My doctor told me that writing fiction is killing me slowly. Okay, so that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But she did warn me about the negative impacts of sitting in a chair on my health. After two years of writing fiction, we already see the signs.
In case you didn’t know this already, sitting is not good for you. Several studies suggest that sitting slows your metabolism and not just while you’re sitting, but even when you’re active (google it and you’ll find a bunch of informative articles). Wait, what? “Are you telling me that by sitting all the time, I also burn fewer calories when I exercise?” Yes, that’s what I’m saying. That means that all the pain and suffering you incur while running or working out will yield reduced results.
If you’re like me, you sit a lot. I have a full-time job, which keeps my butt firmly in my chair at my computer for about 40 hours a week, give or take. As a routine, I try to get up and walk around at least once per hour (my watch thumps me as a reminder), but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m sitting in one place for most of the day. To make matters worse, in my free time, I sit for about another 18 hours a week to write fiction. My doctor told me to stop sitting so much. But then how am I supposed to write fiction novels in my spare time?
This year, I made it one of my top goals to learn dictation. Instead of sitting at my computer and typing my stories, I would dictate them into a recorder and then transcribe the recordings into written text. Joanna Penn and other authors who have already made the leap inspired me, and I was determined to do so myself, even if the notions of speaking into the air and not having the words appear on the screen in front of me seemed foreign.
In addition to the health benefits (no more sitting and saving my arm from chronic tendonitis), I expected to achieve gains in my productivity as a writer for three reasons. First, I have a maximum of about 1-2 hours per weekday to work on my fiction because I work full-time, and at home, I’m tethered to my computer. But what if I could convert the one hour I spend walking my doggies each morning into writing time? I’m already used to multitasking on my dog walks, either by listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Why not dictate my novel during that hour instead?
Second, I’ve heard from other authors that diction produces a higher word count per hour than typing, reaching levels of 3,000-5,000 words per hour. I’m a fast typer, but definitely not that quick. Third, and I’m terrible at this, I won’t be able to edit while writing and will get my first draft down on paper before attempting to fix things. I can’t help myself. When I see the words appear in front of me, I want to go back and change them. And this interrupts my flow.
Two weeks ago, I decided to launch my adventures in Dragon dictation. Before investing in a system, however, I read a couple of helpful books: The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon by Scott Baker and Dictate Your Book: How To Write Your Book Faster, Better, and Smarter by Monica Leonelle. Before you invest in a dictation system, I highly recommend that you do a little research first and decide what approach will be best for you.
My Set Up
First, a couple of words on my set up. Based on what I read in Scott Baker’s book, I decided to purchase Dragon 13 premium ($140) for the PC even though I’m a Mac user. I had heard a lot of negative things about the Mac version of Dragon and decided that it was worth it to buy an inexpensive PC to get the system that would work best for me. Note: This is not the most recent version of the software, but I wasn’t ready to shell out the money for the next version.
- PC – To run properly, the Dragon software requires a lot of juice. I followed Scott Baker’s recommended specifications from his book. I did some research on Best Buy and Amazon and found that I could purchase a fairly inexpensive PC with the appropriate specifications. I focused on making sure that my computer had 8 GB of RAM and a microprocessor of at least 2.75 GHz. I ended up going with a Lenovo IdeaPad 320 at about $400.
- Microphone – Next, I decided on my microphone system. I wanted a system that would function while on the go. Scott Baker recommends a wired microphone for dictation. He argues that Bluetooth or wireless microphones just don’t produce the desired quality for good dictation. Again, I did extensive research on what headset I thought would work for me, and I ended up buying a Jabra headset costing about $100. If you use an iPhone, pay attention to the type of audio connector. Many headsets come with a USB.
- Recorder – Many authors use a separate voice recording device to record for dictation sessions, which cost between $60 and $120. However, since I want to do my dictation while on my dog walks, I decided that my iPhone would be the best device for recording. Based on Scott Baker’s recommendations, I decided to download the Voice Record Pro app onto my iPhone. It’s free and appears to have a lot of capabilities.
- Notes – To provide an outline or beats for me to follow as I dictated, I decided to use the iPhone notes app or send myself an email with the outline for the next chapter.
On my first day, I had to set up my new PC laptop. This process turned into a full day enterprise because I made some critical mistakes. After completing the basic setup on the PC, I decided to install the Dragon software. Scott Baker warns that installation can take quite a long time. He was right. Installation took about 50 minutes.
