About two weeks ago, I began “writing” my third novel. Now, the work didn’t begin that day because I had spent quite a bit of time outlining, making sure I understood the plot and, in general, how I was going to end the story. Because it was the third book, and final in a series, I wanted to make sure I could tie everything up.
The ending came to me first, which was a wonderful blessing. So one feverish day, I jotted down about 1000 words of an outline detailing what happens at the end. And then I just started outlining from where I’d left off in book two. I got about half way through the outline when I ran out of patience for the outlining process and decided it was time to start writing.
Let’s get back to the title of this blog post. It was an incredible, insane, awesome, productive two weeks, because on August, I printed my outline and dictated the first few chapters into my handheld Olympus voice recorder while driving to a kettlebell workout.
I’ve blogged before about dictating my first drafts, most notably here. My argument in that post was that what makes dictation productive is that you can speak way faster than you can type. And since you can’t look backwards on the screen, there’s no temptation to edit and re-write the same sentence or paragraph over and over. The idea being, don’t perfect your story in the first pass—just get it done. Then in revisions, you can tweak all the language, and improve the style and grammar, and make things more “writerly.”
As of yesterday morning, I had finished the first draft of my novel. But I also drafted a novella during that period of time. And I got the first 1,500 words of another novella started.
Now, I expect my novel to end up at around 70,000 words, maybe as many as 85,000 when I’m done. The dictated first draft was only 53,000. Why is that? It’s because when I’m dictating, I don’t do a lot of descriptive writing, and sometimes I skim over scenes that I haven’t quite thought through.
It doesn’t really matter how long the novel is, as long as it’s good. But here’s the thing: my word count total over the last two weeks of August, and with a three days to spare, was 70,000. I didn’t even dictate stuff every single day of that period of time. I had several 8,000-word days, which is pretty productive by anyone’s standards, and that does not include the words I typed on those days, which was often significant when I was working on outlines. I would often type 1500-2,000 more words in addition to my dictation.
This process is made even more amazing by how fast I get my transcripts. When I’m done with a chapter, I upload it to a website called iDictate.com. This blog post was transcribed by one of the lovely or handsome transcriptionists that work with iDictate. I am absolutely astonished how fast iDictat turns around these recordings. The recordings range from four to 30 minutes long, and often I’ll upload three or four of them at a time. It’s not unusual for me to get an email from iDictate three or four hours later saying the transcription is done. I once had a turnaround in an hour—and that was without requesting their rush service.
The quality of the transcripts are good. I write science fiction and fantasy, so I have lots of strange words, names, and lingo that doesn’t always make sense to someone who doesn’t know the story. When I remember, I try to spell the words, but it’s a little bit of a hassle. I am aware that you can provide them with a list of vocabulary that they can refer to while transcribing, but I haven’t yet done this.
Because I’m writing fiction, dialogue formatting is an issue. It’s a little bit hit or miss with iDictate. If someone’s familiar with how dialogue should be formatted, then it turns out pretty good. Many times they would have to rely on changes in my tone of voice to know whether a different character was speaking. When I’m dictating, I get so wrapped up in the story, I often speak in the voices of my characters. Sometimes though, these voices not distinct enough for the transcriptionist to tell the difference. When I remember this, I include dialogue tags so that it’s clear. Although, I often have to go and edit those out after the fact because I don’t want them. I’m aware of one writer who actually dictates the punctuation the same way you would if you were using voice recognition software like Dragon. I have successfully used Dragon on some occasions, but when I’m writing science fiction, it’s actually quite comical how it turns out, and it’s no where near as accurate as a human transcriptionist.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who are intrigued by the idea of dictating fiction, but who just don’t feel they can afford the expense. This is understandable because transcription service for a 2,000-word document can cost you $20 bucks. My response to this is to find a volunteer or do it yourself. Although, the latter does have the disadvantage of double work, and there’s always the temptation to edit while you’re transcribing, which I think this is a huge mistake. It’s much better to have that huge block of text as you’ve said it, and then start going through it, fixing it as you go.
