The Hidden Merits of Dictation
Of all possible weapons writers can wield while creating their novels, dictation tends to be shamefully overlooked as a respectable method worth considering. Perhaps some consider dictating your story a form of cheating, as if you’re resorting to a cheap gimmick, just like James Bond testing out one of Q’s gizmos to outfox the bad guys. Well, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a good, honest bit of trickery, especially if it has hidden merits and makes your job slightly easier.
In actuality, you’d be surprised to learn that dictation is, in fact, one of writing’s best-kept secrets. No matter what you think of the quality of his writing, the bestselling author Dan Brown reportedly uses dictation on the iPhone app, Dragon Naturally Speaking, to create his first drafts. Perhaps most famously, Barbara Cartland enlisted the help of secretaries to read her stories aloud as the ideas came to her, later transcribing them into successful romance novels.
In fact, the history of dictation goes back much further than that: 19th century author Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo) was also accustomed to dictating his novels to a secretary before they were fashioned into his acclaimed works. After suffering with arthritis in his mid-fifties, Victorian-era writer Henry James also hired a secretary to transcribe his spoken words, ushering in a new era of productivity for him which culminated in The Wings of the Dove, now widely regarded as one of his finest works.
Nowadays, of course, thanks to Siri, Alexa or Cortana, we don’t need a secretary to transcribe our thoughts for us. We have smartphones. Be honest: if you lead a tremendously busy life, unable to find the hours in the day to sit yourself down in front of a computer screen and just write, then it’s tempting to see dictation as an appealing option. Not only is it easy to do while you’re on the go, but here are two of the hidden benefits of dictation I have identified.
Dictation can (literally and figuratively) capture your voice
Writing coaches always talk about capturing ‘your voice,’ which is an elusive goal every writer chases so as to be seen as original, or authentic. Well, if you’re speaking aloud and just letting your story flow naturally, transcribing it into a rough draft later thanks to the convenience of speech-to-text dictation app, then you will find your voice. After all, it is you. You are speaking. You cannot fail to find your own voice if you listen to yourself tell your own story as it unfolds in your head, and then try and retain elements of your speech patterns and thought processes upon re-drafting.
You can tell your story quicker
It cannot be overstated how much quicker you will finish your story if you use some speech-to-text software to let your first draft unfold. You could sit down in front of a blank screen and tap away to your heart’s content, but pacing around a living room while you dictate your story will encourage you to embrace a degree of spontaneity that your fingertips just won’t match. It might be less polished, but a cobbler doesn’t worry about the shininess of the shoe until it’s actually been made. Just go with it – there’s plenty of time to get running.
Obviously, dictation does not excuse a writer from the need to mould and craft one’s story more closely. Dictation is purely a means of capturing your thoughts as they occur to you, whilst they’re still germinating – the difficult bit is when you actually sit down and see how much of it is useable as a coherent story. Not all that can be spoken should be read, after all. However, if you’re hard-pressed for writing time, I would strongly recommend writers should regard dictation as a solution rather than the scourge on the writing profession some may regard it as being. In fact, for me, I’d say in times like these it’s becoming a necessity to keep one’s creative energies flowing. And surely, in the end, that’s what matters most.
© 2017 Luke Edley
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Poet, humorous fiction writer and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.