How to master dictaphone writing

Don’t let the word “dictaphone” throw you off. You might be thinking that this is some sort of device from the 1920s or 1950s.

I don’t blame you for being under the impression that this type of gadget is something from the distant past.

Actually, dictaphones are quite common. They also go by the name ‘digital voice recorders’, ‘voice recorders’, or ‘portable audio recorders’.

They’re light, you can take them from point A to point B without any problems, they also have a very small footprint so you can store them away very conveniently. They don’t take up much space.

A lot of bloggers, writers, and novelists are making things harder on themselves because they believe that they have to be in front of a laptop or, worse yet, desktop computer for them to do their best work.

What if I told you that dictaphone writing can actually help you overcome writer’s block?

In fact, this method of writing novels, short stories, articles, blog posts, and whatever else can help you record as many of your ideas as possible.

Being a writer, you already know that the main challenge you face is not writing. In many cases, the words just fall into place. You just have to have a clear idea of what to write about.

This is where dictaphone writing comes in.

When you use a digital voice recorder to write, you get to capture your ideas. These may be half-baked, fuzzy, or not all that good, but you capture them anyway. When you cut out the rough edges, it may well turn out that these rough ideas can lead to more polished and higher quality ones.

If I’ve gotten you excited in this form of writing, here’s the quick rundown.

What is dictaphone writing?

This form of writing uses a digital voice recorder to write. Instead of using your hand to tap on a keyboard or handle a pen as you write, you speak into a voice recorder, or a small microphone, or even a podcasting microphone.

The next step is to transfer the files. You can either get it transcribed or you can feed it into a speech to text software. Once you get the transcription back, you edit it and you publish.

Why dictate your blog posts, articles, novels, or short stories?

As a blogger, short story writer, article author, or novelist, ideas flow through your mind all the time. You might get excited about an idea and you can’t wait till you get home so you can explore it further.

What happens when you walk through the door? That’s right. You forgot about it already.

When you dictate, you stop storing ideas mentally. You don’t have to risk losing them later. You can just whip out your voice recorder and record quick memos to yourself.

Sure, many of these ideas don’t really lead anywhere, but there are sure to be some diamonds in that pile of coal.

Why risk losing those gems?

Next, when you dictate, you build mental sharpness. You learn how to improvise-a critical life skill. You also learn how to critique your thoughts and express them in their sharpest and most developed form.

Learning how to think quickly on your feet doesn’t just pay off when it comes to writing, you also become a better public speaker and you’re able to level up your one to one conversation skills.

Another reason why you should dictate your content is you polish your self-editing skills. There is no shortage of gifted writers. We all know this. The problem is very few get published and of those, very few become successful.

One of the main reasons for this is the fact that a lot of otherwise highly skilled and promising writers are just stuck in a loop. They’re constantly second guessing themselves, so their manuscript never sees the light of day.

Every time they see their manuscript, they have to start from scratch and it’s an endless process. When you dictate your output, you learn how to get close to the final form of your idea when you speak it out. This is a very valuable skill.

You don’t end up stuck in a loop. You learn how to keep moving forward.

If you write fiction, dictating your character sketches is nothing short of amazing.

You can lose yourself in character development.

You can explore all the character conflicts and personality quirks of your characters.

Once this material is transcribed, you can then cut, mold, and shape the final profile of the character. This saves a tremendous amount of time.

Similarly, if you’re mapping out the plotline for your next short story or novel, it’s so much easier when you’re talking.

You’re not under any pressure, you can explore any nuances in the overall story that you have in mind. It’s as if you’re exploring a movie and it’s an amazing experience because you might not just come up with one plot outline, but several.

Famous writers who dictated their books

Don’t take my word for it. There are lots of famous writers throughout history who dictated their books.

Let’s start with one of the most consequential writers throughout history, the apostle Paul. He spent many years in prison and because of this, a lot of his epistles to the new churches throughout Asia minor as well as other parts of the Greco-Roman world were recorded by a secretary.

He didn’t write the epistles himself. He dictated them.

Another writer who dictated his material is Henry James. He was very famous in the late 1800s. His main claim to fame is the novel “The Bostonian”. Henry James left a big footprint on the intellectual scene of New England.

Turning to more recent times, the author of one of the most controversial books, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, actually dictates parts of his books.

