Dictate Your Book

As an author, I’m always looking for opportunities to improve my writing productivity. I recently had a chance to read a book entitled Million Dollar Productivity. That provided a lot of good advice about how to improve writing productivity and production rate so that you can get to a much more effective so you can enjoy a much more effective writing career.

As I read Million Dollar Productivity, I hit upon the idea of doing dictation with a human transcriber. He explains how that process works. This alone is worth the read. However, for the kind of books that I’m trying to write, a human transcriber would cost about $1000. A little too expensive at this stage in my writing career.

Instead, I decided that Dragon NaturallySpeaking would be a much better tool for transcription. After all, I already have it, and have used it to some extent for writing novels. Mac users like me use Dragon Dictate, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is for PC users. I’ll use “Dragon” throughout to represent both.

My experience in using Dragon for novels was mixed. I was prone to editing while I dictated, which led to Dragon eventually freaking out. Seriously, it threw books around and stomped out of the room. This is likely due to potential incompatibility with either Sublime Text or Scrivener. Million Dollar Productivity moviated me to use a recorder away from the computer, while still using Dragon. This allows me to dictate wherever I can carry a recorder. That bypasses the challenge of self-editing and Dragon getting into a hissy.

I also happened upon a book recently entitled Dictate Your Book, which offers pricy, free advice on using Dragon to dictate. It’s an impulse-priced Kindle book, and seems to target the author who is going to do dictation using Dragon. Dictate Your Book is too fluffy, two-thirds of the content can be found either by an hour’s research on the Internet or bothering to read Nuance’s user material on Dragon. Ultimately I think you’ll end up doing your own research even after reading this book. To spare you this purchase, here’s the distillment of how I think you as an author can dictate inexpensively and still have productivity.

Why Dragon?

Dragon is the market leader. The only meaningful competitor pulled out of the market a few years back. You may want to use your OS' tool, but Dragon has a sophisticated transcription capability. Don’t use an inferior product, especially when Dragon is fairly inexpensive.

What Hardware?

The author of Million Dollar Productivity tells you what recorder he uses (Olympus brand), as does the author in Dictate Your Book. Nuance’s hardware Compatibility Chart tells you which wired and wireless microphones and headsets, and recorders work with your version of Dragon. Note: Mac and PC compatibility are different. In Dictate Your Book, you are bombarded with bad advice were you should be looking at this Compatibility Chart.

Instead, cross-reference the relevant Nuance’s Compatibility Chart with the product’s Amazon customer reviews. That helps narrow down the list. Then, buy the one you think works best. Amazon has a generous return policy, so if you made a bad pick, return the equipment and buy something else. I ended up with a Phillips recorder that works very well (though Olympus and Sony have good choices). The recorder’s manual is on the recorder itself. It may take you a few weeks of trying different equipment to find what you like. You might speed that up by buying a couple different options at the same time, and returning what you don’t like.

Not Your Phone!

Sure, you can use your phone. After all, it’s a computer. It has a microphone and some software to improve voice fidelity. However, your phone is probably not on the Nuance Compatibility List. And Dragon’s transcription ability is going to be better than what your phone offers. A professional uses professional tools.

Getting the Most Out of Dragon.

Dragon is a dictation tool. It expects the use of basic dictation commands; the sort that have been used for years for dictation with the human transcriptionist. That is a skill that requires some investment of time to learn. It’s not as hard to learn is typing, but it does require some thought and some practice. Be willing to put the time into learning how to dictate, and how to use Dragon’s commands. When using a recorder, the edit commands (e.g. “Scratch That”) will not work. When you error, stop, and restate the sentence error free. That make take a few passes. You’ll take those out in post-transcription.


This blog article was initially drafted using the Philips while I was in the bathroom. I know, ew. But my point is that the computer is a different part of the house. Moreover, there were a lot of starts and stops as I did this, and I had to mark the bad bits for post-transcription editing. Knowing how to dictate, and knowing how to mark what need to be scratched out is important.

Update 2020

This article was originally written just four years ago. The computer industry has invested heavily to improve voice-to-text technology. Additionally, there are scores of new apps that seek to improve your dictation / transcription experience. I don’t think Dragon is the vanguard of the industry. Your phone’s voice-to-text is probably good enough to capture your initial draft.