Thought I ought to share what I’ve found out about dictating and writing. In some ways, it’s easier than normal writing with your fingers. I’ve known about it for a long time but, lately, I’ve begun to think it might apply to more people than just me. I know of two.
Courtney Stevens, who wrote the amazingly excellent YA novel, Faking Normal, walks and writes. She feels it has changed her approach to her material, story, and characters.
To learn about the characters in her new novel, The Lies About Truth, she walked a certain route every day for two or three hours. The exact same route, so that there is nothing new to discover, see, or take her mind off the game, which is to think. She goes on the road with a prompt, a question about a character that needs solving. And she walks and thinks. At the end of the walk she comes in and writes down notes. She doesn’t do any “writing,” just making notes.
My son, W. M. Akers, is a playwright, novelist, book editor, and sports journalist. He walks, talks, and writes. He carries a tape recorder. He talks into it and never listens to the recording. When the walk is over, he writes down the most important things he remembers.
This is what he told me about it.
Whenever I want to think through a new idea, or try to solve a problem with a story I’m currently working for, I go for a long walk in my neighborhood with a tape recorder. I talk into the tape recorder, asking myself questions and trying to sort through the answers.
“Okay, so, why isn’t this chapter working?” “What does she want in this scene, and how can she try to get it that’s an approach we haven’t seen before?” “What happened to him before the story started that affects how he’s behaving in this scene?” “What are some locations we could use that are more interesting than the ones we currently have?”
I find that talking into the recorder forces me to organize my thoughts more than if I were just thinking to myself, but isn’t as restricting as brainstorming straight to a pad of paper. Being outside, and moving my legs, probably helps get my brain moving too. Thankfully, since I live in New York, nobody really looks twice at someone who’s talking intently into his hand.
And here’s the best part: I never listen to the tapes. Once I’ve worked through whatever questions I was asking myself, how I got there isn’t important. I’ll scribble down the answers, either while I’m walking around or as soon as I get home, but I never need to go back to the files—which is great, because I hate transcribing, and really hate the sound of my voice on tape. Just forcing myself to talk out the problem is enough to get my brain working—and getting a little exercise along the way probably isn’t a bad thing, either.
When you’re talking, your brain engages in a different way. When you’re walking and talking (or just thinking), your brain engages in another different way. The thoughts seem to come easier when they are not slowed down by your fingers. One thought triggers another thought in a different way than when thoughts are flowing down your arms to the page.
I can get in the car, having absolutely nothing to say, and pick up the recorder. Then I start talking. And, whether I have a thought in my empty head or not, ideas come. They trigger different ideas, which trigger different ideas, which trigger new, better, more unusual ideas.
I use Dragon Dictate for Mac software to type up the notes I dictate. That means I have to speak the punctuation for the software to put it in. It takes almost no time to learn not to think about it. I use pretty simple punctuation… not even punctuation as high up the food chain as the semicolon. And, hey, it spells every word right.
Dictating is easy for notes, harder for “writing.” For it to sound like “writing” when it gets to the page, I had to practice.
An added benefit of walking and writing is… you’re walking! It’s actually good for you.
Unlike sitting at a desk feeling your back muscles turn to goo.