Dictation vs. Typing

“No! Don’t hurt my fingers! I’m a writer.”

Two weeks ago, I had minor surgery on one of my fingers. The surgery was very minor and the cut is healing up nicely now, so no worries. However, for the first few days after the surgery, I had to type with a huge bandage getting in the way and a finger that I couldn’t bend. I managed to keep up with my daily fiction writing, but it wasn’t easy.

John suggested that I try one of the dictation programs that automatically types the words as you say them. I am considering it, but I know that dictation can be a little tricky. Over the years, I have found that it is quicker and easier for me to put my thoughts on paper by typing than it is by speaking.

Yes, that sounds counterintuitive. We all speak faster than we type. That is particularly true for me, because I am not a very good typist. My dad wanted me to take a typing class in my first year of high school. In the spirit of youthful rebellion, I took Latin instead. (What? It’s rebellion. Literary geeks have to be rebels somehow.)

My history with dictation goes back a long way. When I entered the workforce in the mid-1980’s, we did not have computers at our desks. Instead, I had to dictate documents into a mini-cassette tape recorder. When I finished, I brought the cassette to the computer department where one of the computer operators transcribed it, printed a paper copy, and gave it back to me for proofreading.

During those days, I quickly learned that dictating is a different skill from composing at the keyboard or typewriter. You had to speak slowly and clearly so the transcriber could understand what you said. It also took longer for me to form sentences and paragraphs in my head when dictating than it did when typing. I have no idea why that is true, but my thoughts seem to flow more easily when I type the words. Eventually, I mastered the skill of dictation, but it took a while. By the early 1990’s, we all had computers at our desks, so dictation became a thing of the past.

About ten years ago, the office where I worked purchased dictation software for any employee that wanted it. I assumed it would be easy for me to use, because I had dictated documents in the past (getting back on a bicycle and all that). It turned out to be a little harder than I thought. It took some adjustment for me to learn how to use the software and for the software to “learn” how I spoke. I also had to find the right speed for the dictation.

More importantly, I discovered that I had the same problem with composing sentences in my head that I had experienced in the 1980’s. If anything, the adjustment to dictation was harder in the 2010’s, because I had grown used to typing everything and composing each document as I typed. The software worked best when I was dictating a quote from already written material; it was much more difficult when I had to think of what to say and how to say it.

Since my retirement five years ago, I have not done any dictating. I’m sure the software quality has improved during that time and that dictation programs are easier to use than ever. However, I am still uncertain whether to purchase the software for my fiction writing, because I am not sure if it will speed up my writing or slow it down. I may try it anyway, to save my fingers from “wear and tear” and avoid repetitive motion injuries. If I decide to buy it, I’ll let you know how things turn out.

-Susan 10/30/20

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