Transition Into Writing With Dictation – The Dreaded Learning Curve

There’s a lot of conflicting opinions surrounding dictation – some absolutely love it and others couldn’t hate it more if they tried.

You probably gathered that I fall in the former category, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post. But it wasn’t always sunshine and butterflies.

There’s a learning curve to dictation that stops most people from utilizing it to its full potential. Today I’m going to break down a survival guide of sorts, so that you can come out on the other side of that learning curve with a skill that could change the way you write forever.

Big claim, right? Well it’s true.

Previously I went over an introduction to dictation. In it, I briefly talked about my success with it. My words per hour (WPH) count went up drastically.

Why does this matter?

Because getting that first draft out there is a huge undertaking. Since I’m an outliner, I already know what I want to say – what’s slowing me down the most is my physical ability to get the words on the page as fast as I can.

Dictation solved that for me. Now if I could just find a way to increase my editing speed…

Here’s the setup that I use: AT2020 USB Microphone and Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software.

dictation 1

We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Before the written language ever existed, storytellers used their voice to tell of legends, stories on morality and how the world was created. It was a vital part of society and allowed people to better understand how to thrive in life through the mistakes and successes of others.

In modern times, verbal storytelling via audiobooks is on the rise. But this isn’t the type of storytelling we’re talking about. Reading an already written story is entirely different than verbally writing a story fresh from your imagination.

And this is the biggest issue most people have with dictation.

How long have you been writing at a computer? For me, it’s been about 20 years. That’s a long time, and many of you reading this right now have been typing even longer than I have.

Let’s go over the process behind writing via keyboard:

  1. Idea for what you want to say
  2. Figuring out how to spell it, including spaces, punctuation, and formatting
  3. Actually typing it

This process has become second nature for many of us, and steps 2 & 3 have integrated together. Better yet, step 1 It’s seamless and fast for me because, well, I’ve been doing it for 20 years. I certainly hope it would be seamless by this point!

Now let’s go over the process behind dictating:

  1. Idea for what you want to say
  2. Figuring out how you want to say it, including punctuation (notice there’s no need for spaces or formatting)
  3. Actually saying it

Notice anything? They’re practically the same. The argument that many people have is that now you have to include punctuation with dictation. But don’t you always include punctuation when you type? It’s not really fair to point out that flaw with dictation when you already have to do it when you use a keyboard.

dictation 2

“But it takes longer to speak that punctuation than it does to type it.”

That may be true in some cases, but in some it isn’t. Just like how everyone types at different speeds, everyone speaks at different speeds. It can take some people the same amount of time to speak punctuation as it does to type it.

Even if this is the case for you, dictation makes up for it in the speed at which it transcribes larger chunks of text. I’m currently writing this post with my keyboard because I’m not at home – if I were to use my microphone, this post wouldn’t be taking me nearly as long – even with the above lists included.

The issue that people have with dictation really boils down to the transition between what I call type-thinking and talk-thinking.

Type-thinking – the thought process behind writing via a keyboard

Talk-thinking – the thought process behind storytelling via a microphone

We’ve seen above that the process behind storytelling with a keyboard vs. a mic is practically one and the same. But learning that process is where the challenge of talk-thinking comes in.

dictation 3

Just keep swimming.

The best way to learn how to dictate is to keep trying. You have to rewire the way that you think about storytelling, so it’s important to be consistent and not give up too early.

You probably hate that answer, but practice is the only way to really get over it.

Think back to when you first learned to type. You probably struggled with it then as well, right? Well now you’re struggling with the exact same issue: learning how to put words onto paper.

And the frustrating part: there’s no shortcut. The only way to get better is to practice a lot. Some writers are worried their voice (writing-voice, not speaking-voice) will change once they start dictation. This isn’t the case at all. It may be harder to get into your writing groove in the beginning, but think about this next analogy.

Like sports? If you don’t, then just play along! Try to play any sport with your non-dominant and see how you fare. It’s the same mechanics as your dominant hand but now you’re using something untrained for that sort of task.

Dictation is the same way.

Any muscular or mental training takes time – do as Dory advises and just keep swimming!

dictation 4

Think about what you’re going to say before you start to speak.

 You’re going to have to start slow, which is going to frustrate a lot of you, but just keep in mind the struggle you had when first learning to type. It took me about a month (of near daily use) to get over this step with my dragon.

 When dictating, it’s best not to start and stop multiple times. “And then sh-Bu” Because 1) you’re going to have to go back and edit that out, or take the time to say “delete that” and 2) it’ll slow you down in the long run. Your goal is to have your ideas roll off your tongue as quickly as you have the thoughts.

