The Well-Known Secret to Writing More: Dictation (Full Guide)
Stick around to the end of the article to view a speed test of dictation vs fast typing.
Hi. It’s Hannah. A man, by the way. A man with a beard.
Most people can’t type as quickly as they can think. The average person types around 40 words per minute, although most writers I know can type closer to 80.
I can type about half as fast as I can think, averaging at about 110 words per minute if I’m on a roll. If I have to stop and think, then that drops down to 50, sometimes in the 30s. Structuring sentences and thinking about what happens next is hard.
I can still write 10,000 words of fiction in a day if I comit. There have been times, desperate times when I was trying to help out friends financially, that I could write 5000 words of crappy content mill puke in a day, too. I type fast, and I think quickly. I only write about the things that I know. I’m productive.
My quick typing, multiple monitors, and pre-existing knowledge contribute to my speed.
But it’s never enough.
Dictation: Considering the Plunge
I considered dictation on and off for years, but I never needed it. Years ago, I could type 160 WPM, around 100 when I had to stop and think. My accuracy was terrible, and editing was extensive. I couldn’t make out what I was trying to type, and I wrote worse because I thought less.
I thought dictation would help me improve my accuracy, because I wouldn’t be typing, but I never thought it was worth it.
I eventually decided to retrain my typing. I lowered my typing speed, but I improved my accuracy. Typing is not as much of a pain anymore. Again, I considered dictation, but it didn’t seem worth taking the plunge. I could already write so much, so quickly.
As my active projects grew, my temptation for dictation grew along with it. This is the part where you’d probably take the plunge and dive into dictation, head-first. However, that wasn’t the case for me.
Why I Started Dictating, And Why You Should Too
I started dictation when I got restless at my desk, stuck with my fancy chair and three monitors leering at me all the time. I got a decent laptop that I could actually install Word on, I noticed the dictate button, I put my laptop on a high shelf right at my eye level, and I walked around in front of it while I wrote something.
I wrote 6000 words in an hour. Theoretically I could type that fast if I was copying something, but I can’t type that fast when I need some time to think, and formatting takes time whenwriting fiction, too.
The freedom of being able to walk and write was explosive. I practically ran around my office on that first day, although I didn’t notice my laptop had stopped listening about 10 minutes earlier.
If you’re someone who gets restless while chained to a chair, then dictate. You can walk, you can jump, you can clean, and you’ll still be able to write.
Dictation enabled me to write a novella in three days. It lets me finish my client work every morning in 20 minutes. It lets me walk around and do things, it lets me be creative, it lets me draw while I write.
I recommend that everyone tries dictating at least once. I completed some tests related to how much I can type vs how much I can dictate, and I’ll share those later on. But I can guarantee, it is faster.
One of the reasons I first started dictating because I wanted to see if it would help me quickly replace some words that I’d lost when I dropped my external hard drive and lost 25,000 words across several projects. That was painful. I replaced those words in three days.
Improving Creative Flow
Most people don’t think in prose or blog-post mindset. To be fair, I think in prose a lot of the time, but not all the time. I occasionally think like a blog post reads, but none of it felt right when I had to say it out loud rather than channel it through my fingers.
When I started, it felt unnatural. The only thing that felt natural was the dialogue in fiction. I was speaking, so naturally, dialogue sounds normal.
The prose sounded like crap. I even tried to write a fitness article for client, and that wasn’t prose. It was description and narration, but it still sounded ridiculous to me. I couldn’t do it.
I soon went back to typing, but dictation still pulled at me. I researched it, tried to see where there any benefits in it, and apparently there were. People who went people who started dictating when from writing 1000 words in an hour to 5000. If I could already do 5000 when on a roll, what the hell could I do with dictating?
With practice, my record was 10,000 and it wasn’t just because I can speak faster than I can type. It was because I got used to how speaking in prose and blog post format feels.
When you’re hindered by how quickly you can type, then your creative flow is slowed. When you can speak and speak and speak with only the occasionally breath to stop you, then you can let it flow.
My creativity improved a ton when I started dictating. Scenes and stories came to me faster than every before. Article structure for a client created itself. Now, the only thing that slows me down is remembering to talk like a newsreporter and speak punctuation period new paragraph It was open quotes Great close quotes dash Tony the Tiger
Dictating’s Fatal Flaw: Accuracy
How you speak, your mic quality, and what software you use all impact your dictation’s accuracy.
I used my laptop’s built-in mic; it was crap. It couldn’t hear me half the time, I couldn’t really move around, and it picked up noises from outside.
