Dictation: Speaking It Into Existence

I took a new path writing my latest novel, “Until We Sleep.” I had learned of an upcoming book fair and decided to claim a table. I wanted something new to offer, but I was between projects and had nothing ready. I had under two months to get through the entire production process—brainstorming, outlining, first draft, revisions, polishing, formatting, cover design, and listing. There was no way to make the deadline by tapping away at the keyboard.

I decided to try dictation. The idea had intrigued me for a long time. I had the software and headset mic. After several attempts at using it on past projects, I gave up. It felt too awkward, and I was unwilling to take the time to get used to it. Now, under the gun, I had to give it another try.

It was still awkward initially, but I stuck with it and soon found a rhythm. Dialogue scenes were a lot of fun this way. It became like a performance. Emotions rose to the surface, allowing me to dig deep into my characters’ motivations and fears. Words came fast, sometimes too fast, as I had to return to some passages during revisions because I had hurried along, bypassing details I needed to unpack.

Speed is the definite selling point of this approach. I finished a 61,000-word first draft in fifteen working days, averaging 4,000 words daily. When I say “daily,” I’m talking about two hours of writing time, give or take. I dictated in half-hour sessions divided by fifteen-minute breaks to hydrate (drink lots of water if you do this!) and walk around. Two hours was a good day of work—lots of words and my voice was just on the edge of exhaustion. There were days I went for three hours, but I reached a point of diminishing returns by then and risked poor quality work and a sore throat.

There were challenges to this method. You have to speak punctuation commands, which is a mouthful. It takes some getting used to, but by the end of the book, I barely noticed I was doing it. We don’t notice how we type individual keys, either. In time, our minds and hands become accustomed to the process. You don’t have to speak punctuation. You could add it in during revisions, but I really don’t enjoy the revising process and don’t care to prolong it.

Homophones—words differing in spelling but pronounced the same—are tricky and easy to miss while revising. “See/sea.” “To/two/too” “There/their.” And so on. You’ll have to watch for those, since editing programs won’t always catch them.

Will I continue to dictate my books? I’m undecided. I enjoy the peaceful, contemplative calm of tapping out passages and dialogue. Dictation has a more urgent, speedy vibe that doesn’t suit my personality. In time, I would get used to it, I’m sure. There’s room to improve my endurance and daily average. I’ve read of writers dictating 10,000 words daily. That’s a first draft in a week or so. It’s hard to resist that level of productivity.

Either way, I reached the finish line by trying something new. It’s nice to know I have the option if another time crunch rears its head.

James Christensen