Dictating drafts

Some writers, including me, draft by dictating to the screen. I type badly and often end up with a mess, so I need a way to produce a cleaner draft. The secret is typing only good sentences, or not typing bad sentences.

I speak a sentence aloud. If it’s what I want to say, I type it. If not, I speak a better version. If that’s what I want, I type it. And so on, until I’ve spoken and typed the whole piece. You can see that dictation is also a form of thinking on the fly.

This method sounds slow, but it’s faster than constantly correcting bad sentences. One side benefit: my prose sounds conversational because it resulted from a conversation with the screen.

At one time in my youth as a university administrator, I had a secretary who took dictation. I liked it at first, but gave it up because she kept snickering at my bad sentences.

A friend of mine lived two hours away from his office as a university dean. He dictated mystery novels into a tape recorder in his car four hours a day, two hours in and two hours out. His secretary would type up the tapes triple-spaced, and he would revise the draft into a finished typescript, which she also typed. He published a novel every two years.

Some writers use dictation software. You speak into a microphone, and your computer turns your speech into text on the screen. Half the fun is the howlers it comes up with: “Hour farther who heart in heaven, Howard be thigh name.” One drawback: it takes a lot of dictation time to teach the computer your voice and for you to learn its quirks.

Some writers just sit down at a terminal and blast it out, typing perfect copy at supersonic speed. Their colleagues look on with jealousy. How do they do that? Why don’t they struggle like everybody else?

Here’s their secret: they’re not composing as they type. They’re dictating from memory. They compose the whole piece earlier in their heads, revise it in their heads, and then dictate it to the screen. If you look closely, you’ll probably see their lips moving.

“What a great technique,” you say to yourself, “I’d love to compose that fast.” Not so fast, there’s a prerequisite: you have to have that good a memory. See what I mean about you can’t use techniques you’re not qualified for?

[Got any dictation techniques you’d like to share?]

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Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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