Finally, if you are a big fan of literature, John Milton, the literary giant behind the classic Paradise Lost, dictated his material.

He had to. He was blind.

Don’t ever think that if you choose to “write” with your voice that you’re doing something weird or unusual. You’re definitely going to be in great company.

The pros of using a voice recorder to write

The big advantage of dictaphone writing is once you say it, you get to move on.

There are no second takes, you don’t have to agonize about what you just said, you don’t have to worry about things being perfect. You just say it and you move on.

This is very liberating because you can process a lot more materials in a shorter period of time than if you were just writing and rewriting the same paragraph over and over.

Another thing I love about dictaphone writing is I can write whenever and wherever inspiration hits me.

I don’t even have to use a voice recorder.

I can just whip out my mobile phone, tap on the voice recorder app, and I’m good to go.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times inspiration hits me when I’m waiting in line at the bank or doing something that is basically wasting time.

Why not turn that “dead time” into something more productive?

Another great benefit of this type of writing is you’re not stuck with one device.

Ideally, you should use a voice recorder. But there are many different devices that you can use depending on where you are.

If you find yourself in front of your laptop at home, you can use a podcasting microphone.

If you’re at work, you can use other recording devices available like a headset.

As long as your recording software remains the same, you don’t have to worry about platform compatibility or transcription issues later on.

Finally, and this is probably my personal favorite, when you write using a dictaphone, your output can actually be transcribed and turned into more than one draft.

This happens to me all the time. I would sit down, thinking I’m just going to dictate a blog post, but it turns out that after the transcription comes back, there’s enough material there for not only several blog posts, but a short book or even a video script or some other goodies.

You can’t get this with traditional writing. You spend a tremendous amount of time focusing on what you want to say and good luck getting more than one draft from the time you invest writing.

The downsides of using a voice recorder

The downside of writing with a dictaphone can be boiled down to a series of annoyances. It’s a question of personal style and preference. Still, these are negatives.

First, you have to transfer the files.

If you’re very busy, you might forget that a device has several dictations on it.

You might have a few gems in there. Sadly, you’ve forgotten them and you just wasted all that time and effort.

Another hassle with this method is you have to have a clear file labeling system. Even if you remember to transfer your files, if they look very similar to each other and you don’t know which is which, you’re back to square one.

It’s very tempting to clear a lot of clutter on your laptop or desktop computer. You have to have some sort of labeling system so you know which recording contains which items.

Next, as exciting as speech to text software can be, it is still clunky. You have to guide it when it comes to punctuation and sentence structure.

In fact, depending on the auto transcription software you use, the transcript can come out very rough.

The first few times I’ve gone that route, I’ve actually had to take the audio and send it to a manual transcriber.

That’s how messed up the automated transcript was.

The downside to manual transcription is you’re using manual labor, which can be expensive.

Thankfully, there are cheaper options, but whenever you ask another human being to transcribe your dictation, it’s going to cost money. Compare that with just feeding your audio through an auto transcription software.

When it comes to dollars and cents, there is no comparison.

The problem is the quality.

Finally, and this can be a deal killer for a few writers, when you write with your voice, you get to write quickly.

After all, most people speak at a rate of 100 to 200 words per minute. That’s a lot of content once you get your audio transcribed.

The problem is you’re going to have to edit that transcript and depending on your speaking habits and how organized you are, going through all those edits can be painfully slow.

Mastering the basics of dictaphone writing

If you need to get to the bottom of effective writing using a dictaphone, follow these tips. The more of these tips you include in your daily dictation routine, the better you will become at this type of writing.

Always work with an outline

This is self-explanatory and it is also non-negotiable. Your outline will keep you disciplined and focus your mind on the message you’re trying to get out.

Be alone or be in a crowd of strangers

Usually when people want to concentrate, they automatically think about being alone. This works for most people.

I, on the other hand, work better when I am surrounded by a crowd of strangers.

Since I don’t know these people and I don’t have any plans of impressing them or trying to prove something, the commotion around me actually forces me to focus on what I have in front of me.

It’s as if I develop tunnel vision and I become more productive.

Now, if I am just alone, sometimes I get distracted and then I end up playing a quick few hands of Facebook poker and fiddling around with my email. It can be a productivity nightmare.

The key here is to focus on what works for you. Most people prefer to work alone, others prefer to be motivated by a crowd of strangers.

