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I am a Dictator

Howdy muchachos!

As some of you may know, I'm a dictator. No, I don't sit around in tropical linens smoking Cuban cigars with big shiny sunglasses and a bushy beard under palm trees. I mean dictator in the nicest terms—an author who speaks instead of writes with a pen or types on a computer. Some of you know this some of you don't, so I thought this week I would write (by speaking while walking in circles in my bedroom) a little bit about how I started dictation and why it works so well for me. Who knows, maybe you'll decide to take up dictation?

When did I start down the path of the dictator?

As soon as my wife and started having kids. No, just kidding, although if you speak to my kids, they'll tell you living in our house isn't like being in a democracy.

Seriously though, I started dictating my books about seven years ago. Starting with the second book in my Wildfire series, The Shift. I distinctly remember going downstairs in the basement of our house in Wisconsin, in the middle of the winter. My office was down there, and it got pretty cold. I used to hate having to bundle up with blankets and a sweat shirt and jacket to sit down there and type on my computer — this was before the days when I'd switched to having a laptop, or even an iPad on which to type.

I was chained to the desk, and it didn't seem to matter how long I suffered down there, the fastest I could ever type was about 2,000 words an hour. And that was with me going as fast as I could, making mistakes every other word and ending up with a sore back and bleeding fingers (not really, but hey, I'm a writer, I like to add a little...color to my text). I only ever attained that speed while typing handful of times and usually I ended up somewhere around the 1,000 to 1,500 words per hour mark.

Then I started reading articles and seeing notes on forums about authors who were trying dictation and checking out the magnificent software called Dragon Naturally Speaking (I'm not an affiliate, I just threw this link in there so you can see what I'm talking about). Mind you, this was seven years ago when there were still quite a few more quirks and bugs in the software than there are today, so despite all the naysayers who claimed to have worked at dictation four hours only to come up with gibberish, I decided to take the plunge. But before I invested in the software, I got some wise advice, which I'm now passing on to you:

Start off small. Teach yourself how to dictate until it becomes second nature. Then and only then get the software and start writing your books (Dragon ain't cheap, kiddos, it's a couple hundred dollars, so you want to make sure you're plenty dedicated to the craft before you dive in...).

How to do it?

For me, the easiest way to start with dictation was simply open up my phone and start talking. I'm one of those people that rarely uses my phone for actual phone calls, I know, crazy, right? But I text a lot, and I do a lot of Internet searches—hello, writer! I shudder to think what three letter alphabet soup agencies in Washington, DC have me on their lists after looking at my Google searches. For my friends at the NSA, FBI, and CIA who might be reading this, all that stuff I was looking up about how long it takes a body to decompose was for one of my books...really!

So I started forcing myself, whenever I pulled up a website on my phone, to look up some random fact, instead of using my thumbs to awkwardly type it out—I am not one of those people blessed with lightning quick thumbs, able to type out a long string of text in mere seconds. On a phone, I hunt and peck and it takes me forever. It's agonizingly slow compared to typing on a keyboard, or even writing with a pencil, and especially after I've learned to dictate.

So back to my method. Say I was looking up exactly how many inches were in a mile. Instead of typing in "how many inches are in a mile?" into the Google search bar (yes, I'm polite and use punctuation with Google's search AI...I heard it became sentient recently and I want it to remember my kindness when it takes over the world...more on that later...) I would hit the microphone button on my iPhone keyboard and then simply ask it out loud, reminding myself to add the punctuation.

So when I spoke the question, it came out like this: how many inches are in a mile question mark

It was awkward as hell at first, I'm not going to lie. But every search that I pulled up, every text that I sent, I forced myself to hit that little microphone button and dictate, dictate, dictate. Every now and then, I'd forget the punctuation, then sigh in frustration, cancel it, and redo the search with the punctuation. I did this religiously for nigh on six months in 2015. By the end of the year, I was speaking punctuation so easily with my texts and with questions in the Google search that every now and then I would catch myself speaking punctuation when talking with my kids.

Kid number one: "Hey dad, what's for dinner?"

Me: "I was planning on making mac & cheese comma unless someone else had a better idea question mark"

Kid number two: --blinks-- "You're weird, daddy."

Kid number three did not make an appearance in this hypothetical conversation, because in 2015 he was one, and was more likely to be trying to stuff his own hand in his mouth or drool on something or eat one of my books than carry on a conversation. But you get the idea.

It was brutal to force myself to speak my texts and searches. It took dedication and a laser-like focus on the goal of getting Dragon up and running. I promised myself that by the end of the year, if I was able to flawlessly dictate text and queries into Google I would get myself a copy of Dragon.


Dictating with Dragon is a whole other experience that I'll probably end up turning into another blog post, but the short end of it is there's two ways to dictate with this software. You either sit at your computer and speak into a microphone and watch the words scroll across the screen, which a lot of people do (personally I CAN NOT do this, it just drives me absolutely bonkers) or you do what I do and get a digital recorder and then record into that.

When you're done dictating, you plug the recorder into your computer download the MP4 files and let Dragon transcribe it for you. This is MUCH more efficient for me because if I have a lot of dictation sessions throughout the day, I might have 15 or 20 files that need to be transcribed.[1] I let the computer automatically handle all of this because it may take an hour to transcribe everything. During that hour, I could be cooking dinner, doing laundry, editing another story, plotting another story, cutting the grass, or any number of tasks that I wouldn't be able to do if I were sitting at the desk dictating into the computer.

At the end of the day, dictation allows me to attain speeds of anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 words an hour, and not only can I dictate that fast, but since it's been about seven years since I started, speaking punctuation is second nature to me now. I didn't know when I'd ever get to this point, but I don't even think about punctuation any more. And because I use a digital recorder then transcribe the files later, I'm not chained to my desk anymore!

I can get on an exercise bike or take a walk on my treadmill and Dragon does a wonderful job of erasing the background noise and focusing on the words. I can have all kinds of racket going on behind me and still get a clean copy of the story that I'm speaking—and sometimes even get a good workout as well.

So there you have it, how I use dictation. Now I've got a few other posts I need to go write as I pace around the floor in my bedroom and continue dictating!

As usual, keep your heads down and your powder dry my friends. We live in interesting times.



[1] I'll make this a post, too, to show you what I mean...

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