I began looking into dictation for several reasons. Like many people, I have experienced back problems which make it hard to sit at a computer and write all day. I’ve also had trouble keeping weight off since becoming a full-time writer. There, said it!
You might relate to these reasons or have some of your own. I feel nearly every fiction or non-fiction writer could benefit from dictation. You can still type when you want to, but dictation opens a whole new dimension.
I have written a guide on how to become a skilled dictationist in as few as 24 days, but first…
13 Reasons It’s Worth the Effort to Learn to Dictate
Dictation is a skill you have to practice and acquire, just like when you learned to type or handwrite, but putting in a little time has tons of advantages:
Typing, I usually manage about 900 words per hour. My dictation average, even with tons of pauses and slow speaking, is about 2,000-2,500 words an hour and many dictationists are faster than I am. If I do this for three hours, I average 7,500 words. Sure, that’s pure draft copy, but it’s out there! For NaNoWriMo, you need about 1667 words a day for 30 days or closer to 2000 for 26 days to reach the 50,000-word goal.
Dictation should probably be seen as any NaNoWriMo-er’s new best friend.
If you don’t believe that you talk faster than you type, take an online typing quiz (or just type in Word and check the lower left for word count) then read the same thing out loud into an online dictation program like TalkTyper while you run a timer. However, remember that creating text on the fly is always more difficult than just reading something.
The ability to reduce butt-in-chair time is pretty much priceless. With desktop dictation software, you can set up desktop or remote mics such that you can roam all over the room or your entire house while babbling your masterpiece.
With digital dictation recorders or dictation apps for your mobile phone, you can walk in the park or take a hike in the mountains while babbling your masterpiece. Awesome!!
“…and the great advantage of being a literary woman, was that you could go everywhere and do everything.”
― Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
Learn more about this by checking out Writing Walkabouts: How I wrote 6,000 Words in 6 Miles.
I don’t readily believe in the efficiency of multitasking—but I have exceptions. Being able to complete a mental task like speaking a chapter in my novel while say, doing my planks, stretching, folding laundry, or other mindless tasks makes sense to me.
You can also use dictation to stay on task. You can’t exactly check Twitter or BuzzFeed as easily while dictating.also, I’ve found that it requires more of my mind, thus creating more focus.
Are you able to say words you could never spell? Dictation can smooth that over because the software is doing the spelling for you.
6. Prevention of Repetitive Motion Injuries and Eye Strain
Contorting our hands, shoulders, neck, and spine in order to type can take its toll. Many writers are professionals working on computers by day. Add morning or night writes to the mix and you’re increasing your likelihood of repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel, not to mention things like eye strain. Since writing is a long game, it really makes sense to be preventative.
“The changes in our life must come from the impossibility to live otherwise than according to the demands of our conscience not from our mental resolution to try a new form of life.”
– Leo Tolstoy (I know the grammar reads oddly, but there it is!)
7. External Inspiration
Dictation allows me to be ‘on my way somewhere’ while experiencing new muses and creative stimuli. Even if I’m just at home, I can refer to visual prompts more easily, such as a book about period fashions, for example.
8. Strengthened Storytelling Voice
As in, the tone with which you tell the story. Many authors write with a different voice than they speak, and that may be the right choice at times, but more often the voice you speak in turns out to be a great voice to write in. Dictation brings out that conversational, authentic side of you.
9. Continuity and Flow
Because you are moving more quickly through the scene, the emotion, or the plot point, pacing can be improved. Naturally, this is different for every writer, but my experience has been that dictation improves my storytelling continuity.
10. Reduced Internal Editor
Yes, you can edit in dictation programs, but many people draft more than they edit when it comes to dictation and that’s a good thing! It lets you create while holding your internal editor at bay. It’s harder to stop and doubt yourself.
11. Increased Mental and Lingual Strength
For me, dictating feels like you are creating from a different part of the brain. While initially frustrating, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I figure I’m also keeping my mind active by asking it to work in different ways.
12. A Leg Up On the Future
Dictation is a practical skill of the future, as evidenced by improved voice assistants on our phones, for example. Time invested in dictation should be valued as keenly relevant, just like learning to type better has been keenly relevant to most of us.
“Mastery of language affords one remarkable opportunities.”
― Alexandre Dumas
13. And Finally, What Cosmic Company You’ll Keep
Dictation was the chosen form of many classic novelists. You have to ask, why have writers since abandoned it? Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, John Milton, Alexander Dumas, Michel de Montaigne, Henry James, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Stendhal (pen name for Marie-Henri Beyle), Marcel Proust, and James Joyce.
So Why Don’t More Writers Dictate? The Learning Curve
Despite all those advantages, not many writers dictate their novels, which is funny really because we do more writing than many professionals who have embraced dictation (in business, medical, and legal professions).
It’s largely due to the learning curve. Even though storytelling has been verbal for eons of time, that’s not how we’re taught these days. We are programmed to feel efficient by sitting in a chair, moving our fingers across a keyboard configuration purposely designed to slow down our typing so that typewriter keys wouldn’t jam into one another. Isn’t that kooky?
Speaking your story rather than typing or handwriting it feels less efficient at first, but even as you fumble it’s as fast if not faster than typing or handwriting.
My Book: The Productive Author’s Guide to Dictation
Learning to dictate absolutely had a learning curve for me and dictation has a notoriously high dropout rate, but I was motivated by all those advantages.
Dictation has been enough of a game-changer for me that I’m sharing a guide on how to do it, including a 26-day system of drills and practice dictations, as the first book in a series of productivity resources for authors.
Buy It on Amazon Now: The Productive Author’s Guide to Dictation
In just two hours of practice each day, most writers can become more adept at dictation while also achieving their NaNoWriMo goals. How’s that for motivating?!
If you’ve never made it to the NaNoWriMo finish line, maybe dictation is the rocket booster that will get you there!