated and I made progress.

My commute to and from work are perfect examples of using my time for dictation. I simply attached my microphone to my collar, started the recorder, and dictated as I drove to work. It’s usually a 20 minute drive so I’m able to get in at least 1000 words, sometimes more depending on how well the session goes. In this way, I was able to quickly began dictating at least 2000 words a day in only 40 minutes. That was a big change from struggling to get just a few hundred words written out of my constricted time.

With that hurdle cleared, I then began to look for other ways to make good use of dictation. One of the side effects was that the pressure to get writing done disappeared and I began to complete daily tasks more readily while feeling no anxiety about the need to write. Since I started completing other writing-related tasks with ease, I found margin in my thinking and time to relax. When the stress of writing cleared so did the rest of what needed my attention. Dictation gave me a sense of freedom such that I could put things down much sooner in the evening.

Coupled with clearing the time constraints for writing, and the subsequent reduction of pressure and anxiety to actually get writing done, I soon found that I was able to go to bed earlier. This change in sleep pattern resulted in getting up sooner in the morning so that I could put more time into dictating before I even left for work. Recently, the additional time has added anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes of extra dictation during which I’ve been able to clear totals of over 5000 words in a day. I’ve been able to accomplish what would have taken me up to four hours of typing in less than two hours. As a result, my production zoomed along and now I am very close to finishing one of my rough drafts.

I’m also looking for a few extra ways to insert dictation into my day. I might be able to add 10 to 15 minutes during lunch. If there’s an errand I need to run, then I will dictate during the drive time. My hope is that I will soon begin pushing toward a 10,000 word total for a day. Being able to approach those kinds of word-counts means that a rough draft can be completed very quickly.

Since dictation has an overall better accuracy than typing, it also means less time editing. There are a few aspects of dictation accuracy that I’m working on in terms of consistency from the software. As a fantasy writer, I often use unique names that cause consistent errors. There are some work-arounds like using regular names as temporary substitutes to be changed with a search and replace throughout a document. I’ll get into more of addressing this kind of problem in my next post when I will specifically discuss using Dragon with Scrivener.

So, one of the main ways that I improved my dictation was by getting a digital voice recorder. As I mentioned earlier experience can be a main factor to improving dictation. In the case of Dragon and a digital recorder that expense doesn’t have to be exorbitant. While it is recommended that you use the premium version of Dragon which can approach $200, a digital recorder can cost as little as $50 and the microphone about $20. That’s not a huge one-time expense, when considering the cost is spread out over innumerable projects as you use your purchase over and over again. And since you can use it for many other kinds of writing besides a book, you get the best of all worlds. One of the other ways that I’ve been using Dragon is to dictate blogs (such as this post).

For me, dictation has been very important for making much-needed writing progress. I now see that I can very quickly produce copious amounts of content which is needed this year. Not only do I have my current project to complete, but I also have another novel in progress. Beyond these books, I also have my Broken Shield Chronicles which won’t be the longest novel but will need to be completed rather quickly. With Dragon, I hope I can complete it within 2 to 3 weeks. There are other, shorter projects that I want to develop and publish this year. Since most of these novellas are already written short stories, they’re not much harder to  rewrite to about 35-45,000 words. That means I can produce a good number of those rather quickly using Dragon.

Another benefit of using Dragon cropped up recently, one that I did not initially anticipate. Last weekend, when we had storms coming through, arthritis flared up in my neck that gave me major shoulder pain. I don’t want to get into what kind of health problems I have, but this frequently happens to me when there are storms in the area. I have trouble lifting my arm sometimes, even to the keyboard, let alone sit comfortably with the pain. However with Dragon, I’m able to dictate in a different location without being at the keyboard with pain.

Likewise, you can mitigate any spine or repetitive motion injuries from sitting at a desk for a very long time while typing. Dragon actually allows you to complete work faster from and get on with being more active. It was a huge relief being able to dictate this post and not worry about the pain that prevented me from lifting my arm very much.

