Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 27, 2023

Increase Your Wordcount with Voice-to-Text

By Eldred “Bob” Bird

One problem I face as a writer is that my hands cannot keep up with my brain. This is one of the biggest limiting factors for me when it comes to wordcount. Over the years I've tried many different methods of talk-to-text, but I've never really been satisfied with it. I've always ended up spending more time correcting than I have actually writing, but times have changed.

With improvements in AI technology, I decided to give dictation another shot. I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I've been using the Dictate function in Word for a while now and I’ve been fairly impressed. The learning curve was not as steep as I had anticipated.

Typing by dictation has become available in a variety of different software packages now. For that reason, I won't go into specific commands, as they vary from one program to another. Instead, I'll talk about some of the things I've learned so far and share some pointers that might help you along your journey as you delve into this improved writing tool.

Basic Commands

While specific commands may vary from one program to the next, there are similarities. Many of the core commands are intuitive. Things like adding punctuation and starting new paragraphs are fairly straightforward. When you reach a point in a sentence where you would like to insert punctuation, simply say the word and the software will usually get it correct. 

If you're using the dictate function in Word, then there is also a setting for automatic punctuation. While it does a very good job, there are a few exceptions. I found that if I pause too long between words, the software likes to add a period. I tend not to use this function as I like to have more control and simply speak the punctuation where I would like it to appear. 

Familiarize yourself with the specific commands of the software you are using and practice using those commands in a few test documents before moving on to your real work. It won't take long to get familiar with things. The editing functions can be trickier. They take a little more practice than the basic punctuation commands, but with time you’ll get it.

Develop Your Flow

If you really want dictation software to help you increase your word count, then you need to develop a flow. This has been one of the hardest parts for me. I went from my hands not being able to keep up with my brain, to my brain not being able to keep up with my mouth.

Developing a flow when you're dictating really comes down to a couple of things. First off, you need to be prepared. You need to know where you're going if you're going to speak clearly and smoothly. This means making notes and having them in front of you or thinking your scene through completely before you start speaking. My pantser brain really hates this part, but it's necessary.

The second thing, which is also difficult for me, is to turn off your internal editor. You're going to make mistakes as you dictate just as you would when you type. You need to learn to ignore them until you go back to do your edit. The software will sometimes use the wrong word especially when it's one that can have multiple spellings for the same pronunciation. If you want to develop flow, you need to just keep going.

The only way that you will ever develop a good clean flow that will give you higher word counts is practice. Get to know the software, get to know the commands, and get to know how your own brain works. With practice you will eventually find your flow.

Tell Yourself the Story

Now that you've learned the commands and got some practice, it's time for the next step. It's time to write using this new tool. According to author Terry Pratchett, “The first draft is just telling yourself the story.” That's exactly how you should think of this process.

The best way to get started with this newly improved technology is to sit down and just start telling the story. Don't worry about structure or how it comes out. This is just the first draft; it's supposed to be rough. The whole reason for a first draft is to get the ideas out of your brain and into the real world. Think of it as digging out the clay. Editing is where you will shape it into the work of art it's meant to be.

Final Thoughts

As with learning anything new, it all comes down to practice. I can't stress that enough. That's why I have mentioned it several times in this article. It's one thing to know how to do something but something completely different to put it into practice. Learn the commands, build your flow, and this newly improved technology will become a tool you use every day in your writing.

About Bob

Eldred "Bob" Bird

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking, and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives).

His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

Top Photo credit:Pixabay

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15 comments on “Increase Your Wordcount with Voice-to-Text”

  1. Bob, your suggestions for getting into the flow are exactly what I needed to know. My experiments with dictation began two months ago. I started by using it for me brainstorming ideas and fleshing out my outline. My word count soared. But I did get hung up on the typos and homophones. I'm planning to use it for the actual writing soon. I hadn't thought about the need to have some way to organize my thoughts beforehand. I will be better prepared now. Thanks!

    1. I'm happy this is going to help, Lynette. It does work great for brainstorming. I also found it helps me with dialogue. I usually work out dialogue by acting out the conversation between the character. I found if I do it with using dictation it's a whole lot easier to remember what was said!

  2. Hi Bob,
    I'm planning to try dictation tools during a regular commute and appreciate your tips here.
    It may be the hardest for me to avoid the internal editor and keep moving, but you're right, it is important for getting the words on the page.
    Thanks for the useful post!

    1. Good use of it, Kris. It's a good tool for recovering writing time that would otherwise be lost, like when you're commuting. The key really is turning off the editor and letting the words flow. With time it will come.

  3. I use dictation while I walk. I get exercise and words in. Double win. It's far from perfect with the app I currently use, but I paste in and do my first edit. My heroine in one book was Erin, and it always defaulted to Aaron even though I tried removing that spelling from the dictionary.

    I tried to use the Dragon software when I broke my wrist, but it was complicated to train, and I found I could type with the brace. One side benefit from dictation is less typing has eased the carpal tunnel pain in my right wrist.

    1. I had the same problem with Dragon. that and the early versions of talk-to-text in Google Docs are what turned me off to dictation software. It's nice to see that the tech is finally maturing into something more useful.

  4. Hi Bob!

    I really need to start using voice-to-text. I know there is a way to get at it in Word, but I can't recall it offhand. I don't have a Dictate button. I'm still using Microsoft 11.

    A friend had good luck with Dragon. I tried it on her machine. The results were humorous. Didn't look like Standard English at all.

    I can easily see my mouth moving faster than my brain. LOL. Patience and practice, just like everything else.

    1. Ellen, it's actually very easy to activate in Windows 11. Place your cursor in the text box that you want to use, and then hit the Windows logo key and H. That will bring up the software and you will get a box at the top of your screen. It's quite easy to use. In fact I just typed this using that function. Enjoy it.

  5. I was at an in-depth writing retreat recently, with a focus on craft, and several of the presenters had different ways of creating voice-to-text. Seems the trick is to find the program/technology which works best for you.

  6. It's on the back burner - so far, fast typing is still my thing. I need it for thinking.

    My life is pretty silent - I spend most of it at my computer.

    But speech is way too slow and way too intensive in energy use for now - maybe when the typing slows down. Or I need to work with an assistant to get stories down.

    I know a bunch of people who dictate - but I catch typing mistakes AS I make them (most of the time), and I positively hate having to correct things later.

    Never say never - but not now.

    Sounds like you're past that point - great!

  7. I was forced to dictation by my last surgery, which made me immobile during NaNoWriMo, and I LOVED it. Totally unlocked me in terms of progress and word count. I would just close my eyes and tell myself the story.

    I used Scrivener's feature and the punctuation kind of sucked. It would insert big line breaks every time I said "new paragraph" and there were always spaces before the period.

    On the upside, I could clearly see where I had edited...and where I had not. 🙂

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