Dictation: Speed Up Your Writing Process

For many authors, the greatest obstacle is often not a lack of ideas, but too little time.

One potential solution may be easier than you think: increase your writing speed by speaking your first draft rather than typing.

Why Dictate Your Stories

If speed is a challenge for you, and you find yourself intimidated by the idea of blocking out enough hours in your day-to-day life to produce a novel before a deadline, you may want to give dictation a try.

When people think of writing, there seems to be an either-or option: hand-write or type. Many are unaware that there is a time-honored and effective third choice. Though it might not be as well known, many writers from a range of genres dictate their first drafts by speaking them aloud.

While some use dictation strictly for increased speed of output, many writers also enjoy live storytelling and the increased energy it brings to their narratives. Others simply appreciate the hands-free convenience and multi-tasking ability of “writing” when they are driving to work, for example.

If this sounds difficult at first, remember that people tell each other stories all the time. You probably have more experience than you think, and you can get better with practice.

Whether you are working on a book, article, or homework assignment, all you have to do to turn your think-aloud into a writing session is find some way to record yourself and later turn it into written text.

Record Now, Type Later

We don’t all have scribes standing by to take down everything we say, so most of us need to record our own voices on convenient devices. Luckily, you don’t need a studio, microphone, or any special software to capture audio clips. Smart phones and computers usually have built-in recording programs or at least have the option for users to easily access and install a free program onto the device. Search “free voice recorder” in your application store.

  • Type it yourself. If you type your recorded draft yourself, you will have the opportunity to hear your own story. Since you have a good idea of your original intent, it will also give you the opportunity to make changes as you type. However, you would have to spend the time and energy to type yourself.
  • Send the file to someone else to type for you. While there may be friends who would offer to type up your project, if it is a book-length manuscript, you have to consider how long that task would take your friend and if it fits in your timeline. There are a number of typing services available for authors which charge either by the word or by recorded minute, as well as postable gigs on sites like Fiverr.
  • Speech-to-text. If you want to speak through an entire draft that no one has to type, you should look into speech-to-text.

Speech-to-Text Software

Speech-to-text programs perform precisely the service their name suggests: they interpret audio into recognizable, typed words. This can save a massive amount of time if the dictation is accurate. Unfortunately, the software can misinterpret on occasion, and it can be difficult to edit long sections of dictation if you don’t remember what was said.

The extent to which the program inputs punctuation—either when dictated or through automatic interpretation—varies, but is rarely perfect.

This practice is newer, but growing in popularity as the technology continues to advance. The speech-to-text software on the Google suite, Android products, and Apple products is becoming more reliable for texts and quick emails. For longer projects, some authors use software like Dragon.

Regardless of what you write, give dictation a try and see if it’s a fit. For more information, check out On Being a Dictator: Using Dictation to Be a Better Writer by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker.