Dictation has been part of human literary creativity for some time now. Homer probably dictated Illiad and Odyssey because he was traditionally known to be blind. Great writers like Paul the Apostle, Henry James, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, and Dan Brown also depended on it.
Recently, more writers are using dictation to write, and many more are curious enough to try. This means we need to find ways of delivering quality work at a faster pace to get ahead.
It is not difficult to put words into a page or chapter by dictation. The challenge is to decide which of the words to keep. Most of us were typing our work before we tried or switched to dictation.
The first thing you notice is that your draft usually has more words and is less organized.
You need a different style in editing or spend more time on it entirely.
Here are some tips that can increase your writing productivity.
Preparations before Dictating
Organize your thoughts before you start dictation. Create an outline. Take a few minutes to sketch out each scene or section.
You can write down some pointers in an index card or notebook. You can even use a phone or computer for the outlines. Since talking is much faster than typing, we tend to say things that can be off-topic.
Outlines and notes can help you stay focused on the plot.
Allow For Errors
The accuracy of dictation software is generally at 95%-98%. Expect to correct about 2-5 words per hundred you speak. These are usually the words the software did not understand. Depending on your typing abilities and your native dialect, these corrections could be better or worse than your typing errors. You have to go over your work frequently to check on accuracy while the original idea is still fresh in your mind.
Speak swiftly, but clearly. Don’t mumble your words. Also, hold the microphone a few inches from your mouth. The generated static or noise will annoy the transcriber, or result in transcription errors by the software. This wastes time and money.
If you want to learn how to dictate up to 50,000 words per day, check out my guide on how to blow up your dictation speed.
But also try to relax, make your dictation more free-flowing. This will prevent you from making lots of fillers like er’s, ah’s, hmm’s. They take up data and complicate transcription.
Think before you speak. Whenever possible, pause for effect. Pausing prevents you from making bloated and disorganized writing and saves you a lot of time during the editing portion.
Depending on your preference, dictate in a peaceful place: lakeside, quiet backyard, or in your room, as long as you are undisturbed.
Train yourself to include punctuation in dictation. This feels weird at first, but once you get into it, it just comes naturally. The process of dictating punctuations will help articulate your meaning well. It also gives structure to your writing. Finally, it ensures that there will be no corrections to the final edit of your work. This applies well both to manual transcription or software.
Use dictation as often as you can. You will soon find yourself preferring it than typing. After all, talking is much more natural than typing. Remember talking is faster than typing!
Choose Your Method of Transposing Recorded Dictation to Text
If you are not that tech-savvy, bring your recording to a trained transcriptionist. There are hundreds if not thousands of people available for hire through the web, and most of them are good and charge reasonably. But there is that risk of security and compatibility issues. It would be better to have referrals or have someone in the office do the work as extra.
A quick option is sending your audio file online to transcription service companies like Speechpad.com, Rev, Otter, TranscribeMe, and many others. It’s safe, reliable, and reasonably priced. Of course, they offer varying degrees of accuracy and turnover speed that correspond to their prices. Transcription prices range from $1-$3 per minute of audio. Some companies give volume discounts. But for book transcription, you could already buy voice recognition software for the cost you will have to pay. So, in the long run, this could be an expensive option.
Using a combination of digital voice recorder and transcription software, you can record your dictation now and then transfer the file to a computer for editing at a later time. This gives you more time to get every idea out first and recorded right away without any distraction. Next, just upload the file into a transcription program like Dragon Naturally Speaking for Mac and proceed to edit.
There is also available text software that allows you to dictate through a microphone plugged directly into a computer. You can then edit your work in real-time. A downside to this method is you get into the mindset of wanting to continuously edit the text, get distracted, and lose your concentration.
If you do not get distracted easily, this method can be more attractive. You can buy a cheap ($15) microphone and plug it into your computer and start talking. The next step is to edit your dictation, but this is not so difficult. Most software comes with editing consoles to let you edit your work easily.
Editing Your Work
You can approach editing in stages or levels. Start at big-picture editing down to word-level details.
Make sure your writing has a natural flow. Check that your plot lines are well-placed. See that your scenes or sections are evenly weighted.
Paragraphs and sentences should be short and presented in a logical order. Avoid wordy sentences. With dictation, you develop the tendency to produce sentences with 40 words or more. For better comprehension, sentences with 20 words are better.
Use editing tools
Editing tools can be good problem-solvers. If you have gotten off track with your book structure, Scrivener can help you analyze and reorganize your work. Scrivener Binder can help you rearrange sections of your book.
I also found out that Microsoft Word has a similar feature with its Navigation Pane. You only need to make some tweaks first before you can use it. (Check out How to Make Word Behave like Scrivener).
There are other available editing tools at your disposal. There are some words (just, even, really) that give emphasis when used in spoken language. But when these are present in written sentences, they tend to change the meaning.
Use a macro (NeedlessWords in Microsoft Word) to spot these and remove them.
Macros are tiny programs that can handle repetitive tasks that could waste time when done manually. Microsoft Word and other word processing programs can run macros.
Sentences become longer when you dictate your writing. That is okay when you speak because there is intonation to help listeners handle the words into coherent groups. There is no intonation in writing, so you need to shorten sentences and put punctuation marks. The Hemingway Editor can help you with this.
Complicated words can add value to your work, but they can also be a hindrance to having your thoughts understood. Use simple words and improve readability. The PlainLanguage macro, Find and Replace macro, and the Hemingway Editor can assist you here.
There is an editing tool called Grammarly that’s been recently making waves. It can help you with three of the four previous concerns. However, when it comes to editing a full manuscript, it has certain limitations. (Read Book Editing & Proofreading: Can You Trust Grammarly?)
Getting proficient in dictation to write a novel takes time and patience, and certainly a lot of practice. We have cited many steps to take to achieve that goal. You can decide on your methods and pace yourself according to what feels natural. Happy writing!