mental editing for dictation

How To Mentally Edit While Voice Writing

Dictablogging or dictaphone writing can help a lot of writers explode their productivity.

Personally, I went from struggling with 3,000 words per day to nailing 20,000 words every single day.

In fact, my personal record is 80,000 words!

I’m sure, with the right practice and focus, a lot of people reading this can beat my record.

It really boils down to mastering the process of reading an outline and improvising on the different points based on what comes to mind. You then dictate your best expression of those ideas.

It seems awesome, but there’s one big problem (I kept running into this issue until I learned how to mentally edit while voice writing): when reading your outlines, dozens—if not hundreds—of ideas jump out at you! Each outline item attracts many different bits and pieces of information in your mind.

This can be very confusing and can seriously slow down your dictation writing.

You’d think of a few of these ideas, and you try to lose the rest. As you try to do that, you lose your place in your dictation.

If you have a very vague and badly written outline, you get thrown off track as you try to pick the best idea to dictate.

To fix this problem, I’ve learned how to mentally edit while voice writing.

As I go through my outline, many ideas come to mind but I quickly edit a lot of them out as I zero in on the best way to express the outline item I’m improvising on.

Here are some key techniques that I’ve learned over several years of dictation blogging.

Begin by focusing on your purpose

Before you start thinking about mentally editing effectively as you dictate your blog posts or articles, focus first on why you’re dictablogging.

This should be straightforward. You’re speaking out your content, instead of typing them by hand, because you want to get ideas off your chest. As they form in your mind, you want to get them out there as quickly as possible.

This enables you to move rapidly down your checklist of ideas. You’re able to write quickly because you don’t backtrack. The moment you say something based on an outline point, you move on to the next point, and the point after that. Your focus is to get stuff out, and then edit the transcript later.

Keep this purpose in mind when you’re mentally editing. Otherwise, you may fall victim the 3 common dangers you face when dictablogging.

Analysis paralysis

My first few years of dictaphone writing, I would come across an outline item and get stuck in neutral. I would just toss around the ideas and concepts about that outline item, hoping to come up with the very best version of it.

But, I was so afraid of saying something that’s not well-developed that I kept picking at these ideas flashing through my mind.

The only thing I was achieving by doing that is confusing myself!

Analysis paralysis burns up a lot of your mental firepower, only to produce very little. It’s driven by fear. You’re afraid that your improvised narration of the idea you are thinking of is defective. So, you’re constantly thinking of better ways to say it, but the more energy you put into it, the more you struggle.

The solution is to pick the most definite form of the idea and just get it off your chest. You can always edit the transcription later.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re in the middle of dictation and everything is going smoothly. You’re knocking out each outline item and just saying the first thing that comes to mind. But pretty soon, the moment you express an idea, a similar sentence comes to your mind—but, this seems better, more tightly defined, and seems packed with meaning.

I call these shiny objects. If you allow yourself to mentally chase after these during your mental editing process, you end up going in circles because there’s always a better way to express the thought that you’re getting out.

And, if you’re not careful about the shiny object syndrome, your total output will drop dramatically. You’re spending all this time pausing your speech as you try to wrap your head around this “better” sentence or expression.

Crippling Perfectionism

Both the analysis paralysis and shiny object syndrome problems are manifestations of perfectionism. Let me clue you in on one very important fact: there is no such thing as perfect.

You might feel really good about your work because you put in a lot of time phrasing things carefully as well as laying everything out as best you could.

At the back of your mind, you know that there’s always a better way to say things. Don’t listen to that voice.

Focus on your primary purpose which is to get ideas off your chest. As long as they’re clear, they make sense, and they fit the context of what you’ve said and what you’re going to say, move on.

This might seem like you’re settling for mediocrity, but you’re not.

What you’re doing is you’re preventing yourself from focusing so much on getting things perfect that you defeat the purpose of dictation blogging.

Your overall strategy, then, becomes: fire, aim, and worry about everything else later. This is in sharp contrast to how people are supposed to do things which is to get ready, aim, and fire. You need to put the act of firing first because a lot of what holds you back is lack of confidence and emotional turbulence.

If you’re like me when I first started dictation blogging, you’ll be so afraid of picking the wrong train of thought and selecting less than elegant and precise ways to express that idea. But there is no such thing as perfect.

It’s much better to just do it, and then learn from what just happened and try to improve on the next sentence that you’re going to say. If you keep this in mind and you put in the work, each new sentence that you dictate will be better than what you said earlier in your dictation.

After you’ve dictated several hours of improvised content, this will become second nature to you. When you compare the transcript of your latest dictation with your earliest work, it would be like day and night. I know that is the case with me!

Now, with all that out of the way, here are the 14 steps that I follow to mentally edit while voice writing.

Steps #1 to 5 all involve mentally preparing for dictablogging or dictaphone writing.

Steps #6 to 14 focus on the actual mental editing.

You need to lay the proper groundwork so you must make sure that you nail down steps 1 to 5.

Without the proper frame of mind, it’s too easy to just drop the ball when it comes to fast-paced mental editing.

