Using Dictation for Professional Writing

Typing can be a pain. Literally. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has brought down more talented writers than “writer’s block” over the last couple of years. It nearly took me down as well – until I discovered a solution.

Dictation software has become a favored party trick for people to use when creating text messages or performing simple searches on their phones or tablets. However, few stop to consider how it can be used to further their creative potential in the humble word processor.

I experienced dictation for the first time through a quickly-discontinued app on the Mac App Store, Dragon Express. I was young, had $50 to spend, and was already experiencing the pain that comes from joint damage.

It revolutionized how I approached writing. My process before was highly intellectual, filled with five-dollar words that drove editors and teachers (still in college) alike up the wall. I had to insert my own “voice” into the piece, bringing the vernacular down to a level that the average person could enjoy.

Dictating eliminated that problem, at the expense of forcing me to have to go over and edit every line! 2010 may have been a tad too early to dive into dictation! However, after eight years of experience I have learned a couple of things that you can use if you choose to apply dictation into your workflow:

You Get What You Pay For

Dictation tools are available for every platform, and without exception, they suck. Limited ability to edit the copy, learn from mistakes, and control your computer creates a system that will have you reaching for your keyboard every few moments.

Other tools, predominately among them the software available from Nuance, do not have these limitations. Since their sole purpose is to enable you to control your computer and create accurate copy, they put a heck of a lot of research into creating the right software engines and plugins to get the job done right.

You Need to Be Ready to Edit

Mistakes happen. Dictation software may reduce the number of issues you experience, especially after you develop an accurate profile, but it does not eliminate the human element. You may misspeak, mumble, have a brain fart… or the software may just goof. The number of issues I have experienced has gone down significantly over the last several years. However, it is still imperative that you keep an eye out.

After all, even if the software is perfect… your speech will never rise to the polished level expected in published works.

Plan Ahead

The single most significant challenge you will face when dictating is keeping your thoughts flowing smoothly. By knowing what you will cover next, and what needs to go there, you will be able to plan ahead by the sentence and paragraph.

This is exactly what everyone had to do in school – create an outline. Regardless if you are typing a letter or writing a novel, doing this will make the process a smoother and less stress-free event all around.

Use a Good Microphone

The right microphone can make the difference between success and defeat when it comes to dictating your next best seller. Find one that has noise cancellation features and works best for your situation. I have a variety, ranging from my main USB headset to a Bluetooth earpiece and desktop microphone. All are used whenever the situation best warrants them.

Don’t be afraid to experiment – though be warned that microphone quality often depends extensively on what you spend. Ten-dollar mics from eBay will not perform as good as the name brand pieces available on professional audio recorder sites.

Learn How to Speak in Public

By and far, this means avoiding verbal pauses that liter normal communication. Things like, “Ah,” “Eh,” or “what was that phrase?” all mess up your copy and create lovely editing challenges later on. There is a reason why speech is a required class in many colleges! Use the skills taught then to help you get the most out of your investment today!

Use a Voice Recorder

You do not need to be at your computer to take advantage of the dictation software. Most smartphones include a built-in voice recorder. Pair it with a pair of earphones to dictate on the go. Just remember to speak clearly, include punctuation, and think before you speak.

After you get home, it is as simple as having the software analyze your recording and create a document ready for editing. Of course, there will be some issues that need to be ironed out. However, it is vastly easier to maximize the time you spend rather than sit bored out in public only to come home and spend more time dictating.

What Do You Think I Missed?

Drop a note to my email if you think I missed anything –

Be Wary of Burnout

As a writer I have long struggled with mountains of plenty and valleys of scarcity. I write this post during a time of plenty – so much so that my nerves are frayed. The reason is simple – I have overscheduled myself. Here are some of the things I keep forgetting to do that will have prevented this unfortunate event from occurring:

Know What You Can Do

Have an idea as to how long different tasks will take you to accomplish. After eight years, you would think I would have that down pat, eh? Guess not!

The only way to really understand this is to keep records and reference them. If a topic takes you an hour, it takes you an hour. Never budge from that, unless new data says otherwise.

Have Set Work Hours

The best way to get over your head is to not realize you are about to dive off the deep end. Figure out what hours you can work and schedule projects in accordingly. This will give you a basis as to when to reschedule certain projects or turn away (blasphemy! I know…) work.

Make this ironclad. If you have a dedicated business computer set it up so that it saves your work and logs you out a little after quitting time. Both Windows and Mac OS have features that make setting up such a system a cinch – all you need to do is use a limited account. Which is something you should be doing anyways, out of security considerations!

Take Breaks

Nothing can ruin your ability to create content than simply experiencing a mini-burn out. Take breaks every hour to protect your hands, throat (if you are like me and like to dictate), and mind. One mini-burn out can turn into a major crisis as the effects build up over the days and weeks.

A good way to integrate this into your work day is to put breaks into your calendar program. Have it flash a reminder and follow it – even if you are in the middle of a sentence. Taking a break will do more to help your productivity and state of mind than anything else (except eating lunch – can’t skip that!)

Don’t Work Weekends

I know, I know. You can’t choose your work hours. That is the message you get starting out, especially if you do not have a large client base to work with. Here is a dirty secret – your clients aren’t working weekends. You are a professional, work like one. Take days off to concentrate on yourself and your family. Otherwise you will just create turmoil that will negatively impact your work from beginning to end.

It may not seem like it at times, but you do have a life outside of work. Make certain that you take time to take care of everything you work to provide for. Groceries, children, pets… well, hopefully you take care of the last two more than just once a week!

Plan, Plan, Plan

Have a plan for your day, a plan for your project, and a plan for when those plans get shot to heck in a hand basket. It becomes immensely easier to figure out if you can fit something in if you know what is supposed to come next.

I have found that integrating an online calendar with a smart speaker is amazing. I just ask my Echo what is coming up and am told what is happening and when it is going to occur.

Experiment with different systems until you find one that works. The key is consistency – otherwise you will have a dozen different calendars all telling you different things. The horror!

Have Open Hours for Surprise Work

New work happens – especially when you are busy with current projects. Keep at least one working hour per day open for unexpected things. If nothing happens – great, you can shut down the computer early. If something comes in – even better. You will get to do more without destroying your work-life balance.

If the hour isn’t field and you have nothing to do, use it to expand your skill set. Write your next novel, perhaps. It is time you set aside for work, so make the most of it! Your career and pocket book will thank you later!

Take a Vacation

I know this seems like an extension of “take a day off,” however it is vital that you step away from work to recharge your batteries. In 2015 I was working 15-16 hours per day for weeks on end. I didn’t realize what it was doing to me until my writing suffered. Everything was poor: grammar, spelling, my sense of humor… It had thrown me into a nasty bout of depression.

I was forced to take a week off from my biggest client at the time, Affinity Express. I still had other work, but it was around 5-10 hours per week.

That week off didn’t cure the burn out entirely, but it helped enough for me to figure out that I needed to slow down.

What Burn Out Preventing Tips Do You Have?

I keep the suggestions box open for a short period of time after publication. If you have any comments, feel free to share them below!