Pretend you’re giving a talk

One of the worst things that you could do to yourself when you are dictating blog posts, novels, short stories, and other materials is to pretend you are writing.

Talk about killing productivity.

You’re putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.

When you imagine yourself pretending to give an informative talk, a lot of that pressure is lifted.

Now, you’re free to explore. You can then focus on points in your outline that you’re interested in and the content just writes itself.

You have to remember that for the most part, what’s holding you back is not your intellectual capacity.

What’s preventing you from getting into a state of flow is your emotional reading of what you’re doing. You become self-conscious and before you know it, things become harder than they need to be.

Just pretend you’re giving a talk. An alternative to this is talk like you’re talking to a friend. You’re not trying to prove something.

You’re not trying to showcase how smart you are. You’re just glad that you’re the friend and you just want to share and get stuff across.

If you’re able to stay at that level, the words basically flow, your thoughts crystalize into well formed words, you’re able to say them at an even pace, and before you know it, the piece, whatever it is, is finished.

Visualize each outline talking point and focus on the most obvious

Let me clue you in on a secret. When you speak to a voice recorder, the more “abstract” the ideas you’re talking about seem to you, the slower the words will come.

You can’t quite put your finger on it because you have already imagined it to be more complicated or sensitive.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Just visualize each outline point and talk about the things that jump out at you.

Trust your thoughts to flow

Many writers suffer from an inferiority complex. They think that they’re not all that interesting or they’re slow.

Whatever the case may be, they have a low view of themselves and this gets in the way of their thoughts.

They second guess themselves or the thoughts never really fully develop and crystalize. When they start verbalizing these thoughts, they second guess themselves as to which better way to express themselves.

That’s why they clam up.

Just let your thoughts flow.

Let’s put it this way, assume there is no absolute right answer.

The moment you do this, a lot of the weight is lifted from your shoulders and now, you are free to express yourself because at this point, you’re not going to break the system because there is no absolute rock solid answer.

You can attack the outline point from the side, the top, the basement, it’s your call.

The key is to understand that regardless of how you approach it, it eventually will lead to the same place. So trust yourself.

Fully develop each strand of thought as you read your outline

This might seem complicated, but it isn’t. If you know how to visualize and you know how to ask basic questions, each strand of thought takes care of itself.

If you know how to ask who, what, when, where, how, things start to fall into place.

That’s how you think through each outline item so that when you verbalize it, it is fully fleshed out.

It’s no longer half-baked, incomplete, or obviously defective. At the very least, it makes sense. Commit to moving on once each thought has fully developed.

The problem with the previous step is that a lot of writers, especially those that don’t trust themselves that much, keep piling on thought after thought.

At the back of their minds, they’re thinking “Maybe I missed a detail. Maybe I’m not drilling deep enough.”

As a result, they’re basically stuck on neutral. They are spitting out a lot of words and a lot of this text does add value, but pretty soon, you reach a point of diminishing returns.

When you commit to moving on once you feel or sense that a thought is fully developed, you get yourself out of that pit.

Kind of like a car stuck in mud, when you put that piece of wood under the tire, you can move forward. The same goes with commiting to a sense of completion.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. As long as you feel that it’s complete enough, you move on.

Write short prompts for your outlines

If you’re just starting out dictating your novel or book, one of the most effective ways you can avoid getting stuck in your outline is to write short prompts. This can be the beginning of a sentence or fragments of a conclusion.

Whatever the case may be, they give you some sort of emotional certainty that your outline is not impossible and you can make it through. If anything, the more you get used to your prompts, the less intimidating your outlines become.

Don’t rush to wind up

While you do have to commit to move on once you feel you’ve fully developed your thoughts, don’t put yourself under pressure to wrap things up either.

You’re not running a race. You’re not trying to impress anybody. You’re not trying to showcase how smart you are.

At this point, nobody can see that. Focus on how complete your thoughts are and trust yourself enough to wrap things up.

Never edit yourself as you talk

This is one of the most important skills any voice recorder writer will ever master. You have to make sure that you do all editing at the thought level. In other words, once the thought crystalizes in your mind, pick it apart at that point.

Mix and match. Slice and dice. Do what you have to.

But once you convert that crystal thought into a set of words, trust yourself with that phrase.

Unless it’s obviously wrong, you shouldn’t self-edit.

