Use Dictation to Write the Fastest Starter Draft of Your Life

Today, our writers group met, and we talked about doing sprints at our meetings, as well as giving feedback. During the conversation about starter drafts, dictation came up again, since I’m a big fan of this particular writing tool.

We decided a supplemental blog about dictation and another about Sprint Writing would be helpful, not only to the SAFW group, but to other writers, as well.


Advantage #1: Dictation is fast.

Popular Mechanics wrote about a study done at Standford that showed speech-to-text was 3x faster than typing. Since their test was done using iPhones, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict you’ll find your results are even better.

I’ll get to why in a moment, but for now, I can say that to date, my dictation rate is one page, or 250 words, every five minutes. When I doubt the Dragon (Nuance Dragon Dictate program), and go back to the keyboard, a page takes me 30 minutes. The reason related to dictation Advantage #2.

Advantage #2: Dictation keeps you moving forward.

Editing is challenging using dictation, which means you’re motivated to keep going and not pause to make corrections. Which brings me to why my time per page is 6x slower when I type.

When I use the keyboard to write, I stop and fix stuff, go down rabbit holes, get sidelined by research, and generally tank. Darn that inner critic/editor.

Advantage #3: Dictation allows your creative side to flow.

Once you get used to it, dictation is a wonderful tool for letting your subconscious come out and play. And when it does, you might find yourself talking a five page scene in 30 minutes, or less. Take that, inner critic/editor.

As your subconscious gets its say, you’ll quickly become addicted to cranking out pages. When that happens, you won’t want to stop and make them perfect. It’s more fun to see chapters getting done.

Advantage #4: You’ll finish the Starter Draft of your book.

One of the keys of getting used to dictation is mentally reassuring that inner critic/editor that they will also get their say. Just not right now. Because until you’ve written your book from start to finish, you can’t accurately edit it. How could you? You don’t know everything that will be revealed from writing it, yet.

For me, dictation is the perfect way to finish the starter draft. After that, it’s time for passes and hands on (the keyboard) improvements. Which is when the inner critic/editor gets to join the fun with your creativity.

Just like the first stage is for the creative mind, the final is for the editor. This is when grammar, wordsmithing, typos, and faux pas are found. Which I mention to reassure you that, really, it’s okay if the dictation/starter draft isn’t “perfect.” It isn’t meant to be.


since I was first introduced to Dragon Dictate in the early 2000s, I’ve always favored it. But it might not be right for everyone, and even better, there are some free options available, now, including built-in speech-to-text in MS Word, and IOS.

How to Use Speech-to-Text in Word

How to Use Speech-to-Text on a Mac

Nuance Dragon Dictate

Regarding Dragon, I use the Home version for the PC, but have had it on Macs in the past. The program costs $150 to own, at the time of this writing, no subscription fees. Sometimes you can find better deals on eBay, but be careful to vet the seller before you do. Amazon also offers the program for sale.

Nuance has a phone app, as well, so that you can dictate when away from your computer. I’ve found the Dragon Anywhere App to be useful, but at a subscription cost of $15/mos, or $150/year, it’s not as cost-effective as having it on your computer. I continuously drop the subscription and pick it up again because of the steep price tag.


First, be patient with yourself and your chosen program. For one, dictating requires that you speak slower than you’re accustomed to do. And in the case of Dragon, it also takes time for the program to learn how you speak so it can increase accuracy.

As an example, my Dragon program recently informed me it was ready to update its accuracy — after 30k words of dictation on my current novel.

It also takes time to get used to creating using a new method. It feels awkward, at first. Keep reminding yourself that it’s worth the effort. Because it is! Now that I’m firmly on the dictation dark side, I’ll never go back to my old way of creating a starter draft.

It’s also smart to invest in a good headset, which can make a difference in accuracy, as well. I’ve used Jabra Evolve 40 UC Stereo Wired Headset / Music Headphones for almost two years now, and love them. At the time of this writing, they’re selling for $109 on Amazon.

Next, it pays to learn a few basic commands so your dictated copy comes closer to what you need. With dictation, you have to say everything you want. Because, well, it’s only a program. It can’t read your mind…yet.

That means (comma) even punctuation (period)

Yup, that’s how you would say that sentence for transcription.

Here are the commands which will get you through most of your novel’s starter draft:

  • Period
  • Comma
  • Begin quote
  • End quote
  • New line
  • Open pren
  • Close pren
  • Em Dash
  • Hyphen
  • Explanation point
  • Question mark
  • Initial cap

Most of the above commands are self-explanatory and you’ll quickly get the hang of them. “Open pren” and “Close pren” are for parentheses. These are handy because you’ll want to use them when you don’t know something, but need to keep moving forward, as we discussed above.

Here’s an example from the starter draft of my current project, which is a Victorian mystery:

Charlotte stopped in the shade of the large (tree) overhanging the wall. “Only one of those I would consider to be true.”

In this case, when I go back to do passes, I plan to look up types of trees found in gardens in Essex.

Here’s another example:

Her reputation as a contributor of ‘new information’ crime articles in the Countess’ paper was well known, approved by Princess Louise, and the perfect cover for her investigations. She had also found them to be an excellent way to ease the pain of keeping so many secrets.
(I’ll need to work out some ages and time lines to solidify the family relations.)

In this case, I used parentheses to leave a reminder that at a later time, I need to look through my notes and characters and establish consistency and logic. By the way, when I added this note, I had to mentally tell my inner critic/editor, who was raising hell, that there’s a time and place for everything, so cool it.

It pays to consider dictation to speed up and simplify your writing practice. And if you do, give it a fair chance before you make up your mind. Talking a book feels weird at first, but as you get the hang of it, you will love the results.

See you on the bestsellers list!

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