Open laptop computer on a desk, outside, showing Google homepage.

Long, Awkward Conversations with my Computer, or Writing with Dictation

This past November, for the first time, I decided to accept the challenge of writing 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which, contrary to its name, is an international event). This is a tall order, especially for those of us with day jobs, families, and humanly fallible wrists. As a result, many people turn to dictation software to speed the process and slow the wear and tear on their carpal tunnels.

Why did I try dictation?

At the end of week one I had written about 16,000 words, and my wrists were screaming in agony. I can be a bit over-focused when I have a goal. Some have used the phrase pig-headed, and they are not wrong. If I have a precise and clear goal before me, and it is even remotely possible to meet it, I will. This sounds great on the surface, and has served me well at times. But it’s not that simple and definitely not all good. I can hurt myself in the process.

Enter my screaming wrists at the end of week one. I knew I would push through and keep writing, and definitely not go see a medical professional who might tell me to rest my wrists (at least not until after I had written my 50K). But I had recently spoken with a distraught student who had just been told the damage to her wrists was irreparable because she waited too long to have them looked at. That sounded like a death sentence to me, and I didn’t want a death sentence for myself.

Friends to the Rescue

I have writing friends who use dictation software for various reasons. For some, it helps them write faster, and for others, it is a case of physical necessity after a lifetime of beating the crap out of their wrists to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads.

Electronic microphone on white background with a line of colorful sound waves behind it.

I am cheap, but they informed me that was no excuse not to try it because you can use dictation software for free. For free? Free is my kind of price point! Turns out, Google Docs and the online version of Word both have built-in dictation functions. You can even use it on your phone.

What did I try?

Well, the online version of Word is by subscription, so I don’t have that. I loath subscriptions from the deepest coding of my thrifty New Englander DNA. I have the desktop version of Word because I paid for it once and knew exactly what the total cost would be. No free dictation on the desktop version.

Google Docs was totally free. Yup, that’s what I used, and it shocked me how well it works. Did I feel silly speaking my punctuation out loud at first? Yes. But I got over that quickly. Did it make typos that occasionally made me laugh so hard I hurt myself? Yes. But levity is a good thing. And it only took me about ten minutes to figure out how to use it, and it probably would have taken half that time if I had actually looked up the directions.

Pros

It is much harder to constantly backtrack and second guess yourself when dictating, because you have to stop, pick up your mouse, and so forth, so you tend to draft more quickly. For those of us who are slow writers, “quickly” has significant appeal. And it saves your wrists. This is a huge deal for those of us who type on computers for a living. Indeed, for many, this means dictation for drafting is simply a medical necessity. And it’s free! How many medical necessities, let alone productivity enhancers, are free?

Cons

It does make some funny errors that you will have to go back and fix when you finish drafting. Those can add up. And it can be tricky when you have words or names that are not in the language the rest of your manuscript is in. I assumed it would spell my character Jaap as “Yap” each time, since that is how it is pronounced, and then I would just search and “replace all” when I was done. Turns out Google Docs is more creative than I gave it credit for, and it came up with a multitude of spellings that I cannot simply search and replace.

The verdict

Those pros and cons balanced out pretty well for me. But I write romance, and my novels have some fairly high heat. This is where my biggest problem came. It wasn’t the software – it was my brain. I found it difficult to get caught up in writing about a sexy hero when I heard my own voice out loud instead of his voice in my head. My own voice proved to be a serious buzz-kill.

I bought wrist braces.

That said, I found it comforting to know that I can write via dictation – I did it for an entire week and 20,000 words before I came to a sex scene and started cringing. If I need to, I can dictate with ear plugs. And if I need to, I will. At least the ear-plugs are cheap and come in bulk.

My NaNo results

In large part due to my experiment with dictation, I managed not only to meet the NaNo challenge of 50,000 words in November, but to write the entire 78,000 word first draft of the first book in my sexy Seven Years War series. Woohoo!

Interested in trying Dictation?

I suggest you try Google Docs (unless you already subscribe to the online version of Word), since it is well and truly free, then you can see if it works for you and if you want to invest in something fancier. I just dictated in Google Docs and then copied and pasted each scene into Scrivener as I finished it. Here’s a tutorial on how to use Google’s “voice typing” tool (because of course Google couldn’t call it what we would naturally look for) in case you would like to give it a try.

Good luck with your experiments, and please let us all know how it goes!

Image Credit: Tumisu, via Pixabay

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