A friend of mine, over the past few years, has been writing his memoirs, which have now been published. But when I say writing, he’s been doing it in a way that I don’t think I could. He’s been dictating them into the computer using a voice activation programme (or whatever they’re called). Nevertheless, just to prove my point, I’m going to try dictating this to see what sort of product emerges.
The trouble with talking is that it moves too quickly. You don’t have time to balance the sentence, structure the argument – or rather, even if you think very carefully before you speak, what you say is not part of a larger batch of words, but simply something separate, independent, expressed in the instant of saying it. That’s OK when you’re doing workshops or working from notes because then you’re interacting with other people or things and that gives you a different sort of continuity. But when you’re sitting here as I am now with a blank mind and no idea where I want to go with this, all it produces is garbage. In fact, it actually brings home the immediacy of speech. That seems a strange thing to say, but the act of speaking is such an instantaneous thing that, once you’ve spoken the sentence, you’re left with silence, just a blank, and nothing to link to what you’ve just said. With writing, it’s different. The words lie on the screen or page in front of you, part of something that’s unfinished and which you can juggle around, delete or add to. It’s only finished and delivered when you’ve shaped the whole thing the way you want it to look and sound. As I’m saying these words, they’re just vanishing and only tenuously linking with what’s gone before.
You wouldn’t believe how painfully slow this process is. I could have written more than this far more quickly than I’m speaking it (and it would have made more sense).
I’ve had enough of this. I’ve switched off the mic and reverted (gratefully) to the keyboard. It was the repetitious nature of what I was saying that got me in the end. I had no idea whether it was leading anywhere or even if it was making any sense. I always read my stuff aloud when I’ve finished writing it and that always highlights stylistic as well as other flaws. But there’s a disjunction in dictating – it’s just regurgitating lumps of words which don’t necessarily relate to those around them.
I’d love to hear if any of you have tried dictating and, if so, how successful or satisfying you found it to be. It’s so utterly different that I’m still not sure how to define it. (The above attempt was woeful.) In a way it’s the difference between thinking in sentences and thinking in paragraphs. (I look forward to the day when I’ll start thinking in novels.)
(And also to the day that I don’t use quite so many brackets.)