Remember, when you think, it seems that all these ideas are coming at you from many different directions at a rate of 1,000 miles per hour. It can get confusing!

To avoid getting thrown off track, lay the proper foundation by taking steps 1 to 5 seriously.

Step #1: Read your outline at least twice

Every time you read your outline, you become more comfortable about what you’re going to talk about. The ideas in your outline start to fit together. This leads to a big picture view of what you’re about to say.

The big payoff here is not some sort of intellectual revelation. Instead, what you’re aiming at is emotional confidence.

The more you read your outline, the more confident you feel that what you will verbally improvise will make sense and will be clear enough for most people to understand.

That’s all you need! You don’t need to sound like the second coming of Einstein.

You don’t have to be perfect. There’s no need to put that kind of emotional pressure on yourself.

Step #2: Understand the context of each outline point

When you’re reading through the outline, you start looking at each outline point as a piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle.

If you’ve ever played with jigsaw puzzles before, you know that the best way to put together that puzzle is to understand how the pieces fit.

By understanding each outline point’s context, you start to appreciate and understand the natural flow of the ideas that you’ve laid down in your outline.

You become more comfortable with what comes before, what takes place during, and what follows after each dictation point.

Step #3: Change the order of the outline until everything makes sense

As you go through your prepared dictation outline, there will be some items that throw you off-track.

Maybe they slow down your pace? Or they push you too hard and it seems like you’re just jumping from that point to the next point?

That’s your cue to change the order of those items until everything seems to flow.

Remember, the outline exists to serve you.

It is not set in stone.

Feel free to make whatever changes that you think will help improve your dictation.

Step #4: Change outline items until everything seems “natural” to yourself

In addition to the order of the points on your outline, feel free to edit the content of your outline.

Maybe an outline point is too vague or overly broad?

Maybe it’s just phrased awkwardly and you feel that it trips you up.

Again, your goal should be to feel extremely comfortable and natural when you read through the outline.

Don’t be scared that you might knock something loose or mess something up in the outline. Just read it again to make sure that everything flows and it seems that everything is in the right place. If something is off or awkward, change those items—move them around—until everything seems natural to you.

Step #5: Go through a physical ritual

Personally, I take several deep breaths before I dictate from my outline; I take several deep breaths from the diaphragm.

I put my palms right underneath my belly and I “breathe into” my palms.

This ensures a very deep breath that pushes your diaphragm downwards. Personally, this unleashes a deep sense of serenity that enables me to focus.

I follow this up with consciously blanking out.

I just stop thinking about anything; it’s as if anything goes dark in my mind.

I don’t think about stuff that happened in the past. I don’t worry about stuff that is about to happen.

I just focus on the mental blank space in front of me.

Once I’ve achieved that, I then focus on the silence.

This doesn’t have to be long (a minute or two is fine). What’s important is you are aware of the silence and you’re fully comfortable in it.

It’s as if it’s a thick comforting blanket that somebody draped all over you from behind.

Allow the silence to overcome you. There’s nowhere to go. There’s nobody to be. There’s no one to impress. You just are.

Allow yourself to be in that present moment.

Keep in mind that part of this is physical but, for the most part, that physical element just serves to trigger what’s really important, which is your mental and emotional state.

Believe it or not, from time to time, I would dictate at a busy Starbucks near where I live.

People are talking, carrying on, getting all excited—but I’m able to focus mentally because I’ve entered that space. It all boils down to my ritual.

Feel free to modify the ritual that I’ve just described. Maybe you prefer a different space or a different sequence?

Whatever changes you need to make, do them so you can enter into the right mental space to make dictablogging work for you.

Step #6: Read your outline and start improvising

Now that you have your outline in front of you—either on a Microsoft Notepad text file or in a word processor document—look at the outline, start at the top, open your mouth, and start talking.

By this point, all these ideas start flashing through your mind.

You are reminded of the things you’ve read before that inspired your outline points.

Things start to become clear and, just by looking quickly at the first item, you have an idea that you can verbalize.

Step #7: Pick the sentence that seems most complete and consistent with the outline’s context

When you read your outline at least twice, you arrived at an overall context.

With that in mind, as you quickly read your outline and ideas flash through your head, pick the sentence that seems most complete and consistent with what you know about the outline’s context. It seems that there are several ideas, but the sentence that would make most sense actually stands out.

If you are an organized and disciplined thinker, you would be able to zero in on one way of verbalizing the ideas that are triggered by the outline point you’re reading.

Step #8: Say the sentence slowly if you’re unsure

Usually, when I start my dictations, I talk at a very slow pace.

I’m still trying to feel out the sentence and how it fits what I said before and how it’s going to plug in to what I’m about to say.

But, once I become convinced that it fits, I start talking more rapidly. I’m able to do this because I’m ready to focus on a more definite idea and dictate that.

This only happens because I’ve spoken slowly, at first, so I know how to plug in what I’m about to say logically to what went before.

The more you do this, the more confident you become. You’re not speaking gibberish.

Once you realize that, you become even more confident because it feels good to finally break away from how people normally write.

