In the mid-2010s, independent writers bandied the term “authorpreneur” constantly. Most of those making it their catchword sold more books about writing than the fiction or nonfiction books they tried to sell. They all hammered on one method to get production up: Dictation.
It took me about five years and the worst pandemic in a century to find the mindset to dictate. During lockdown, Uber was not an option as a side hustle. I did Door Dash instead. Bop into the restaurant to get the food, then leave it on the customer’s doorstep. When this began, I hit on an idea. I’m the only one in the car. On the way to the restaurant, I could dictate a story by speaking into Google Docs on my phone. On the way to the customer, as I needed GPS to navigate, I listened to audiobooks. This resulted in some highly productive weekends and allowed me write nine Suicide Arc novels in fourteen months. However…
Friday and Saturday nights, when I normally wind down from an Uber shift talking to my wife and just relaxing before bed, I spent correcting Google Docs’ interpretation of I spoke. There were a lot of errors.
A LOT of errors.
And I’m still finding them. Thanks to ProWritingAid, sharp-eyed beta readers, and resigning myself to spending vast amounts of time adding quotation marks, finding every variation Google had on the name “Mitsuko” ( a former coworker would be infuriated at the misspellings), and filling in missed words, I got most of them. But not all.
Occasionally, even after Sarah Davis, my current scifi publisher, goes through them, I’ll spot one or two in the finished product. Not enough to recall the book, but enough to make me cringe. Mind you, I’ve seen worse come out of the Big Four in New York. Big Famous PI Writer (TM) once flipped speakers in a block of untagged dialog. And this novel is considered a classic.
There are several ways to mitigate this. You probably will never get 100%. If Ellen “the Cutter” Campbell says she never gets all the errors, who can? But you can mitigate it to where it’s unnoticeable to the average reader.
- Eyeball it – If you dictate, you’re going to have to reread what you wrote. For me, that has to be almost immediately. What comes out of a dictating session is usually unreadable as prose, so if you intend to use this method of writing, suck it up.
- Word/Scrivener – Most word processing and writing apps have built-in editing tools. Scrivener is designed specifically for writers, and Word’s editor has improved to the point of useful. (Sometimes. It occasionally suggests something that would give my high school and college teachers screaming fits.) This also lets you build your dictionary for a given work.
- Read back – Word, among others, has a function that allows you to listen to what you wrote. It almost sounds natural, but if your character is pounding the steering wheel in heavy traffic, that repeated obscenity doesn’t come back as shouting. It comes back as a pleasant female voice offering excrement as though you asked it for tea. Still, a lot of writers say to read a work aloud. This is another way to hear your own words and make sure they don’t sound like writing.
- Editing tools – ProWritingAid is, of course, my tool of choice. I pay for the premium addition. A lifetime subscription gets you a plagiarism check as well. It’s great for catching missing words and minding your quotation marks. Plus, you can plug it into Word. (Someone can comment on whether it works for Scrivener.)
- Betas/Editor – Other people aren’t as close to your work. Other people don’t care about your ego. Other people will say, “What the hell is that?” Usually, I find more dictation errors that way than anything else. There’s an editing conundrum that affects us all. As you’re flagging points to edit, you miss the next one just as often as not. If you reduce the amount of work for someone else to do (and I will do this for you for reasonable rates. Contact me!), the easier it is to find what remains. I’ve rarely seen a perfect manuscript, even off the shelves at Barnes & Noble. They exist, but like albino rhinos, they’re hard to find.