Drafting a Manuscript Using Voice to Text

Voice-to-text has come a long way. I used to have to deepen my voice to what I call a “mansetto” to get any voice activated device to even listen to me. Even now, I know that my excited voice, which is higher pitch, isn’t going to be as accurate.

But, I’ve been using voice-to-text on chats, if I’m multitasking. And, a couple weeks ago, when running errands, I had a plot idea I didn’t want to forget. So, at an empty stop sign, I triggered voice-to-text and narrated my notes.

And it worked.

This whole year, I’ve been struggling with adding words to my space fantasy that I started back in November, for NaNoWriMo. I thought adding a new point-of-view character would help, and it did, but not enough. I managed 5,000 words in all of January.

The ubiquitous “they” say that if you’re having trouble getting the words to flow, try something new: a new font, a new writing location, a new story, a new writing program.

So, Friday, during a live write-in with Sarah Scharnweber, (you can often find me on her Friday night write-ins from 8-10pm ET), I decided to switch things up and try to get my words in verbally. And… oh-gosh-oh-geez it WORKED!

What Software Do You Need?

When I mentioned I’d tried this, this was the first question out of most writer’s mouths (well, keyboards, this was a virtual conversation).

I’m not using any fancy apps, although I did upgrade my phone last year. My technique was straightforward.

  1. I had my Samsung S10e phone
  2. I opened my Gmail
  3. I hit “compose” in the lower right
  4. I made sure my cursor was in the body of the email (a couple times, the keyboard didn’t show up, so I left the ‘compose’ window, reopened, and tried again)
  5. I triggered the microphone button for voice-to-text

That’s it.

I admit, I’m a recovering google fangirl. But about the time they dropped “do no evil” from their corporate guidelines, I devolved to simply a user. The advantage to using gmail is that it saves and auto-syncs with my email on any other device. While I do write in google docs (if you’re having trouble loading large documents, turn on ‘work offline’ as an option), I didn’t want to deal with loading a full manuscript, and I wanted to review the text before adding it to my draft. Plus, gmail is always loaded and I didn’t want to waste the navigating to a new document plus load time.

Besides, for me, I often save story ideas and snippets in my gmail drafts folder, so this is normal for me.

5 Tips For Writing Using Voice-To-Text

1 – Keep your voice slow and calm

As I mentioned earlier, excited voices, especially if you have a higher pitched voice, often run into trouble with voice-to-text programs. Speaking slowly and clearly gives the app the best chance to get the most accurate transcription.

2 – Voice your punctuation

I’ve been using voice-to-text lightly for years. “Comma” and “period” have been staples that have managed to find their way into voicemails, making me feel extra silly. As of this week, I’ve now mastered the “quote” to start or end a quotation, as well as “new line”, which works just like the enter key.

I recommend single new-lining after each paragraph, so when you copy it into your manuscript, the spacing will need the fewest adjustments to be in proper manuscript format. I had been double-new-lining, so learn from my mistakes.

3 – Use placeholder names

This one is pretty obvious. Voice-to-text will likely struggle with fantasy names, so do what I do and just use easily recognized names that you can easily find-and-replace.

4 – Reread every paragraph to make sure it’s still recording and isn’t too inaccurate

The few writers I talked to who have tried voice-to-text writing and vowed “never again” shared horror stories of long writing sessions where the recorder stopped five minutes in. I’m new to this, and I like to make sure future-me will know what I meant to say. So, by rereading each paragraph, I can repeat a phrase that the transcriptor botched, and, validate that the recording is still functioning. Then again, I’d started off manually adding those double ‘new lines’ so maybe I’ll calm down when I get more used to it?

5 – Copy each writing session into your main draft as soon as you finish

Voice-to-text is not perfect, it’s going to need some clean up. If you’re like me, the cleanup necessary for even a full chapter might seem intimidating. I enjoyed doing 15-21 minute sprints, and then copying the transcription over and cleaning it up right then. While I still remembered what any transcription errors meant to say, and while the task was still a matter of minutes, rather than hours or days.