I’ve included some resources that I have gathered as well as the type of equipment that I’m using for dictation. I would highly recommend using dictation for any writer. You might think that it would be harder to write or that there is a huge learning curve, but there actually isn’t. As long as you understand that your writing a first draft, you might find the results are cleaner than your typing efforts in just a fraction of the time.

What experiences do you have with dictation? What makes you hesitate to dictate? Leave your thoughts in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Resources

The Writing Guide to Training Your Dragon by Scott Baker (read this before purchasing  since the early chapters cover buying decisions).

5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox (a good, general book to increase your words per hour that includes some tips about dictation).

Quick Cheats For Writing With Dragon by Scott Baker

My digital recorder.

My microphone.

P. H. Solomon

48 thoughts on “The Benefits of Dictation

  1. This is the first I have heard of this. It is intriguing to say the least, but I’m curious how the editing part works. When I write I don’t worry about how awful the first draft it. I get the thoughts down and clean it up afterwards. This sounds like you have to be a little more accurate the first time around.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Reblogged this on and commented:

    We love to look at all of the different applications for digital dictation, transcription and voice recognition. Here is a very interesting and informative piece from a creative writer, demonstrating how the use of digital dictation and speech recognition software can completely change your mindset and increase your productivity.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. An interesting post, P.H. I know an author who is visually impaired and she uses Dragon Speak to write her books. There is definitely a learning curve involved. My personal experience with it came about fifteen years ago when my late husband made an attempt to dictate his story using Dragon Speak. Because of his Texas drawl and usage of local dialect, it was pretty much a disaster. 🙂 I’m sure they’ve improved the software immensely over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jan, the software actually has a setup choice for the user profile for dialects. I was able to choose Southern American English. Yes, there is probably a choice for a Texas drawl. Dragon is not very sophisticated over the early days which makes it a perfect time to jump into it if you have a hankering!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lately I’ve been dealing with carpel tunnel issues so dictation is becoming something to consider more and more. I’m not quite ready to make the move, but these posts are helpful in highlighting the pluses. Something for me to think about…

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Following this series with interest. I especially like the idea of having a digital recorder that you’re able to load on your PC. I have a 30-minute drive to work each day and ideas often come to me during these drives. It would be nice to convert the ideas into actual words written. Interested to see the integration with Scrivener.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting stuff. I wonder how it would work for transcription of recordings. The voice wouldn’t be my own. In my own writing, I frequently go back and forth making adjustments. I would likely have to stop that and accept a rougher draft than I usually produce. It still sounds faster.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I tried it once in the earlier years and it drove me nuts because of the fantasy issue. I’m guessing you can add to the dictionary on these systems like with spellchecker in Word. How do you get the dictation software to recognize that you’re doing character dialogue?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Charles. Yes, you can train the software more specifically by spelling and pronouncing the special/custom names and terms. I hope to get into that process more in the future. With my shift to another project in several days, I will add a lot of names before I get started, then add any news ones that come up in the ongoing process. It’s either that, or use common names and then do a search/replace later. The main point is to complete the first draft as soon as possible.

      Character dialogue is rather an easy set of commands. If you are using a common dialogue tag like said, you use comma for the “,” and then the command, “open quote” followed by the dialogue, end with the period command and a “close quote”. It seems like a lot extra but it’s really not since you type all that on a keyboard too. You still say more than you can type by a wide margin over the course of an hour.

      Like

    • I know you have a lot on your plate. Try it with a few of your writing tasks to get your feet wet and build from there. I find writing a bit of script to which I can refer at least before I start really helps me dictate at a higher rate.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This sounds like an incredible tool to improve productivity! However I don’t think I could dictate my writing. I’d find it embarrassing… I don’t even read my writing aloud when it’s done, let alone a rough draft.
    Part of the reason why I write is to put on the page what’s in my head without anyone listening, not even myself (I dint know if it makes sense at all).
    However I might have to reconsider and overcome awkwardness for the sake of productivity.
    Is the software you mention fir English only?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You should read your work aloud as it improves it in several ways. One is that you find errors that your eyes miss. You can also improve by hearing whether what you’ve written sounds fluid on your ears.

      Dragon covers several languages including Italian (I do remember that you speak Italian, right?)

      Like

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