Writing with Voice Software, Computers, or By Hand

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

We received a question via email from John in Canada. He asks: “I have read that writing with a pen is “better” than typing when it comes to this mysterious quality feature. But the old fashioned technique of course suffers from an efficiency standpoint. It’s best to have it digitally recorded for editing and updating. I’ve also been told to read my work out loud to myself. I do read work to a group, and I feel the benefits. I’m wondering if any of your writers, or if you know of any, that write with a pen then read their work out loud with a tool like Dragon to record it. This “workflow” seems to accomplish much: establishes that writer-paper relationship with the pen and slows down the writing, all to increase quality. It adds reading out loud, a proven editing technique, and the digital recording just happens.”

John, I do know of a few authors who write difficult sections of their manuscripts by hand and then type it after they feel they’ve written what they want to. I’ve heard that changing the method of writing by getting away from a computer can help an author to conquer writer’s block. I don’t think any Books & Such clients write manuscripts completely by hand, but I do think it is true that writing by hand can improve quality because it does force the writer to slow down. It’s just not the way of the world these days though and it would be so time consuming to write that way. The improvements that could be made aren’t likely to be significant enough to be worth the extra work in most cases either.

I am a firm believer in an author reading a book out loud after it is complete. You can catch so many mistakes that way! I encourage all of you to leave enough time before your deadline to take the time to read your book out loud.

This topic makes me think of Jane Austen and I’ve pondered this before.  I love Jane’s works so I have wished that she had access to a computer so she could have written more than six complete books in her lifetime. But if she had a computer would the books have turned out as well? I don’t think they would have, but there’s no way to know for sure.

I don’t know of any authors who use voice recognition software to write books, but we can ask our blog readers. Do any of you use voice recognition software like Dragon? How do you prefer to write your manuscripts?

And I’ll end with a little note on something related to this topic: If you do write your books by hand, you will need to type them after. Agencies and publishers do not accept handwritten projects.

15 Responses

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  1. I have written by hand many of my works because it comes out of my brain through the hand much more from the heart without the worries of hitting a wrong key or having autocorrect make a nuisance of itself. A handwritten copy serves as my first version. The next day I enter the handwritten portion into Microsoft Word with my first edits. Then after that I write the next chapter in longhand. I will then take a break. When I go back, I will read out loud the Microsoft version and make any edits. I write poetry, and I am very cognizant of how words and sentences sound, how the words roll off the tongue and how the meter of speech goes with the intention of the scene.

    I do have Dragon Naturally soft were program, and am planning to use it as my speaking is also my writing. My voice is so much the same. I have very arthritic hands from overuse, they are painful 24/7 but I am used to it and avoid the use of them that increases the pain. So my goal is to go back and forth between typing and using the Dragon program. I also have Scrivener and really like the way it can help in the development, storage. And compilation of both fiction and nonfiction projects. I am just in the learning stages, but it is of necessity so I can produce in an orderly and efficient manner.

    Sometimes, like writing the last chapters I wanted to finish for my offering for last July’s Northwestern Christian Writers Conference in St. Paul, MN, I did do my first draft on my laptop and skipped the long hand. But, I do prefer long hand, especially if it is matters close to the heart.

    Thanks for the post Rachel.

  2. Carol Ashby says:

    I wonder whether a slower speed can produce the same quality that multiple edits of the writing can. I prefer to write on the computer. I edit while I’m writing a section, right after I’ve written a section, and many times again as I’m working on later sections. There isn’t any part of my manuscript that hasn’t been worked over at least 8 times, up to 20 for some. When the next pass-through produces no changes, I feel I have it close to where it needs to be for publication quality.

    When I’m researching something for my history website, I do tend to take notes by hand, but writing into article form needs the easy editing capability of a wordprocessor. I was writing technical articles in the 80’s by hand before there was a PC on every desk, and the literary quality of articles then was lower than it became after we all had PCs and could edit and refine many times.

    I also save many copies of the manuscript using the title and the date I first saved the latest version. That leaves a trail of earlier versions if I decide I want to resurrect something I deleted, and it makes having something happen to the current file only a minor inconvenience. I back up onto a flash drive daily and regularly to an external hard drive.

    If I wrote by hand, I couldn’t do as many polishes on the work, and I’d have the wasted time of typing a 100K-word manuscript into the computer before I could do anything with it when I’d “finished” it. Perhaps the very best authors who need negligible editing can write as effectively by hand, but I couldn’t.

    • I do multiple edits as well, and that involves my writing partner who is also a grant writer and is a stickler about wording, grammatics, etc.

      If a work is nonfunctional, such as the educational presentations I have written for health staff and patients it is all done on computer.

      However, when it involves anything that is deeply personal, emotional or things of that nature I would rather write by hand, even if it is slower. I believe Max Lucado still writes his first drafts by hand–from the heart of a pastor/undershepherd to the flock.

      It all depends on the purpose for me.

  3. I have a good friend who uses Dragon, and LOVES it.

  4. I prefer the computer, although I have noticed that ideas/wording often flows more easily when I use pen and paper. I’m not a huge fan of recording as a method of writing. I did try it after having it recommend at a conference – I mean, multi-tasking on my half-hour drive to work? Great! – But in practice, it didn’t work so well. I’m not a good oral storyteller, and I’m too much of a perfectionist not to backspace. (Note: Verbal backspacing sounds rather awkward – “Strike that.” “Oh, nevermind.” “No, she went left, not right!” “He didn’t really say that, did he? That makes no sense.”) Oh well. Kudos to those who are able to use tools like this.

