My ongoing adventures in Dictation.

After my post last week about my writing processes, I got a lot of interest in how I dictate. Disclaimer! I am a dictation novice. Although I am enjoying dictation and noticing a definite production boost, I am nowhere near the hourly word count that people like Monica Leonelle are achieving. This is merely a summary of my experiences to date. I recommend reading Dictate Your Book by Monica Leonelle, listening to Joanna Penn’s podcasts with Monica Leonelle and Elle Casey, and hanging around the facebook Dragon Riders group.

Anyway, I came to dictation at a point where I was struggling with enthusiasm for writing. I was writing about 2000 words before work everyday, but when I got home in the evening, I was done. It was hard not only to write but to get in the writing mindset. I hoped that dictation would give some variety to my process and enable me to use my time more effectively. I played around a little with the dictation software on my mac and enjoyed it so much that I purchased dragon for mac. I took Monica Leonelle’s advice to just jump straight in, trusting that the initial enthusiasm and excitement would offset the inevitable frustrations. It worked! I learn best by doing. Although after reading Dictate Your Book, I decided I wanted more in the way of practical ‘how to’ and bought Cindy Grigg’s Guide to Dictation, I haven’t progressed very far in it at all. This is partially because the drills and commands are designed for Dragon for Windows, and a lot of them just don’t exist on the Mac version, and partially because dragon keeps mishearing me say ‘select [word]’ as ‘select all’ and I have accidentally deleted entire scenes more than once. Apart from the basic punctuation commands, I don’t actually need a lot.

So, I had dragon set up, I’d done the training exercises and a couple of Grigg’s drills and I had narrated some of my story directly into Scrivener, but I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I was hung up on the fact that I wasn’t getting perfect results from my narration, and I spent a lot of time fiddling around with ‘select that’ and ‘spell that.’ Frustration all round.

And then I took a bath.

More precisely, I took a bath with my phone! The bath was my bribe for doing writing, and at the last minute, I decided to live dangerously and take my phone in with me. I have dragon recorder on my phone, and dragon for mac transcribes it. It is a lot less accurate than my computer but because the bath is not my computer, and I was not looking at any notes or the computer screen, my brain got shunted out of ‘computer writing’ mode and into ‘dictation writing’ mode. I got 1150 words in 25 minutes! Before this I was getting 500 words in 30 minutes writing and 600-700 dictating writing. After that shift, I was able to do a couple more sprints at my computer and although I didn’t go over 1000 a second time, I was still getting higher results 800-900 words in 25 minutes. The downside to the bath was that the acoustics were terrible and I had to spend a lot of time fixing those words later.

I do not necessarily recommend bathing with a phone. This was probably very foolish of me and a good way to wreck your phone. But I found that if I did one sprint removed from my computer — either walking around my neighbourhood trying to avoid people or lying down on my bed — I achieved that dictation zone and subsequent sprints went really well. I was less hung up on getting things perfect, and able to write!

The commands I use are ‘open quote,’ ‘close quote,’ ‘comma,’ ‘full stop’ (this is ‘period’ for all you Americans! Canadians, do you use full stop or period?), ‘question mark,’ ‘exclamation mark,’ ’em-dash,’ ‘Cap [word],’ ‘spell that,’ ‘open square bracket,’ ‘close square bracket’ and ‘go to end.’

Dragon negatives: despite the fact that whenever I create a new profile on Dragon I set the English to ‘New Zealand’ English, Dragon inevitably “corrects” it to Australian English ( … *sigh*). Also, I have a main character called Ben. Dragon is unable to handle me saying Ben. I’m doing my best to use spell that and teach it Ben, but so far I generally end up with Bean, Been, Being, Thing or Bin. Nate is usually accurate, but I have had ‘Needs’ instead — which is pretty funny since he is pretty needy. So, my particular brand of English probably has a more than the average amount of kinks to work out, but I am still happy with it!