I know, this isn’t always possible. But the more you practice editing at the thought level, the less hassles you will feel when you verbalize the phrase, fragment, or paragraph.

Otherwise, if you edit yourself at that level, you will get stuck in a loop. You’re going to constantly say the same sentence with a few words different at the end.

It’s as if you’re chasing your tail and you can’t get past a certain part of your outline.

Wait for a feeling or a sense of completion before moving on to the next point

This is where you have to trust yourself. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to build this level of trust unless you practice.

We’re back to the old chicken or egg dilemma.

You have to get started. At first, it can be rough. You feel like giving up because it feels like it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

But as you gain mastery of the concepts in your mind and the words that best express them and how you can string them together into a coherent and powerful statement, you start trusting yourself.

Pretty soon, your sense of feeling or completion becomes more pronounced.

Please understand that this is more of a hunch or a gut feeling than some measurable milestone. Still, anybody can master this. They just have to put in the time and practice.

Three daily exercises that will level up your dictation writing quality

It doesn’t matter if you want to dictate novels, blog posts, articles, short stories, novellas, or any other type of work. By using these 3 daily drills, you can get to where you need to go sooner rather than later.

Dictate your dreams

Most people have dreams. Unless you’re an extreme insomniac, you probably remember your dreams from time to time.

There’s no need to write these down using pen and paper.

Just dictate through a headset mic, recorder or a podcasting microphone.

Just put on your reporters hat and focus first on who, what, where, when, and how. Once you get the basics down, you can then slice and dice your memory of the dream to make its vivid impact come to life.

Again, you’re not trying to prove anything here.

You don’t have an objective.

You’re just trying to familiarize yourself with the process of organizing your thoughts as they appear and stringing them together into a logical form that you can express effectively.

Dictate using Reddit writing prompt subreddits

Regardless of what genre of writing you’re into, there are subreddits that have amazing collections of writing prompts.

These are phrases or fragments of paragraphs that are supposed to get your creative juices flowing.

The key to this is to not cherry pick them.

Personally, I would just go down the list. I don’t care if it’s science fiction, suspense, or if it’s a thriller.

I just read the prompt a few times and then I start speaking out onto my microphone how I see the prompt progress from scene to scene.

It’s important to assume that these prompts are not complicated, difficult, or written by some sort of literary genius.

If you think along those lines, you’re going to end up sabotaging yourself.

You’re not doing yourself any big favors by imposing all this unnecessary difficulty on what you’re doing.

Just assume that they’re written by random members and that you can dictate off the top of your head. Always remember, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to prompts.

The only thing you are aiming for is removing all the limits to your personal creativity and letting all your firepower out onto this small paragraph.

Fully flesh it out.

Watch improv comedy



This is my personal favorite when it comes to leveling up my dictation skills. When you watch a master comic do improv, you basically get exposed to all the skill sets you need to become an effective dictaphone writer. No joke.

When you watch an improv comic, you’d notice that they would pay attention to the atmosphere of the crowd. Every crowd is different. So they would sit back and absorb the vibe.

Then they would get started, and this part is probably the only part that is rehearsed or somehow “canned”.

Everything else flows from the energy that they receive and bounce back to the audience.
This is how you can tell whether an improv speaker or comedian is any good because the more the crowd laughs or asks questions, the more they change.

It’s like an intricate dance between the signals being sent out by the comic and the crowd. It’s like a conversation.

When you understand this dynamic, you can then start developing the same relationship with your thoughts because they’re not there to dominate you or they’re not so elusive that you can’t catch them.

Instead, you develop a healthier relationship with how your thoughts flow and how you can channel, shape, and mold them into words that pack a lot of meaning.

The Final Word On Dictaphone Writing

Don’t expect to master the art of writing with a dictaphone overnight. It takes practice.

The good news is by being prepared and having the right mindset, a lot of the emotional intimidation goes away.

Again, I hate to repeat myself, but the number one obstacle to your success as a dictation writer or blogger is not intellectual-it is emotional!

If you’re reading this, you already have what it takes to be a successful blogger, novelist, writer, or pundit. What’s holding you back is emotional.

There’s nothing to fear.

Just dive in and enjoy the ride.

Need the right gear to take your writing output and quality much higher? Check out my review of the best digital voice recorders for writing.

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