This is a guest post from my friend Sean, who’s an expert on writing books by dictation. I asked him to send me some more information, since using dictation to write books is potentially much faster and may help avoid writer’s block.
Simply put, Tonguenastics™ harnesses the power of your tongue and the spoken word instead of traditional typing to rapidly bring your creative vision to life. You’ll be dictating your ideas and sentences in a way that actually fosters your cognition and propels your imaginative flow.
This helps you to overcome the biggest obstacle in the writing process – productively filling blank pages with words. No doubt this is a writer’s worst nightmare, especially when frozen in the icy grip of writer’s block. Don’t despair – that’s the beauty of dictation. Juan Makabayan writes that
…talking is a way to get over the initial block that one faces with an empty page. It’s the blank page that creates pressure on writers when trying to write. The brain tries to formulate elegant phrases, self-edit and second guess the writing impulse to just write”.
When you speak freely you break away from the brain’s compulsion to pre-edit, as it would automatically and unconsciously have done when typing.
Please note that with the “dictation method” the typing process is not completely obliterated, but rather reserved for the editing part where you’ll be filling in small gaps and perfecting your manuscript. 90% speech, 10% typing is a good ratio to work from. This unique approach ultimately allows you to extract the “writing” part of the ordeal to really get down to the meat of the authoring process.
You’re a story teller, not a story typer.”
This is my catch phrase for dictation writing lest we forget the storyteller’s art has always been a spoken one. Revered shamans or tribal leaders would tell tales around campfires with legends of monsters and heroes to ignite the imagination of town folk thirsty for entertainment or escapism. This is true across all cultures.
Even Dostoyevsky, Winston Churchill, Thomas Aquinas, and Earle Stanley Gardner used archaic forms of this method. (Only because they didn’t have the neat techno-tools that we have at our disposal today). Derek’s edit: actually a ton of famous writers used dictation for their books and stories – most famously perhaps Milton, who went blind before completing Paradise Lost and finished most of it by dictation.
Consider this for a moment; the average person can only type around 30 to 40 words per minute. In contrast, ‘lecture style speech’ hovers around 172 words per minute. Writing by dictation is demonstrably faster but it also has a myriad of supplementary advantages that will benefit all types of writers. It’s great for both fiction and non-fiction, and doesn’t tie you down to a single location or device.
More advantages of speaking your book
Experts have established that speech and writing share some major neural circuitry, and believe it or not, most of it is auditory. Readers, even the fast ones, use sub-vocalization or silent speech. This happens when you instinctively imagine – through internal speech – the sound of a word as you read it. It’s a natural process when reading and helps to reduce the cognitive demands on your brain. Most of us did this in kindergarten when learning to read; you would pronounce the words out loud following along with your finger and then progress to reading the words under your breath, until eventually you could read them in your head with silent speech.
Scientists have determined that silent speech lets the mind access meanings so it can comprehend and remember what is said or read. This however slows you down and we all do it without conscious effort. In fact, the first thing experts suggest about improving reading speed is to combat the natural compulsion for silent speech. Great writers routinely speak tricky sentences out loud so they can test what it will sound like inside the mind’s ear.
Cognitive psychologists have been saying for years that our attention spans are significantly limited. Although you may not be aware of it, when you’re in the process of writing, large parts of your brain are consumed by two irrelevant tasks: typing and editing text. It’s difficult to use visual skills and reasoning skills when your brain is preoccupied with typing. In contrast, while dictating you can engage your imagination simultaneously in analogical reasoning and creative free thinking. It’s less mentally taxing to talk than it is to type, plus you’ll experience fewer episodes of writer’s block because your imagination is truly unshackled and engaged.
Another advantage of speaking your book instead of writing it is that your diction automatically follows the natural rhythm of interpersonal communication. This gives your reader the illusion that you are there talking directly to them. You’ll appear more invested in your reader’s interests and they’ll feel more attuned to your message. You can imagine that you’re an instructor and your readers are your students, or that you’re captivating a group people around a campfire with a breathless story.
When you first attempt speaking aloud your thoughts don’t pressure yourself to be perfect. The goal here is to get your ideas out of your head as quickly as possible. Why the haste? So that you can avoid losing good spontaneous ideas that would have been lost during the slower typing process. By doing it this way you’ll spend less mental energy on finger mechanics and more on hearing your characters or thoughts being spoken into existence. If you’re writing fiction, you can even get playful by making up different voices for your characters.
In my experience it’s gratifying to use speech-to-text software like Dragon Naturally Speaking because as you speak, words quickly appear on your computer screen. Once you really get going and see those words accumulate, your anxiety decreases and your confidence shoots through the roof. It gets even better – researchers say that talking or even muttering to yourself benefits thinking and perception. So this means you focus more and ultimately accomplish more. It’s a win-win for writers. (Finally we have a reasonable excuse to talk to ourselves without seeming crazy!)
Gadgets for Tonguenastics™
I recommend a digital voice recorder from Olympus or Sony to dictate your ideas. Buy a model with a memory card or USB connection so that the audio files are transferable to your computer or smartphone. If you’re predominantly using a laptop or desktop computer then I highly recommend Dragon Naturally Speaking. It’s the crème de la crème of speech-to-text software with high accuracy and efficiency. It works on smartphones and tablet PCs too, and when you need to make a correction, Dragon learns from you, becoming more accurate as you use it. Once you’ve transferred your dictation file to your hard drive, you can select it from Dragon Naturally Speaking, and the program will transcribe your story material in Word or any other word processor. The software even has a playback feature that reads your text back to you.
Tonguenastics™ play by play
One way to start dictation writing is to have a friend sit down with you and interview you based on your book/writing outline. Your friend will ask you to explain each topic and sub-topic in as much detail as you can. As you begin to elaborate to your friend, words will steadily accumulate as the speech-to-text software types for you and voila, you’re technically writing your manuscript. Momentum is essential, so don’t stop to verify facts but rather leave what I call an ‘insert here’ note. This could be as simple as saying “find facts on weight loss for pregnant teenagers to back this up”. You can substitute a friend for a pet or even an inanimate object; you could even wear your author cap/t-shirt while doing this.
Once you’ve mastered the process, you should be able to do it without distractions and get into the zone of dictating freely to an imaginary person. (Unless you have friends who have nothing better to do than help you write your book at your beck and call, in which case I envy you!)
If seeing the words appear on your screen as you talk tends to distract your flow in the beginning, I have an alternative for you. Use a mobile dictation device like a Sony Digital Dictaphone instead. You could close your eyes, lie down on the couch, forget the machine is even there and just talk as if you’re casually chatting to someone like your best friend or your shrink. This will make it seem less like you’re “typing by voice”, plus it’ll be easier to think in full sentences and capture your thoughts before they fade. One writer I know even uses his digital recorder outside while walking or hiking because he prefers to draw inspiration from his surroundings. In his words, “the details of nature or history itself can provide story fodder”.
Final comments from Derek:
This is definitely something I’d like to try more of, although I think the learning curve can be steep. I do find sometimes that talking about my book to someone leads to ideas and thoughts that are better than what I’m capable of by typing alone, maybe typing keeps our brains too focused on the small picture.
Also going out for coffee or drinks and putting your brain in a more relaxed “Genius State” where it can make lots of spontaneous connections may bring you to better use of linguistic fluency or brilliance. It’s hard to type, especially dialogue, and have it be engaging and natural. If you have trouble with dialogue, maybe you and a friend can spontaneously roll play (or just you and yourself), getting into the character’s heads and having them speak naturally until you get the perfect responses.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.