Unfortunately, at the same time, my PC (Windows 10, heavy sigh) was working on some Windows updates behind the scenes. I’m a Mac user, and typically the Mac warns of any automatic processes and gives an option to opt out. After the Windows updates downloaded, my computer restarted and the updates were applied. Sadly this process took over two hours.
By the time the Windows updates had finally loaded, my Dragon software no longer worked and indicated that it required a reinstallation. And then I realized that Windows 10 is truly @#$@#$% up and decided to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. I called a Nuance the producer of the Dragon software and asked them if Dragon 13 Premium is compatible with Windows 10 Pro. They said yes and recommended uninstalling Dragon before upgrading to the new operating system. #facepalm
I upgraded to Windows 10 Pro, which thankfully took approximately 20 minutes. Then I reinstalled Dragon which took another 50 minutes. By the time I finally got started, I’d reached the end of the day. However, I took a few minutes to train Dragon by dictating several scenes from my first novel. Scott Baker recommends that you avoid reading through the tutorials or your emails because this will mess with the accuracy of your profile.
In preparation for my first real dictation session, I began typing the first scene of my next story, and I sent the text to myself by email.
Pro Tip: Windows 10 sucks. If you buy a PC to run the Dragon software, I recommend that you upgrade to Windows 10 Pro before installing the Dragon software.
On my second day, I decided to try out my first “dictation dog walk” at 5 am. I began by reading the text I had already written (sent to myself by email), adding in all of the annoying punctuation. When I got to the end of what I had written, I carried on for a few sentences off the top of my head and then suddenly I froze up. I just couldn’t picture what I had already written and was stumped. My mind was blank. So, I stopped recording after only a few minutes. #fail
When I got home, I successfully transcribed the recording into the Dragon software. I should note that Voice Record App has many options for sending your file by email, by text message, or to Dropbox, etc. Please remember to convert the file from an MP4 to an MP3 first. I made the mistake of sending an MP4 to my computer by email and then trying to transcribe into Dragon, which does not transcribe from MP4 files. I went back to my original file and converted it to an MP3 and then was able to transcribe the recording.
Pro Tip: For successful dictation session, it’s helpful to have some beats or an outline to help guide your thoughts. #duh
On my third day, it rained off and on for most the day. So, I decided to try my second dictation session while walking around the house. Before the session, I had drafted some beats and a brief description of different elements. I might have written too much because I had to scroll up and down on my iPhone screen, which made me fumble here and there.
My punctuation fell apart to the on day three, and I kept pausing for long periods, not knowing what to say next. It’s not a problem to take breaks when you’re dictating. If you’re silent, there are no words and nothing to dictate. But initially, my pauses freaked me out, contributed to some stage fright and led to significant frustration (and swearing). I ended my session abruptly, worried that I had wasted a ton of money ($640) on a failed investment. I also felt incredibly disappointed. I thought that dictation would be my lifesaver.
When I looked at the recording, I did a major double take. Before quitting in dramatic fashion, I had dictated a mere five minutes and counted 358 words in my transcribed file. If I continued dictating, even at that stilted pace, then I would “write” approximately 4,800 words per hour. Despite my growing frustration, this data point restored my confidence and kept my spirits high. #notgivingup
In the end, I realized that the scene that I was dictating required a great deal of research to be written effectively. As a result, I lacked the confidence to speak into the air and felt a bit stumped. And that led to my frustration and lots of swearing on the recording.
Later that afternoon, the rain let up, and I decided to go outside for a dog walk. I gave dictation another try. This time, I had no beats and no outline, just a basic concept in my head. I ended up dictating 443 words in eight minutes. That amounts to 3,322 words per hour. I felt pretty good about that session, especially because I didn’t have anything well thought out beforehand.
My hope renewed, I decided to try dictation one more time and see how quickly I could “write” this blog post. In a 14-minute session, I dictated 1,332 words, at a pace of 5,709 words per hour. HOLY @#%^#!
Pro Tip: Stick with dictation and be amazed. I’ve only worked on it for two days and have achieved unbelievable results. Dictation is learning a new skill. But I believe that once you write new neural pathways in your brain, dictation will become second nature.
Rather than bore you all with a day-to-day report, I’ll check in again in a month and provide an update. Stay tuned!
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.