Monday, 23 January 2017

Dictation - by Adam David Collings

Everyone seems to be talking about dictation these days. A number of big-name indie authors swear by it, crediting it for improved efficiency and the high volume of output necessary to reach their level of success. The idea is simple. You talk to your phone or computer, and your voice is converted to text.

When I first started hearing about this new fad I wasn't overly interested. After all, I can type reasonably quickly, and I enjoy the feel of the keys beneath my fingers. Talking is not something that comes naturally to me, so why go down that path?

But there are some potential health benefit to dictation. Those who suffer from RSI in their wrists may find a great deal of relief. Then, there is the ability to walk while you work.

I used to do a lot of walking. I'd walk 15 mins from the car park into work, and then 15 mins back again. This daily ritual began to fade as I found myself working from home more often. My fitness has definitely gone down, and my clothes are getting too tight. Time to get back into exercise. But when? I was recently bemoaning to myself about lack of time. Sure, I could fit more walking into my day, but it's time-consuming, and I'm already trying to squeeze time into my day for writing. Then I remembered the dictation craze. Maybe there was something in this after all. Could I possibly kill two birds with one cliche?

But What about Cost?

The tool that everybody seems to be using is Dragon Dictate/Naturally Speaking. A quick check indicates you'll be out of pocket over $100. A reasonable investment, especially since many have a lot of trouble training the software to effectively recognise their voice. However, there are free options. Modern-day smartphones do a great job of understanding speech without training through products such as Google Now, Siri, and Cortana. It seems Google have been leveraging that technology toward dictation. Google Documents now has a voice typing mode. Another reason to love this free tool, and you can always copy the transcribed text into Scrivener or Word afterward.

What about mobile?

That's all well and good, but you don't want to lug a laptop around with you while you walk, so I had a look to see if I could use the phone app for google documents to dictate. The mobile app doesn't make mention of voice typing itself, but the standard google keyboard has a microphone button, which enables voice typing mode.

I'm using the Android platform, but a quick search indicates that both iPhone and Windows phone also have voice typing options. After a quick experiment, I found that Google voice typing did a pretty good job of understanding my speech. There was an incorrect word here and there, but no less than the inevitable typos that creep into my writing anyway. Getting the punctuation right might be a bit of a pain, but in a recent podcast, author Joanna Penn indicated she planned to dictate without any punctuation, and sort that out at the computer later.

Proponents of dictation often suggest you start by dictating an outline or brainstorming notes, rather than launching straight into first-draft material. This sounds like a good idea. I plan to give this a go sometime soon. With 24 planned episodes in my episodic serial, I have plenty of outlining ahead of me.

Dictation won't be for everyone, it might not even be for me, I don't know yet, but it seems there are no longer any barriers to giving it a go. The only problem that I have yet to find a solution to, is not a technical problem. The issue is that of self-consciousness. Namely, when you bump into someone during your walk, and they notice you talking into your phone. I think a quiet area where you're unlikely to come across other people might be wise.

So what about you? Have you tried dictation? Does it sound like something you might want to try?

Adam David Collings is an author of speculative fiction. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife and two children. Adam draws inspiration for his stories from his over-active imagination, his life experiences and his faith.

Adam is a great lover of stories, enjoying them in books, movies, scripted TV and computer games. Adam discusses these on his own youTube show – Stories with Adam Collings.

Find him at or sign up to his email list for a free short story.


  1. I like the idea of dictation. My problem is finding a way of making it work for me. I've tried dictation onto my PC, but found I spent more time "cleaning" it up than if I'd typed it in the first place ... so that seemed like a waste of time.

    I've heard various things about Dragon - that it's great, that it couldn't learn someone's Aussie accent ... which gives me pause. I don't want to pay $100 for something that I might not use (done that before!).

    Maybe I'll give Google Docs a go on my phone. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Thanks Adam. I hadn't heard of the idea before. But I can fully understand it working well for those of us who would prefer to speak rather than type. I love typing and find I think well as I type. But I have friends who prefer to speak rather than type. So those of us writers who don't like typing - well - perhaps it's the perfect option for them. Besides, their output would probably be double what they would type since one's speed of speaking would always be far faster than their writing speed. Interesting! And a great way as you said to exercise and write at the same time! All the best with it, Adam.

  3. Thanks for the post Adam. I dictate regularly. I find it's a way to start the creative process but also a way to take advantage of time I would otherwise lose (

    But I do something slightly differently - I don't dictate into an engine that transcribes for me, I listen back and transcribe it myself. It gives me a first-and-a-half draft if you like, because I'm able to evaluate my thought process and edit in on the fly. It works for me!

  4. Great post - thanks Adam. I know a fellow writer with a progideous output (she regularly does 100,000 words for NaNo & has multiple publications) who uses Dragon - she dictates while she does the housework and other chores. I regularly compose whole chapters (or, when I used to preach, whole sermons) while I'm driving but then, of course, have to scribe it down later and hope I've remember all my brilliant bits,lol. So the idea is tempting - both for doing while driving or chores. Like you, I think I'd feel a tad embarrassed talking to myself why walking in public - but hey, in the name of art :)

  5. Thanks Adam. I've been using my phone app and emailing it to myself when I'm sick of typing/sitting at the computer (which is often as i compute for work too). I also voice-to-text to send texts to decrease tapping time. It definitely needs editing - make no mistake here as I have had one or two texts that really had unfortunate words in them! I would love to work out how to do it on my computer so will study your blog a little longer and give it a go.
    This is great for people with RSI and those who just need to move it, move it. Most of us, really. P.S. did you see the articles on how tapping and walking interfere with your gait rhythm? Voice to text is a good option for most of us.

  6. Yep - Google docs does do voice. Excellent - I'll be using that soon. Glad you did this post.