  5. I can’t imagine writing a whole manuscript by hand. I don’t have the hand strength anymore. I like technology. I do always read my manuscripts out loud from my tablet, and that really helps to catch mistakes. And I am able to recognize when the flow is good and when it needs help. Because when I’m reading it to my family, I feel super good when it is going good, and I feel super embarrassed when it isn’t. 🙂

  6. I hand write only my journal, which is mostly a record of my conversations with God — the source of many of the concepts in my posts, studies and books. Hand writing things destined for other readers ties knots in my hands and also in my stomach. Typing my journal ties knots in my soul.

  7. Sarah Sundin says:

    I wrote my first five novels by hand (the first two remain unpublished, for which we should all be thankful). Entering the story in the computer served as my first edit. By that fifth book, I realized it was too time-consuming, so I write my rough drafts in the computer now. However, before I write each act of the book, I write “scene sketches” by hand – about 2 pages per chapter in my micro-handwriting – where I sketch out the flow of the chapter with dialogue, action, etc. It’s not fully fleshed out, but it’s about halfway there. This allows me to use that dreamy state that writing by hand produces without slowing down the pace of the actual rough draft.

    As for voice recognition software, I have heard of several authors who use it. One is blind, and several have carpal tunnel syndrome. They have to do quite a bit of clean-up, but the software allows them to get the story down.

  8. Interesting subject, Rachel! For me it’s driven by physical profile; typing is difficult because severe pain along the sides of the chest wall make me stick my elbows out (a typing Funky Chicken), which is tiring at length – ‘length’ being more than a few minutes.
    * Voice-recognition software would be nice except A) speaking is now very difficult, and B) I do my writing in the house’s ‘kennel area’, which might make for some weir and wonderful transliteration.
    * The VERY first novel I tried to write was by hand (and it was abandoned after 12,000 words, as a fire destroyed the manuscript). I did notice that in writing by hand I tended to lose my train of thought more easily than when I typed; the physical process of writing seemed to take up space in a part of my brain used for short-term memory, and I would forget what I’d written a few paragraphs before.

  9. Victoria Langdon says:

    I started my novel using the computer and Word. Being a perfectionist, it was difficult as I could immediately see all spelling errors and grammar booboos.
    I learned to give myself a break and not look at the errors until the next day. At that time I would do my first edit of what I had written the day before. Then I would continue the manuscript from that point. Earlier this year I was involved in an auto accident that rendered my left hand unusable for computer work. I switched to Dragon and Scrivner. I have never been happier. I still edit yesterday’s work before continuing the story but it is easier for me to write without the mistakes I was making before even though Dragon is slower than my typing speed and cannot keep up with my brain I have found that Scrivner allows me to do an outline more easily and helps me to focus on just the one chapter I’m working on giving me a more correct manuscript prior to the first edit.
    I say try it all. Whatever works for you is the best way. It took an accident for me to find my best way because I was to stubborn to try anything new at the beginning of the journey.

  10. Karen Cioffi says:

    I haven’t used a voice recognition software to write my books, blog posts, or even emails or text messages. I know from others that they make mistakes. I prefer typing on my laptop. My fingers have become fast enough to keep up with my thoughts, so it’s working well.
    As far as writing by hand, I’d get too frustrated at the time involved.

  11. Kay Kauffman says:

    I still write all my books by hand, in addition to poetry and short stories. I love everything about handwriting, especially the scritching of my pencil across the paper. It’s a connection to tradition for me, to history, both mine and the long history of literature around the world. While typing it up is definitely a pain, typing it as I go makes it less overwhelming (and a great way to edit).

    I love the idea of voice-recognition software, but dictating a story, especially if it’s fantasy or sci-fi, would be more trouble than it’s worth, I think. But recently, I bought a Lenovo YogaBook tablet, which comes with a stylus that can be converted to a pen, and special paper that when used with the tablet, will capture and digitize your handwriting. I haven’t yet had a chance to play around with it much, but if I remember correctly, it will then convert your handwriting to text using OCR software. If you have very neat handwriting, that would be one heck of a great time-saver. 🙂

  12. Late to the party, but I am here. 🙂 I am a bit of an odd duck, I think. I will write entire scenes by hand when an idea strikes and tuck it away or maybe type it when I have access to a computer, but generally, I write my draft almost completely on the computer. When it comes to editing I print the entire thing out, highlight the dickens out of it (I love all the pretty colors) and write any changes by hand and enter them later. I am kind of a nerd in that I color code my changes. If I have a page that isn’t colorful, I haven’t done a good enough edit. This is for the first round of edits (although I do some editing while typing the draft). The hope is there will be progressively less color in my manuscript with each edit.

    I have tried Dragon Speech in the context of teaching, but my accent is just enough that the darn thing get’s half of what I say wrong. Same with talk to text. I go back, read it, and then want to cry because I have no idea what I was really saying. 🙂

    Anyone else love highlighters and editing?

    • I love highlighters and pens too. I always print a copy as well. I read it and highlight and edit. Then, I read it out loud and edit more. Then, I put all the corrections in the computer version. I set it aside, go over it another time, and off to my writing partner it goes for her editing. When it comes back, I review her edits, talk to her if I have any questions, and set that portion aside. Later in the month, I will go back and edit again. I tend to read my work out loud a lot.

      It’s been interesting to read everyone’s comments.