Welcome back… I’m sorry, I just need to go off on a little irrelevant note. Every time I say or hear, “welcome back,” my mind immediately moves to the soft and comforting voice on the Calm App. So, when you read that, read me as a soothing female mindful meditation instructor. So, then you ask, “Jody, do you meditate?” and I say, “eh…yeah, usually.” Then you say, “Jody, is meditation a way to be prolific?” and I say, “hmm, let’s not jump ahead here. Today we are talking about using audio to help you be prolific.
In The Art of Being Prolific series, I cover tips that will help you be more prolific when writing with the assumption that the reader (you) does not feel there is enough time in the day for their regular daily activities in addition to writing.
I’d like to debunk the myth of not having time, and tip #2 of this series is how I was able to prove myself wrong when I too once said, “I just don’t have time to write.” Since I was early in my teen years I knew I would be a writer. Of course, back then, and as early as 30 seconds ago, I dreamed my career would be as a novelist. While this is still on the books, it is almost laughable that in the thirty-one years of “knowing” my career goal there are few instances where I didn’t write. My need to write is equivalent to my body’s need to produce blood. I have to write. And if I ever have to answer the question, Would you write even if you had tens of millions of dollars? I certainly would. However, even in that stretch of thirty-one years, there were times when I questioned why I wrote. Often, it was because those stories simply ended up in a drawer, or I wasn’t making money on writing. Yet, those funks were short lived and despite how busy I was, I always found time to write. Sometimes I would only write 250 words a day, and other times I would write over 10,000 words a day. What I’m trying to say is that no matter how busy my life was, I always wrote. And this tip was my salvation to writing during my busiest times.
Tip # 2 in The Art of Being Prolific Series: Record Yourself
I’ve had a recorder tucked away in a drawer since college when I would record my lectures and never listen to the tapes again. Back then we had these tiny little tapes, that were about as big as an Apple watch, but comparatively had the function of a rock. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I began using the recorder to my benefit. I happened to be watching a rerun of the movie Troop Beverly Hills. There is a scene where a romance novelist, played by British actress Stephanie Beachum, is dropping her daughter off for a Wilderness Girls meeting. As she pulls her car to a stop the novelist pulls out an audio recorder and begins talking out a scene into the recorder.
That Troop Beverly Hills scene brought me back to my earlier years when the movie first came out and my eagerness to own an audio recorder for that very reason.
It happened to be that the early 2000’s were a busy time for me – also a time when I took a few weeks off of writing and had no clue where I’d find the time. This is when I first had the idea to record myself – instead of writing – and later transcribe my recordings.
What I didn’t expect is how much more I got done while recording in the same amount of time than I did writing. My research into how quickly people speak is probably less than 5-10 hours. Most articles report the average person speaks between 110-125 wpm (words per minute). When I interview people for their memoirs and autobiographies, I find that range suitable for a calm person. A high-energy person speaks much faster.
Even if you just consider the low end of 110 wpm, that would be equivalent to typing 110 words per minute. Say, you do this during your 30-minute commute to work every morning, you are looking at 3,300 words before you get to the office. Not bad for a days work.
Of course, it is easier to toss numbers around when you ignore other variables such as getting coffee at Starbucks, yelling at someone who cut you off, speech disfluency, and those non-words, filler words (uh, umm, ahh) that everyone loves to use – and you never know how much until you record yourself. Yet, I find that those variables account for less than 20% of the recording. Figuring those in still gives you a good day’s work.
Tips on Recording Yourself
Recording yourself is as simple as turning the recorder on and beginning to talk. However, there are a few tips I’ve learned that helped me along the way.
I’m not just saying this so your work is easier to transcribe later, although it does help. One skill you can learn from recording yourself is how to become a better speaker – socially or publicly. By focusing on your voice and the words you can eliminate those non-words from your vocabulary. This will bode well if you ever become a successful writer who needs to do readings and communicate with fans at book signings. In general it is a helpful trait to have.
Use the “pause” button:
For years I would leave my recorder on and talk for the duration of my recording. However, when it dawned on me that I could pause my recorder during lengthy bouts of nothing, then restart when I needed, I found my recordings were much easier to transcribe. I was no longer fast-forwarding through silence, then rewinding to where I started speaking again. I must note there have been significant advances in transcription in the last few years. Namely, I use an online program called Trint which you can read about in my blog post “5 Essential Tools to Become a Working Writer.” While tools like this will skip the pause during transcription so you’ll never see it, I still find using the pause button as beneficial when I am listening back.