So take your time and think before you speak!

Focus less on how weird it feels and more on your story.

You’re going to be excited about dictation. You’re going to want to see immediate results and write your novel in record time. While I’m not saying this won’t happen, just make sure you don’t focus too much on the mechanics of storytelling rather than the actual story you’re trying to tell.

This might feel like climbing a mountain in the beginning. Soldier on! This is the Everest of summits and trust me, you’re going to want these skills when you get on the other side! Once you get there, you’ll realize you’ve transitioned your energy from stumbling through dictation to immersing yourself back in your story.

You want this! Celebrate it when you get there! This means that dictation is becoming just as natural to you as typing is. So strive toward this from the get go and make sure that the story is number one!

dictation 5

Don’t pause after punctuation.

I find I have to give a brief pause before punctuation such as “New line,” because Dragon will think I actually want that in my story rather than making a new line for me.

But don’t feel like you have to pause after you speak the punctuation. This will save you a lot of time once you get the hang of it. Roll your punctuation together with your new sentence. “New line, open quote, He ran to the door, period, end quote.”

Consciously try to hasten this step while you’re dictating. It’ll take some practice but you’ll find a natural rhythm that will go a long way in the future!

Speak those words clearly and confidently.

If you have a good microphone (I love mine – it can understand Steven perfectly when he tries to interrupt my dictating) you won’t have to yell at all. But you should still attempt to speak clearly. I tend to slur or lisp some sentences together. I definitely never knew that about myself before creating my YouTube channel and using dictation. So there are times when my dragon doesn’t give the proper transcription but it’s my own fault.

Your voice is now your instrument, so if you feel it wavering, getting scratchy or rough, pause and drink some water. If you’re regularly dictating, make sure to drink warm tea before each session and try to avoid dairy immediately before. Take breaks while dictating and make sure you hydrate your vocal chords (I do this with every break I get using the Pomodoro technique).

dictation 6

Only watch the screen when you first start out.

This is a habit that you’ll end up breaking once you gain confidence with the abilities of your speech recognition software. Now that I’ve grown accustomed to using dictation, I pace around the room while I talk and only briefly check in to make sure it’s still working (not so much that all the words are correct).

In the beginning, though, it’s important to help improve the speech recognition software (called training your dragon with Dragon NaturallySpeaking). If your dragon makes any mistakes in the beginning, it’s important to stop and “correct that” so your dragon will better learn your voice. I only did this for the first couple of weeks and now I only rarely do it.

Be patient!

There will be times when you want to shove your computer off your desk or test your strength at crushing your microphone. Dragon will fail you sometimes. I remember reading somewhere (but can’t remember where) that your dragon is much like a pet. Sometimes you love it and it loves you back, and other times you walk in to find your dragon has courteously peed all over your area rug.

Or worse.

This will happen to you. It’s simply guaranteed.

My dragon still thinks “already” is “Artie,” which I’ve read on other forums is apparently a common thing.

Other times, your Dragon might pick up some background noise while you’re dictating and the resulting output looks like a sentence ran forward and backward through Google translate.

Just take a deep breath and “correct that.”


Dictation isn’t easy, but it’s improved a lot in recent years. If you tried dictation with Dragon (or any software) even two years ago and didn’t like it, think about giving it another shot. The advancements in the speech recognition capabilities means the software you tried years ago isn’t the same animal that it is today.

I honestly can’t wait to see how it improves in the future, because I’m already a fan of how it is right now!

I hope this post was very informative and answered any dictation-related questions that you had! If not, feel free to drop a line and I’ll be more than happy to answer those questions.

Be sure to check out these sneak peaks to my YA novel, The Elysian Prophecy, coming out Winter 2016.

Happy writing!

4 thoughts on “Transition Into Writing With Dictation – The Dreaded Learning Curve

  1. I started from reading this post and then before I knew it, finished all of your posts from the day you started this blog! I promise I’m not a stalker (rather I’m an aspiring writer!) And I LOVED how you gave advice on how to write a novel. I’ve been searching for some articles on how to really start writing a novel and by far these are the best advices I got from anyone. I LIVED your posts on how you advised teens to write to practice and read to research. You are the BEST. And forgive me when I’ll be providing links to your posts in my blog randomly! I just want people to know that there is a solution to their problem.
    Cheers!
    P.S. After reading your posts I decided to take part in Camp NaNoWriMo which I initially decided to do In November!
    This is a HUGE message but I’ll be talking to you soon!

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