People normally write in circles because they’re trying to correct what they just said and they get stuck in analysis paralysis as well as in shiny object syndrome. And it’s a mess!

It feels good to just say the point and move on to the next point. In fact, this is one of the biggest benefits of dictating your content instead of typing it out by hand.

The more you do this, the more confident you become because things start to flow and you can feel the sense of momentum.

Step #9: Use pauses in your speech to weigh different thoughts and compare them

This happens all the time: when you look an outline item, at least 3 different ways of expressing that point flash through your mind.

The good news is, when you speak, there are always natural breaks.

This is how the manual transcriber will figure out your sentences.

Take full advantage of these pauses to think about the things that you’re about to say and the different expressions that you can choose from.

This is not just a simple matter of picking the right wording because each wording takes you to a different place.

They each have a different shape and, depending on which you choose, they flow differently.

The key here is to compare them. “How do they fit with what I’ve said before? How do they look when placed within the context of the big picture that my outline gives me?”

Focus on what you’ve said before as well as trying to fit these different options and versions to the next item on your outline.

At this point, the fact that you have read the outline at least twice helps you tremendously.

Step #10: Vary the speed of your speech

When you speak really quickly in certain parts of your outline, that pushes you to enter a state of momentum.

How? On that outline point, you feel that you know everything there is to quickly say, it all makes sense to you.

You know just the right words and you’re not grasping for clarity or you’re trying to “shape” your thoughts on that point. That’s why you’re able to speak quickly.

But, this is also a signal to yourself.

When you’re speaking quickly, you’re giving yourself permission to be confident. But on certain points, you need to slow down.

This is where you can zero in on alternate ways of phrasing your next selected thought.

Maybe you’re not as confident, and that’s okay because you’re slowing down a little bit and clearly identifying the options in front of you.

Once you pick something that seems complete enough, select it, forget about the rest, and move on.

Step #11: Focus on thoughts that are more definite, clearly detailed, and easier to describe

I said in the point above that you need to select an item that seems the best and move on. How do you know which is the best?

Well, it has to look more definite, there has to be a little more detail in that idea, plus it’s easier for you to verbalize.

This is how you know which of your thoughts to go with. And, the good news is if you pick the right thoughts, you become more confident.

How do you know you’ve picked the right ones? You start speaking faster.

Step #12: If you make a mistake, backtrack by saying “scratch that”

As I’ve mentioned several times in this blog, use a manual transcriber.

I don’t even bother with software solutions like Dragon Naturally Speaking because they aren’t sensitive enough.

Software doesn’t pick up the nuances of my cadence and the pace of my speech.

A human being, on the other hand, is able to zero in on this. My transcribers are able to figure out the right sentence construction.

In many cases, they’re able to edit certain portions out to make the transcript more powerful.

Since I’m using manual transcribers, I can then just say ‘scratch that’ if I feel that I went down the wrong path.

Maybe I picked the wrong idea?

Maybe I followed up a vague sentence with a more awkward phrase?

Whatever the case may be, by just saying ‘scratch that,’ I mentally reset and I also put the transcriber listening to the audio on notice.

They then delete the past sentence, and I can try again.

Step #13: Keep repeating the same point until you’re confident of what you’ve said

The most common way I edit myself is when I repeat the same sentence seemingly over and over again. But my manual transcribers know what’s really going on.

They understand that when I repeat the sentence, there are actually slight changes at the end.

Maybe I used different words, or I put those words in a different order!

They know enough to pick the last repetition of that sentence because they know that that is the final version of the thought that I’m expressing.

Feel free to use this process.

Don’t think that you’re screwing up. Don’t think that you’re dumb or that there’s something wrong with you.

This is a part of the natural process of you discovering how to best express your thoughts and edit them mentally.

It’s as if you are editing your thoughts as you describe, express, and verbalize them.

It may seem awkward at first but the more you repeat it, the more you start seeing patterns. Take note of these patterns and be aware of them later on. Pretty soon, you start working with your verbal patterns to produce better results.

I know that, sometimes, I say more confusing versions of sentences after I’ve spoken really quickly.

I know that pattern about myself, so I work around that to dictate more clearly.

Step #14: Remember how you’ve expressed similar points in the past

When you’re reading your outline, you should also remember points that they remind you of.

Because when you see those similar elements, you can then repeat how you have talked about them or approached them in the past.

This is a form of mental recall and a great way to exercise your verbalization skills.

You simply just try to fit the new ideas to how you’ve mentioned them or approached them before.

Pretty soon, you are able to instantly express certain ideas in your own way, out of habit.

The final word on mental editing during dictation

Mental editing can be very confusing. Oftentimes, it may seem like you’re not getting the benefits of dictation blogging.

Don’t let your fears get the better of you.

Understand that everything in life has a learning curve. Dictaphone writing is no exception.

What’s crucial is you pay close attention to the steps that I’ve described, come up with your own variations, and improvise until you have come up with a system that you are fully comfortable with. The more you repeat it, the easier it becomes. And before you know it, you enter a state of momentum. This is the point where it’s harder to stop than it is to start.