Carry your recorder with you always:
Once you get through the awkwardness of using a recorder to write you may find a sort of obsession driven by the speed with which you can write – especially considering you thought you had no time. This obsession will inevitably lead to spontaneous acts of recording when you are alone and have an idea. To this day I always have my recorder nearby.
What I do is set a recording schedule. I no longer commute to work, but when I did, I would use my time in the car to record. I have friends who walk to work and use a Bluetooth or headset during that time. The benefit from using a recorder is getting your stories out when you are doing another task that would otherwise keep you from recording.
Don’t forget to transcribe:
Forgetting to transcribe when you have the time can be demotivating. While I prefer to transcribe in short 1-hour intervals, I have known other writers who won’t transcribe until their story is completed on the recorder. However, at some point, you will need to do it.
Since I now write full-time I’ve occasionally used a professional transcriptionist, or whoever answers my Nextdoor app. Keep in mind a professional can be costly. However, if you don’t care about spelling and grammar mistakes then a neighbor who is looking for a couple extra dollars can be a great resource.
Your recording is only your first draft
I am a big supporter of recording your writing. One of the biggest complaints I receive – often before a writer even begins recording is: This doesn’t save time, it only pushes the work to a different time. Well, yes, it does save time.
You need to look at your recording as your first draft. Your transcription as your second draft, and subsequent editing as a part of the process. Sitting down to transcribe is as simple as listening and typing. There is little “brain-work” involved. What I suggest is to use your transcription as a second draft and as you type you can make changes and take notes.
What recording and transcribing does is motivates you to move forward. The recordings are a painless way to occupy your down time. The transcription is a fast way to see results.
Buy transcription tools:
This is a one-time investment that will pay off if transcription becomes a regular part of your writing process. There are several tools available that can help you transcribe better.
Audio to text programs like Trint, provide a functional way for you to manage your transcriptions and help – a lot – with transcribing. While this is a subscription or ad-hoc service, they provide a tool that will both record and upload your audio with your smart phone so you can save money by not buying a recorder. Now, I should say that I have beta tested several features for Trint, but I don’t receive compensation at all for promoting them. I just like their tool. If I were savvier, perhaps I’d work out an agreement.
I’m not sure how it is now, but I used to use Express Scribe for my transcription which was a standard type of tool many transcriptionists use. It helps to have a foot pedal to stop, start, and slow down speech as you go, but not needed. I never used one. While Express Scribe was free when I used it, they also had a paying format for people who use the tool more often. There are a lot of services out there, so it would bode well to investigate which has the features you prefer.
Buy a good recorder (and headset):
When I started I had the cheapest recorder I could find. I’ve since upgraded to a more quality recorder. Any will do to start, but after time you will see the difference between the cheap one and the expensive one. Even without considering recording quality and background balance, there are features such as USB hookup from your recorder, the number of available files, organizational ability, and screen features that are helpful. One thing I will say, is that you don’t need to spend more than $150. Most digital recorders will range from $30-$100. Smart phones have several recording apps, though what I’ve found is they burn up a lot of juice, crash often, and I’ve just had issues. The only one I haven’t had issues with is Trint.
A headset, speaker ear buds, or Bluetooth is not always a must, especially if you are in a car, but it does help if you like to record while walking and want people to think you are talking to someone, rather than something. Though, it is important to mention that not all digital recorders will record from another device, so make sure yours does before you invest in another set of ear buds.
There is a learning curve
If you take this advice, buy the recorder, hop in the car and begin talking, you do need to understand there is a learning curve to all of this. It may be uncomfortable talking without anyone there to listen. You may feel that you can’t immediately be able to talk about those things you go over in your head a thousand times each day. But, the more you practice the easier it will be. I suggest using just short periods of time such as five or ten minutes a day for a few weeks until speaking into a digital recorder is easier. Of course, you could just jump right in as writers are prone to do.
Being a prolific writer is not all about spending eight hours a day writing. It is about getting things done. Using an audio recorder helps you pack a lot more into those small periods of time you have available in the day. Look at it like this. A 500-word goal each day is a common one. In fact, 500 words a day is two good sized novels a year. Using an audio recorder you can accomplish that in five to ten minutes rather than thirty minutes or an hour.
The Art of Being Prolific series is about helping you to find ways to write everyday that won’t impact your ability to lead your life as you love it.
I would love to hear how you use your digital recorder, which recorders or transcription programs you use, or any other thoughts on the topic. Stay tuned for the next post in The Art of Being Prolific series: Going Old School.