Speech to Text: How I'm Writing Fiction

Wednesday, November 08, 2023
Dictation can add
words to your WIP
A few weeks ago, I signed up for Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer’s Dictation Bootcamp. In this course, you learn who can use dictation to write fiction and how best to do it. I’ve long been curious about dictating at least some of my writing but despite this curiosity I had done nothing about it. Oh, sure, I had tried it once or twice, found it impractical, and given up. 

But I know myself pretty well. If I pay for something, I’m going to put in the effort to make it work. 

If you don't know about dictating your writing, instead of keying in your text, you speak it. You can do it either using your computer or your phone. Microsoft Word has a speech to text feature called Dictation, and both your email and the notes app on your phone probably have a speech to text option. Look for the image of a microphone. 

That isn’t to say that it is easy. But that’s okay, writing fiction generally kicks my butt. 

There's a lot to learn to dictate your fiction. For one, you have to learn to work with your program or app. Here are a few of the things you will need to practice. 

• Speaking clearly at a consistent speed. I have never managed to speak too fast for Word. Does that mean it isn’t a problem? All I know is that it isn’t a problem for me. 

Unique names. You may need a substitution for an unusual name. Sarah had a male character with a Choctaw name. The dictation software never even came close, so she called him Kirk. Then she did a search and replace. 

• Speaking punctuation. Most programs will punctuate for you, but it is often more accurate to speak the punctuation you want. This means learning what to call things within your program or app. Do you say “new line” or “enter” and “quotation mark” or “open quote”? 

• Learn your quirks. I cannot dictate first thing in the morning. Cannot. My allergies mean my morning voice is too raspy for the app to comprehend. So I dictate in the afternoon. 

No matter how well things are going, there are going to be strange moments. One afternoon, I was chatting to Word and said “comma.” The program keyed out “c-o-m-m-a.” And then it changed it to Karma. “No, comma!” Karma. “Cahm-ma.” Karma. “Comma, damn it.” It got damn it right. 

Oh, that’s something else. A fellow student said that if you are writing a character who swears, the dictation program may refuse to comply. That’s not a huge problem for me given that my primary audience is young readers. If this is a problem for you, make up a phrase it will key in and then do a search and replace later on. 

I know this sounds like a lot of bother.  But most new skills take time and effort to learn.  Is it worth it? I’d say so. Last Friday, I had a book related deadline. I met that and dictated about 5,000 words that week. 

Dictation can be a great way to get words down if you are having troubles with your hands or wrists or, like myself, have developed a vision-related migraine symptom. If you are having troubles finding your voice, try dictation. It will help you write the way you speak. Most of us in the class also discovered that we dictated faster than we typed. 

Even if dictation works, it will probably never be your only way to write. Still, I’m finding it a great way to get a rough draft onto the page. Why not give it a try? What have you got to lose? 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of 40 books for young readers.  
  • To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.  
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She is also the instructor for 3 WOW classes which begin again on December 4, 2023. 
She teaches:


Carol Baldwin said...

INtreseting post. I might have to try this one of these days! Thanks.

Angela Mackintosh said...

This is such a great post, Sue! After reading this, I had to try it. So I opened up a Google Doc file on my phone and hit the microphone icon. It worked! What an interesting way to write. And you're right about speaking clearly and unusual names. I think I'm going to use this because I've been writing by hand lately, and it might be faster to dictate my handwritten words to get it into the computer. That's so funny about your comma karma story. :)

Oh no, I've had visual migraines for years, but didn't know you had them too. Flashing rainbow pyramids that come from nowhere and last around 15-20 minutes. The first time I had one was over ten years ago and I was driving! I was so freaked out because I didn't know what was happening. Had to pull over immediately. Now, I'm so used to them I can tell when one is coming on, and then have to stay away from the computer for a while. This will definitely help with that, too. :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Please let us know how it works for you!

I do think it will stream line entering hand written text.

Yesterday it decided, yet again, that I really meant karma even if I didn't know it yet.

Normally I get pixels in my peripheral vision. If I can fall asleep, they go away. Now I've added lightening. And you're right, getting away from my screens definitely helps. And really? It is probably a good overall idea to get up and doing something else!

Renee Roberson said...

Sue--Thanks for encouraging us all to try this tool. I have not used it to dictate any of my writing, but used the transcription tool the other day for another purpose. I have a whole bunch of archived newspaper articles I'm trying to compile into one master document for that cold case I'm working on. I can't print the articles off Newspapers.com because the print is so tiny I can't read it, LOL! So I opened up the articles on one screen, and on the other, I opened a Word doc and used the voice to text tool to transcribe the information from the newspaper articles. It was much easier than re-typing the articles. Like you said, you have to go over the transcription and catch lowercase names and weird misspellings, but I'll keep working it with this particular project.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

What a good idea! I've saved articles, enlarging them slightly. But I like your idea because it will be searchable!

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