But what about the quality of the storytelling? What about the quality of the writing? My answer to this is that the storytelling, assuming you have any ability to tell a story, is really good. I think it’s improved because you get caught up in the scene, you see it playing out before your eyes, and you report it. And the quality of the writing is natural. It tends to flow, though I tend to speak in lots of run-on sentences.
But since it’s widely believed that one must re-write over and over and over to make your novel or story good, you have to understand, you don’t just copy the transcription into a file and upload it to Amazon or send it to your editor. It still must go through the same rigorous revision that you would do on anything, whether you typed it or not. Because people are concerned about how stupid they’ll sound dictating fiction, I’ve decided to just let them get over it by listening to one of my dictations.
Here you will see a brief section that I dictated, you’ll see the transcription, and then you’ll see how it turned out in the final work. You’ll notice, there are some pretty dramatic changes, but some things stayed exactly as I said them.
|Sweat poured down Danny’s brow and into his eyes and he and Em strode through the long corridors of the Tangoga sub-city deep beneath Undermountain. He was dressed for the mission—short-sleeved t-shirt over a long-sleeved t-shirt, jeans and sturdy hiking boots that Tangoga had manufactured for him. The weight of his backpack laden with all the supplies he might need on Tangoga Prime added weight to every stride making him even hotter.Behind him, Em huffed under the weight of her backpack. She wore jeans and boots, a tank-top and somewhere along the line had given the Tangoga a sketch of a design for a tight-fitting leather jacket that she now wore.They came to a bank of elevators. “I think this is it,” Danny said, and commanded the doors to open. They got in and started to ascend. They were under the Temple of the Strict and had to use the Tangoga corridors and passageways to get as close to Shaggy’s quarters as possible without being seen. They had been waiting in the sub-city for a while, waiting for word from Shiv that Shaggy was out of his quarters.“Are you sure you want to go?” he asked Em for the third time. She didn’t answer directly. Instead she studied him with her dark intense eyes. “Are you sure you want to go?” she asked.(191 words/2:05 minutes)||Sweat dripped from Danny’s brow and into his eyes as he and Em strode through the long corridors of the tangoga sub city deep beneath Undermountain. He was dressed for the mission—short-sleeved tee over a long-sleeved one, jeans, and sturdy hiking boots the tangoga had manufactured for him. His backpack added weight to every stride, making him even hotter.Beside him, Em huffed and walked with her eyes fixed straight ahead. She wore jeans, boots, and a tank-top. Somewhere along the line she’d given the tangoga a sketch for the tight-fitting leather jacket, which she had just removed and tied the sleeves around her waist.”This is it,” Danny said as they came to a bank of elevators. He commanded the doors to open, they boarded and started up. Using the tangoga service passageways, they would come into the Temple of the Strict very close to Shaggy’s quarters. Only minutes earlier, Shiv had signaled via Danny’s trainer that Shaggy was away.“Are you sure you want to go?” he asked Em for the third time.She didn’t answer directly. Instead she studied him with her intense eyes. “Are you sure you want to go?”|
Dictating is a skill. I was very self-conscience the first time I tried dictation, and I’m sure that my delivery was stilted and inefficient. But the more that I’ve done it, especially in the past two weeks, the better I’ve gotten. I became so accustomed to talking while driving, I started a novella with no outline or even any concept of what it was about just because I was inspired to tell a story. I got the transcription back and laughed out loud. I thought the story was hilarious and it just had to be finished. I got so excited about it that I went for long walks and dictated the rest of it. It ended up being 20,000 words long— a short novella. This is great because now when I get tired or stuck with my novel, I can switch to editing the novella. And when I’m driving, I can continue to create—like writing this blog post. Or when I go for a walk I can finish the other novella I started. I may even start another one as soon as I finish this blog post.
In a busy life, one has to find writing time where one can. And it doesn’t mean you have to be chained to a keyboard. In fact, you can make use of your exercise time, your commute time, or even a leisurely walk in the neighborhood. So my challenge to you is, the next time you’re drive last longer than ten minutes, get out your smartphone and use the voice memo feature.
Start telling a story.