November 9, 2019

Dictating a Novel – Why?

This Nanowrimo, I’m going to use a lot of dictation to work on my novel. This isn’t something I started just for Nano. I’ve been training myself to do more writing through dictation for about a year now.

It’s not been easy for me, I’ll be honest. I’m not the kind of person who thinks out loud like an extrovert. On the contrary, as an introvert, I feel both shy and stupid speaking out loud until I have had a long time to gather my thoughts inside the quiet space in my own mind.

Furthermore, I am more of a visual writer then on aural writer. Honestly, I can’t even pronounce half the words in my vocabulary, because I’ve only seen them in writing, and I have no idea how they sound in spoken English. So when I speak out loud, people regularly mock me for sounding like a complete ignoramus.

I also don’t have the money for expensive dictation programs like Dragon, even though I’ve heard really awesome things about them. Now, maybe if I had the cash to toss around like confetti, ahem, I mean invest in my writing, instead of having to waste it on annoying things like boys’ socks, I would try it. But it’s not something I own or plan to own right now.

All of this would seem to indicate that I’m not a good fit for dictation, or dictation is not a good fit for me. But the advantages of dictation have still inveigled me to try.

Here’s how:


I don’t use anything fancy. I just use Notes on my iPhone. Now if you don’t have an iPhone, I can see that Dragon might be a good investment. But if you already own an iPhone for other reasons in your life this is a simple and powerful dictation program that you already home. My point is this: look around for the resources you already have at hand, and make the best use you can of them.

For instance, even if you have an old fashioned tape recorder, You could use that to get started.


I walk around my neighborhood, which also gets me out of the house and exercising, talking to my phone. I don’t care if I look like an idiot. Although these days people walking around talking to their phone is pretty normal, so I’m not even sure other people think I look like an idiot. I feel like one anyway, but I ignore that feeling because it doesn’t matter.

The program I use has a little microphone icon down in the keyboard. I tap that and begin to speak. With this particular program it’s really important that you look at the words as you speak. Because sometimes it stops taking down your notation without any warning. Also, sometimes it does not get the words exactly as you see them. So it’s a good idea, I’ve found, To keep an eye on the workflow and make corrections if anything looks too crazy or hard to understand later.


Since I write fantasy and science fiction, I often have many vocabulary words that are completely invented or highly unusual. My name is also tend to be quite exotic. To avoid the crazy way that the dictation program will Try to render such words, I replace uncommon names with common names. Instead of “Dindi”, I just say “Cindy.”

And I will sometimes pause to type in a specific technical or invented term. If I use that term over and over, and I don’t want to keep typing in the middle of my dictation session, I make up another term that is a common word, and use that instead. Instead of “Tavaedi” I will say “Big Baby.” Later it is easy to use find and replace to change the names and special terms back to what they should be.


The other problem I sometimes in counter encounter is that my scene is so complicated, I find it hard to dictate while walking around without any notes. It took me forever to figure out a way around this problem. For a long time I resigned myself to writing these more complicated scenes at my computer with my notes beside me, the way I was used to writing.

When I found a solution it was so obvious I wondered why it had taken me so long to figure out. Instead of walking around, I would gather the notes I needed for that scene or section of the story which I keep in a three ring binder or a notebook, And take all of it with me to a park. At a picnic table, I would consult my notes before writing the scene, then walk around the park dictating as usual. If I needed to go back and look at my notes, I had them right there with me. Sometimes I needed even more of a prompt, so I also always carry 3 x 5 cards with my notebook so I can write down further more further details to literally hold in my hand as I dictate.

Using this method, I’ve been able to dictate more and more difficult and complicated scenes, involving many characters or actions and battle sequences. These are scenes which I find it difficult to write even sitting at my computer, and now I am getting better at writing them even while walking around a park.

I am switching to this method for several reasons. The primary  Reason is time. Even though in Theory I have all day to sit and write, in practice because I am the mother of four active children, my day and work week often get eaten away by other urgent matters. So if I have 10 solid hours to work I feel lucky.

The second reason is that I would like to have a healthier lifestyle, and taking a long hour long walk every day is a great way to get out of the house and off my butt.

The third reason is that I think it’s a good idea to have more than one way to practice my profession in case some kind of a problem arises, for instants carpal tunnel syndrome. I don’t suffer from this and hopefully it won’t happen to. Hey, but if it does I now have a backup method to continue writing, one I will already have been practicing for a long time.

There are several good books on how to train yourself to do dictation and explaining all the valuable reasons for trying. I’ve benefited greatly from these so I highly recommend them to you as well.

And of course for obvious reasons, November is a great month to get started – – although I don’t expect to completely switch to this method right away, so if you still do most of your writing in the manner you are used to, and only try this a bitch don’t be discouraged or come to the conclusion that you will never be able to use this method.

As I said, I’ve been slowly experimenting with using dictation more and more over the course of an entire year and I still go back and forth with other methods. Remember the purpose of this is not to give yourself another task that you can beat yourself up over failing, but to have another tool and skill set at your fingertips, and at your tongue tip, to be useful to you.

Tara Maya

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