Monday, December 08, 2008

Dictating Your Book

In a Wall Street Journal article, the author P.D. James was interviewed. Actually, P.D. James’ real name is Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James White. She’s British (you might have guessed that by the “Baroness.”) She’s 88 years old and, despite recently suffering heart failure, is still going strong. The latest (#14) in her Dalgliesh series is now out.

The interview is interesting. One thing that caught my eye was her answer to the question, “What was it like to write while in hospital?” Here’s what she said:
It was an ideal place to finish a book, really, because I said 'I don't want any visitors' and there's no email and no telephone and my secretary came down and she sat there and I dictated away. We really got on very well.
Here’s the deal. I don’t think I could “write” a book by dictation. When I type, I sometimes start a sentence and end up backtracking and changing it before it ever gets finished. I change the wording or go off in a completely new direction. I may have to flip back through pages to remind myself of where I was going or a clue I left or what the character was wearing or driving or cooking.

I know some people have made the switch. They swear by their voice recognition software and love being able to just talk and see their words appear on the screen. But I don’t think I could sit or stand or pace and speak the book in my head.

On the other hand, I once swore I would never be able to write on a computer. The only way words could flow from my brain was through a pen onto a yellow pad. And now type is all I do…all day…every day…my butt is the shape of my desk chair…my desk is a mess…the headphones I use to transcribe is hanging from the elliptical trainer…the TV in the room only picks up snow because it’s not hooked to the antenna and after February 17th won’t even pick up the snow…I wouldn’t be able to find a yellow pad if I moved into the storage closet … wait a minute, what was I talking about before I got sidetracked? Dictation. I’m afraid if I wrote by dictation, all my writing would read like this paragraph.

Anyway, what about you? Could you write by dictation?


  1. Helen,
    I can't imagine dictating a book, either. Yet I have a blind client who dictated a novel that was 160,000 words before I started chopping it. Without his voice recognition software, he wouldn't be able to read or write.

  2. Wow. How did he keep track of the plot and characters? It seems to me that I would forget what I'd said in the first 5,000 words by the time I got to the 100,000th word. Maybe there was a way he could play back the book, sort of like I would go back and re-read passages as I worked.

  3. I don't know if I could write by dictation either, but I guess we adapt to circumstances. If I lost my sight I'm sure I'd learn how to dictate another Logan & Cafferty novel.

  4. You're probably right Jean. If you love what you do, then you'd figure out a way to do it.

  5. Dictating is a great way to get that first draft into your computer without going off on time-wasting tangents that make editing a harder task than it needs to be.

    I've found that the best way for me to do it is to turn my monitor off and let the words flow from my right brain without any interference from the left.

    There'll be time for the left brain to do its editing thing later. After I've created something worthy of its time and energy. Given a story with a beginning, middle and end, my logical left brain flourishes. Before that, it's interference slows me down.

  6. NovelEagle, that's a great suggestion -- turning off the monitor. It would be very distracting to have that on while you tried to "talk" your book or story to life. Wonderful suggestion.

    I was at a Book Festival meeting last night and mentioned that I wished they had voice recognition software that could recognize more than one voice without having to train it. I was thinking of the interviews I'm currently transcribing - which takes forever. I was told that that ability is being worked on right now.


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