Punctuation and Formatting Issues
I stopped dictating on my laptop and I plugged my Bluebird SL into my computer and started dictating there, but it was also crap.
I wrote an entire erotica novel this way, and I could barely get through the editing process. It picked up names wrong, it picked up words wrong, it picked up everything wrong. Sometimes it said the word “period” instead of actually putting a full stop, although I could have said “full stop” I suppose. That might be on me.
Also, you can’t tab. You can indent, but it will indent the whole paragraph and not just the first line of the paragraph. It’s nightmare to form the format that. Still, I thought I could live with it.
Voice and Accent Issues
I discovered that Microsoft Word favours higher-pitched, feminine’female voices an American accents. So, I raised my larynx, I changed my resonance to a headier sound, and I spoke in an American accent while I dictated.
My accuracy improved by about 10%, but still still had all those silly mistakes. It called a guy called Han “Honda”, “Hun”, and “hand”, and when I’m talking about a character called The Prophet, it can’t decide between prophet and profit, switching between them often. Oh, and it frequently mixes up to, too, two, and 2.
How to Improve Your Accuracy in Dictating
To dictate well you need three things: a good mic, a compatible voice, and INCREDIBLE DICTATION SOFTWARE.
Honestly, any noise-cancelling mic will do.
I have a Bluebird SL, as I mentioned earlier. It’s a professional mic and comes in at around $300, requires an audio interface to use, and it creates studio-quality recordings.
I didn’t want to be chained to the spot while dictating, so I bought a basic little Bluetooth headset mic.
There’s 0 difference between Big Beauty Pro Mic and Little Ill-Fitting Bluetooth Headset as far as accuracy is concerned.
Both mics let me dictate with about 90% accuracy even while I have a fan on, traffic sounds outside, and dogs screaming at birds flying by.
Word of advice: make sure your laptop or computer has compatible Bluetooth drivers! My mic worked on my laptop, but not on my computer. I couldn’t figure out why. After some research, I discovered that the mic needs Bluetooth 5, but my computer only has a Bluetooth 4 dongle. My laptop has built-in Bluetooth 5.1. I purchased a 5 dongle for my computer, and now the Bluetooth mic works.
I’m sorry if you know things about Bluetooth. I’m aware that terminology is inaccurate.
As I said, Word seems to favour American accents and feminine voices. I notice a considerable drop in accuracy when I lower my voice to its normal pitch, and it gets even worse if I deepen it further.
I have terrible accuracy when using a generic RP English accent. I tried a Yorkshire accent, and for some reason, accuracy improved. It was also better with a West Country accent and a Welsh accent, but I didn’t try any others, because it works best with American.
However, it’s not great at picking up the word “we’ll” in an American accent, even if I annuciate hard and clear.
I’ve noticed that Google Docs, Windows Voice Recognition, Siri and Lilyspeech favour American accents, too.
Your Dictation Software
Here’s what matters the most, I think. I tried various dictation softwares and MY GOODNESS, are they all crap.
It’s worth investing in a Dictation software that you can trust will do the job with the most accuracy possible. One that works well with your formatting is vital, too. Dragon is best for fiction authors; it lets you tab.
I have Dragon now. It was useless at first. In fact, in tests, it was less accurate than Microsoft Word’s dictation software.
After a few days with it, though, it improved immensely. The accuracy tuning really helped, as did training certain words.
Terrible Dictation Softwhare That I Can’t Reccomend (and One That I Can)
Lily speech doesn’t capitalise the first letter of a sentence if you’re dictating multiple sentences in a row. You have to dictate one sentence and let it appear in your document., then you can move on to your next sentence. This slows you down.
You also can’t backspace, delete, or do a whole lot of formatting. You can do double quotes and single quotes and new line and all that, but you can’t do very much else.
It’s not great for fiction, so I tried it out on some client work, and it was better, but it still wasn’t perfectly accurate, and it frequently missed phrases.
I decided to give it a second chance a few days after I disregarded it, and it was WORSE, somehow. It missed things, misheard things, and often completely ignored me.
Oh, and it sometimes puts “question mark” as “question mark” rather than ?
LilySpeech can fuck off.
I didn’t give Google Docs a long run. It was too bad from the start. Despite annunciating as clearly as possible, the damn thing just kept picking up simple words wrong.
0/10, would not reccomend.
Siri picks up the same word as three different incorrect words even if I annuciate them expertly and in the same way each time.
I don’t trust Siri at ALL. Siri and notes app are a no-go.
Windows Voice Recognition
It frequently cut off and ignored me. It can do more than Microsoft Dictation, but it DOESN’T LISTEN!