Finally, the other important thing that helped me with dictation (and also cranking out those 2000 words regularly before school) was planning what I wrote. I’m going to share a photo of my pre-writing notes, then that scene as it was dictated into scrivener (mistakes and all). Monica Leonelle and Rachel Aaron both have really good tips for writers on outlining and planning (I enjoyed Write Better Faster and From 2k to 10k) so in the interests of keeping this post short, I’m going to let the images and dictation speak for themselves:


“Old Thomas Tucker?” The sheriff leaned against the door of his office, studying Ben with unsurprised eyes. “You really think that old case will help you?”

“I won’t know till I check.” Ben kept his voice as casual as possible. The police department desk opened into the same entrance that served the library.  He was assured that the librarian watched from her desk. “Mind telling me about it?”

Ray swivelled around in his chair. “You didn’t tell me anything about this.”

“Went clean out of my mind. I haven’t thought about old commerce and – well, years.” The sheriff shook his head and motioned Ben to step through the door into the office proper. “You might as well come in. Not that everyone doesn’t already know the story but it’s no good putting ideas on people’s heads with how restive the FBI lately.”

Ben followed him into the office. “Has there been any more threats?”

The sheriff shook his head. “The rest calmed them down. Not that there aren’t a few complaining still. But what can you do? Everyone’s got an opinion on how I do my job. You don’t see people going up to a surgeon and saying now, if I were you –“

Ben let him complain, sharing an amused grin with Ray who had followed them in.

“But that’s the problem with being a government employee. People think they own you.” The sheriff shut the door, and made for his comfortable chair.

Ben noticed that he didn’t consult the filing box behind him or glance at the computer on his desk. Whatever the Tucker case was, the sheriff remembered it well. “It was fifteen years ago I think.”

The sheriff nodded. “And that’s why I never mentioned it to you, Ray.” He leaned back in his chair, the atmosphere shifting to reminiscent rather than official. “Ancient history now, and if it’s not… Well, it should be.”

“Tucker… Name doesn’t ring a bell.”  There were two chairs facing the sheriff’s desk, but they chose to lean against the wall. “I’m guessing he doesn’t live here anymore?”

The Sheriff nodded. “Moved after the incident.”

Ben leaned forward in his seat. “Moved or was forced to leave?”

The Sheriff’s eyes rested on him. “I can’t say for certain that he wasn’t forced,” he admitted. “They were hostile towards him. I’m sure he felt a lot safer elsewhere.”

“Where is elsewhere?” If Tucker had gone out of state, would it be even worthwhile trying to trace  Him?

“Round tree. It’s a town, just short of three hours drive. Tucker had our sister who took him in.” The sheriff paused. “I expect you want to hear my account of it. I still have trouble believing it. Tucker was… Well, he was ordinary. The only odd thing about whom was the horse.”

Ben nodded, but they had not read Kinsey’s report.

“What horse?”

“It was a fine animal. That’s what attracted attention. Beautiful, fast, dependable… Everything you would want a horse to be. People asked Tucker where he bought the mere but Tucker refused to say. So there was a rumour that he stole that, and I had people telling me I should keep an eye out for any missing horse reports. Pettiness, mostly. In a small community like this, well… We don’t have many hobbies.” The sheriff reached for his pipe then abruptly remembered that he was on duty. “Anyway, eventually people lost interest and the talk turned to the next small town scandal, and that would have been the end of things if Baxter hadn’t been so damn stubborn wanting to buy the horse.”

They looked up. “Baxter? As in –“


Hopefully the mistakes are obvious (Ray gets changed into They a lot, for example) — but you can see that enough of the meaning came across that I can easily clean this up. I’ve also noticed that I tend to add a bit when I clean — add more descriptive moments, vary the action tags more, so while it adds a bit of time, that also adds benefit.

Thanks to everyone who expressed an interest in this post. Let me know if I answered your questions, and if not, what you’d like to know more about!



  1. I’m glad it’s working for you. I got Dragon for PC over the Christmas break, but my accent is too strong to work well with the recognition. And I don’t have the patience for it. Someday, I might try it again.

    1. How disappointing!

      The software is getting better all the time. I hope that it gets to the point where it can accommodate a greater variety of accents and non-native speakers better!

  2. Interesting. I still haven’t played with my computer to see if I have a dictation program (PC, not Mac). I haven’t been on my computer much at all in fact…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s