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Trying Dictation

Last week I mentioned that I wanted to try to dictation for my books, but I wasn’t sure if I could do it…well, for a lot of reasons. But I downloaded a couple samples of books about dictation by authors who use it a lot all the time, and I read the introductions.

I decided to give it a try. If it works, it’ll be a great tool. If not, then nothing lost, right? But dictating while walking really wasn’t going to work for me – at least not at the moment. Honestly, I enjoy just being out with the dogs and being *quiet* for awhile. It’s my downtime, and I didn’t want to give that up.

But I do have several short trips in the car every day as I drive to work, back home for lunch, back to work, and back home again. It’s basically wasted time. Why not use that for writing?

So as an experiment, last Friday after work in my car, I opened the Otter app on my cell and put my phone in the cup holder. As I drove home, I started talking. Rambling, really, like I was writing a blog post. From work to my house is about a 15 minute drive (give or take). I pretty much just rambled the whole time, and let the phone record. I got home, connected to wi-fi, let the audio file upload to the cloud and transcribe my ramblings. When I finally looked at the raw text file, I realized that it really wouldn’t be all that difficult to edit the transcription into a bonafide blog post.

I was kind of excited after that, because it took me around 11 minutes to write an entire blog post – around 1600 words. I was surprised at how little editing it needed, and how good the AI transcription services have become.

I decided it was worth a concentrated effort to learn the skill of dictation. Monday morning, I got in the car, I turned on my Otter app, and I dictated/wrote the daily email I send to my friend Carol while I was driving to work.

That worked pretty well. It needed some editing, obviously. But it was it was nice to have the the basic blueprint down, that I could just add a quote for the day to it and send it off on my break. Then on my way home for lunch, I turned the Otter app back on while I was driving home, and started dictating a short story.

I got about 800 words “written” on the way home. I continued dictating on the way back to work, and wrote about 800 more words. So by the time I got back to work after lunch, I had a little over 1600 raw words dictated and waiting to be transcribed and edited. That is more than I’ve written in the last few weeks, and it took me 21 minutes (10 minutes and 11 minutes, respectively).

Monday night I planned to use my normal writing time to edit the transcriptions for the day. I ended up needing to do some day-job work though, and then I needed to figure out a workflow for moving the transcriptions into the normal programs I use for writing/editing – namely yWriter (fiction) and Workflowy (non-fiction). So I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked for editing, but I still got one scene edited before bed, and that 800 raw words became 750 edited/usable words. Not bad, really, considering it only took me 20 minutes or so to edit it down (and that time should get shorter as I get better at dictating.

I also dictated this post on my way home from work Monday night, and spent a few minutes last night editing it. I wouldn’t have had time to sit and write the whole thing out at the keyboard this week, so this post might not even have been written had I not dictated it on my short commute.

I bought two books about dictation (linked at the end of this post) which have been very helpful so far – one more of an overview, and one more focused on the actual nuts and bolts of the skill. One prevailing theme they both seek to hammer home is that dictation is a skill and a tool, just like typing or writing longhand. It’s not something you just “jump into”. There’s a learning curve, and practice time required, and it’s going to take some effort before you reach that point where it’s second nature (like sitting down at a keyboard to type, or picking up a pen).

But considering I’m still not very good at dictation, and my transcriptions require quite a bit of editing, I’m already seeing huge gains in word count and progress, and that has me very excited about what this skill/tool could mean for me in the long run. If I’m doing this much better *now*, and I still basically suck at it, how much progress is possible later as I get better? Seriously. This could literally be life-changing for me.

I’ve ordered a phone mount for my car, so I don’t have the phone rattling around in the cup holder (will also be handy when using google maps to get somewhere). I have Otter set to *not* transcribe in real time, both to save data, and so it doesn’t write out the words on the screen as I’m speaking – that would be a distraction. This way, the screen is just white, with a little bar across the bottom that lets you know whether it’s picking up sound or not. And that’s really all I need, at least for now. Start the Otter app before I start driving (and turn the radio off) and…talk as I drive. Simple as that.

I’m looking forward to tallying the amount of words I’ve written at the end of this week (for the first time in a long while). Stay tuned (if you’re interested, anyways).

The two books:

15 Minute Dictation: More Books, Less Frustration by Sean M. Platt and Neeve Silver

On Being a Dictator: Using Dictation to Be a Better Writer (Million Dollar Writing Series) by Kevin J. Anderson & Martin L. Shoemaker


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Reading Aloud

As an introvert, most of my cohesive thoughts happen quietly, in my head. I don’t process auditory information well, and while I can impart thoughts and ideas verbally, it’s not my best or favorite way to communicate.

No, this isn’t a “millennial” issue – I’m solidly Gen X. This is just a “that’s how my brain works” thing, and along with that, I don’t listen to music while doing anything I need my brain for. I can do rote tasks and listen, but nothing mentally engaging. Needless to say, audio books don’t really work for me – I have to work harder to process what I’m hearing, so I can’t do anything else while listening to one, which sort of defeats the purpose (especially since I could just be reading the book).

I know several people who are exactly the opposite. They process everything more easily if they can hear it, rather than trying to read and comprehend. A couple of them are dyslexic, so of course it’s going to be much harder for them to make sense of words on a page than sound in their ears. It’s amazing (and kind of fascinating, really) how differently our brains work to process information. At work especially, I’ve found it’s good to have a balance of people who process things better in different ways, because we each catch things the other misses while processing info using our own strengths.

I remember doing the edits for my first book, and reading it aloud just to force myself to process it in an entirely different way (reading aloud is yet another set of processes, I find – both reading and hearing at the same time). I think it made the book stronger, but it also drove me a little nuts, both in trying to find time alone to read (I didn’t really want to read aloud to my husband), and also just the “noise” aspect of it.

And listening to my own audiobooks once they’ve been recorded (by someone else) is a very interesting thing as well. It requires a lot of focus to get through, but it is kind of surreal listening to someone entirely different read my stories aloud.

Given all this, you might be surprised that I’m still curious about dictation for writing. More specifically, I’m curious as to whether I could learn to be okay with speaking and storytelling aloud enough to eventually dictate part or all of my first drafts to a digital recorder/transcription service. This requires something I am already abysmally low on though, which is time to myself. I am generally either at work, at home with my husband, or out walking the dogs. And while I know there are authors who dictate while dog walking, I’m really not sure I can do that. Too self-conscious.

But if I could, that would be an excellent way to get a lot of words down in a short amount of time. Or even just a good way to get blog posts “written”. I’m generally out walking for half an hour or more, so plenty of time, as long as Athena doesn’t mind me yammering on while we walk.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do fiction this way, but I may well try dictating a few blog posts. And I have a couple of book samples for training yourself to speak aloud that I plan on reading and buying if they seem worth it. Nothing to lose, and everything to gain (or at least another tool for the writing box), right?

Do you dictate and/or read aloud? Are you comfortable composing stories or other things vocally? Or are you generally the quiet, write-it-down type, like me? Inquiring minds…


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