I CAN Reccomend: Microsoft Dictation
Microsoft Dictation is the one bug that doesn’t bite in a group of blood-sucking leeches. It’s bad, but it works.
It’s the most accurate out of the ones above, athough it still fails a lot, as I detailed earlier. You know my gripes with it. Still, if you’re looking for “free” dictation software, then it’s the one I reccomend.
You need Word, which isn’t free, but still.
My Dictation Software: Dragon
Is it 100% accurate all the time? No. But this is the most accurate software I’ve come across, it has the best formatting commands, and it lets you select your accent. It also learns from your voice and word usage, and it expands its vocabulary, tailoring it to you as time goes on.
I love Dragon. It’s available on Amazon UK and US, or from Nuance’s website. Just Google “Nuance Dragon Dictation”. UK Link — alas, there’s no working US link as of March 2022.
Dictation vs Fast Typing: Speed Test!
Now, what you’ve all been waiting for. The speed test.
I’m going to make this test as accessible as possible. I’ll use my Bluetooth mic, because not everyone has my fancy mic. I’ll use Microsoft Word dictation, because it’s free with Microsoft products like Word and Powerpoint. I’ll also use the American, feminine/female voice that Microsoft seems to prefer.
I’ll place a Dragon vs Word dictation accuracy test afterwords.
The timelapses will be 10 uncut minutes sped up x20,000 and made into a 30-second video with 3 seconds of black at the end.
Alright, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Fast Typing: 10 Minutes of Fiction Timelapse
Keyboard: Qwerkywriter® S Original, UK Layout
Did I postpone this article a week so I could type with this keyboard, which arrived two days after the time of writing? Yes. Also, I wanted the black and gold keyboard, but I didn’t want to wait until December.
Starting WC: 3,221
End WC: 3,878
Microsoft Word Dictation: 10 Minutes of Fiction Timelapse
Staring WC: 5,718
End WC: 6,744
Microsoft Word Dictation vs Dragon Home 15
Finally, software against software, let’s go. Again, I’ll just use my Bluetooth mic, but this time I’ll use my natural voice and accent for Dragon, and the American, feminine/female one for Microsoft. I want to see how “I’M TRYING REALLY HARD” with Microsoft compares to “I’m just being natural” with Dragon.
Is this just the same test from above because I didn’t want to do a second one OR ruin the structure of the article? Yes. Anyway …
Staring WC: 5,718
End WC: 6,744
Staring WC: 6,744
End WC: 7,482
As you can see, Dragon is far better at formatting. You can tab, it capitalizes things, and it does miss the occasional word, but it’s okay. It’s a shame it doesn’t know the word “Katniss,” but I can train it.
Dragon has me working slower, though. I have to say “tab key”, and I was slightly running out of momentum and needed a writing break. These three timelapses, plus an extra 20 minutes, were all done today.
I kept forgetting to set the timer for Alexa when dictating with Microsoft. Oops.
Am I Happy With Dragon?
Micrsoft Word seems to have vastly improved since I started using it. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to dictating with it now. Its accuracy is almost comparable to Dragon at this point.
Yet I don’t regret buying Dragon. Dragon may have been expensive, but I’m happy to have it, purely for the superior formatting and capitalization. It learns from me, so it caps The Pophet and all that. And I know it’s only going to get better.
I’ll have to get used to saying “open single quote” though. I keep going between quote and single quote. Microsoft doesn’t format single quotes correctly while dictating, so I got used to just saying “quote” with the intent to “replace all” later.
Editing After Dragon
The other day I wrote a short story using half Dragon, half typing, and there was almost no difference between the typed and dictated text. Editing took an hour, then I published it. It was wonderful.
Meanwhile, I dictated a short story with Microsoft, and … well, you know. It was horrible, editing was hell, and it took days.
That’s all I have to say on the matter of Dictation. It’s an easy skill to master once you get past the initual brain resistance, and having the right tools is vital definitely important.
I reccomend Dragon for productivity purposes. Seriously, I’ll include a video of my full writing session at the end (timelasped to under 3 minutes). It’s uncut. You can see the time on my PC. Look at the clock and the wordcount.
The writing is quite crap, but I’ve been writing for almost 12 hours across four niches, and I’m not as good a writer while dictating as I am while typing. Time and editing will fix that. I keep saying “seem” and it’s annoying me, and I almost veer into “The Prophet felt his eyebrows shoot up” territory, rather than “The Prophet’s eyebrows shot up.”
I’ll get used to it.
Full writing session: