I don’t have rhythm

Since my surgery on Wednesday, I have been trying to write with my dictation software. It hasn't gone well. Not because of the software, which has been working fine (I am using it to write this post). The problem is me and it's mental. Or maybe tactile. Or both.For some reason, the act of typing is very much linked creatively to writing for me. The dictation software has been fine for things like this post, but for fiction, it has been problematic. My sentences are coming out stilted. The words just aren't flowing. Granted, I have other handicaps working against my creativity now…pain, discomfort, drugs. Even so, I feel like I need the tactile connection/sensation of fingers on the keys to really get into the groove, the rhythm of writing. That rhythm is missing for me without the act of typing. I guess it's like trying to dance while belted into a chair. On the plus side, I seem to be a better speller with the dictation software … at least when the software gets my words right, which surprisingly is most of the time.

Yesterday I wrote an essay for the Edgar Award program and what would have taken me maybe an hour took me a lot longer. It was easier than trying to dictate fiction, though. Maybe with practice I get better at it. I hope to be back typing with my right hand again very soon.

9 thoughts on “I don’t have rhythm”

  1. That’s exactly what’s held me back from taking up dictation software too. I compose as I type, and I’d have to learn a whole new way of doing it to move to dictation software. Maybe then I’d learn to think before I talk though.

  2. Lee, have you been working with the dictation software long? I’m guessing you can break through this problem before too long if you keep working at it.
    When I first started using Dragon some years back, I did fine right out of the box with nonfiction and correspondence and such, but I hit an invisible speedbump when dictating fiction — the same kind of problem you’re experiencing: unnatural sentence flow, etc. It took me a couple of months to recognize what the problem was. It was simply that I felt dumb telling a story out loud. (Having to speak the punctuation made it worse.)
    And the joke, of course, was that I had and have no trouble pitching. But prose fiction’s tense is usually different, and I had to train myself not to feel silly doing it, especially the descriptive passages. It took about a month. (I began to suspect during that month that the act, sound and movement of typing is one of the ways I had previously distracted myself from feeling silly about thinking in prose. Might be true, might not be. Immaterial now, as both typing and dictating are equally easy, though I admit a slight bias toward typing.)
    Just stick with it. You’ll prevail. Think of it as building a muscle you’ve never had to build before, because others you’ve been working with longer have borne the weight until now. It’s useful to have the extra muscle to take up the slack during physical emergencies like this one… and sometimes just to take a break. (The pleasure of dictating a chapter of a book while out for a walk is not to be sneezed at.)

  3. This problem dogged me too when I tried to move from composing while I was writing to using a keyboard. Just felt stupid doing it. Now, it seems natural and saves a ton of time. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it with time. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it increases your output, it’s just so much faster and easier.

  4. I wrote my first novels on a legal pad and then typed them. The tactile quality that had informed my stories when they were done in longhand slowed down my shift to typing, and later to computing. I know of one author, Loren Estleman, who still composes his novels on an old Underwood upright typewriter of the sort that once filled every newsroom, even though ribbons are getting hard to find. Because he is dealing with a typewriter, and because revisions are so difficult in that medium, he gets it right the first time, and his novels don’t require revision.

  5. I seem to remember a writer–I want to say Asimov–who wrote about how he’d tried dictating, but found that when he got to action or high conflict passages, his voice rose and got louder to the point where he couldn’t even understand his own dictation.
    I dictate a lot of stuff for the day job. I can’t imagine doing it with fiction.

  6. I tried Estleman’s approach with less success. I needed white out by the quart. I tossed the typewriters into the dumpster and bought an old laptop. Still, I wrote my first memoirs longhand and then moved on to typing direct on the computer. Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, and Walter Kirn, all still write on legal pads first. I’m glad I don’t need to, but then I don’t have their successes either so. I know one yet-to-be- published writer who types on a roll like Kerouac. It has history, I’ll give him that.


Leave a Comment