Now, I’ve only been trying this for a week now, and I’m sure I’ll write by hand plenty as well. But, as long as it’s working, I’m not going to knock it.

Have you ever tried voice-to-text? Have you used it for writing?

Have you ever switched something up and found it helped your words?

Author Spotlight: Eric Shapiro

  • an acclaimed, award-winning writer-filmmaker. Eric is a dark soul. Positive attitude. =)

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Eric Shapiro!

Eric Shapiro is the author of Red Dennis, the writer-director of Living Things, and an acclaimed, award-winning writer-filmmaker. He co-owns and edits The Milpitas Beat, a Silicon Valley newspaper.  He lives in Northern California with his wife, Rhoda, and their two sons.

Eric, thanks for agreeing to be here today. While most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Definitely Falkor from The Neverending Story! That took me a minute, but there’s actually no other answer. And thank God I don’t have to feed him!

A classic selection and one of my favorites. Did you know that when you write fantasy, there’s no reason NOT to add puppy-dragons. *winks*

What do you write? And how did you get started?

On most days, it’s either news or dark fiction—which often have a lot in common. Generally I just sit down and start typing. I try not to think. Usually the first two paragraphs are agony, then I’ve dropped down into more of a meditative flow state where I can access my emotions. My book Ass Plus Seat actually covers the entire process.

You sound like me! When I struggle to get started, I do my “just five minutes” approach. If nothing happens, fine. But really, nothing beats sitting in front of your keyboard for getting out words.

What do you like to read?

All kinds of things. I’m trying True Crime lately, during Covid sheltering-in-place, but it might be too bleak and disturbing for me. But in general I like to read things that are fast, incisive, shocking, and anti-bull****.

I’ve enjoyed a decent amount of televised true crime, but I must admit, I shy away from it in my reading. I know it’s probably just the escapist in me.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Ways to ‘find your voice’

Anything to do with “finding your voice.” Your insight is the thing to track or look for. If you think too much about your “voice,” your writing just becomes mannered and obvious. Just work toward sharing your insights; look and see and share.

 I think that’s to stop people from poorly imitating their favorite authors, but it’s true. Voice is the one thing that can’t really be taught, everything else is a level of mechanics.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Start writing and then the muse will appear.

It’s so true: She doesn’t come to you. You go to her. Every single time. If you’re not sitting there putting in the physical grunt effort, she thinks you’re boring and annoying. But if you’re exerting yourself and being present, she loves to come and dance and play.

I’ll admit that’s both true and untrue for me. True, in that the muse doesn’t come when I’m not writing, but untrue in that the muse doesn’t always come.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Red Dennis

Dennis Fordham has it all: the wife, the kids, the established small business. And yet…he’s slipping. Something’s changing in his mindset. He’s regretting all the chances that he never took. And he’s getting a bad itch to visit illicit massage parlors. Even worse: He’s also starting to talk kind of funny. Only it’s not a joke — his strange words terrify his dental hygienist, who tells his whole Northern California community that he harassed her. When Dennis tries to push back, he’s met with intense resistance. Which is when his troubling thoughts turn into violent ones…

A story of red rage, red madness, and a bright red all-American psycho, RED DENNIS gives us a man on the edge, then invites us to follow him down into the abyss.

Ass Plus Seat

Writer and filmmaker Eric Shapiro worked professionally as a ghostwriter for over 3,000 clients around the world before co-running a Silicon Valley newspaper with over 30,000 readers. In between, he’s written acclaimed fiction books under his own name, along with award-winning screenplays. ASS PLUS SEAT, his first nonfiction book, is where he shares his secrets, exposing and exploring how for years he’s motivated himself to write each and every day.

ASS PLUS SEAT is an essential guide to help writers dealing with procrastination in the midst of the writing process. It’s a book on how to write from the standpoint of staying disciplined and inspired, complete with good tips for writing and expert advice for writers. Put it on your shelf next to the other classic creative writing books for adults, whether you are seeking inspiration to engage in the act of novel writing or screenwriting. 

Put ‘Ass Plus Seat’ on the shelf alongside Strunk and White, and Stephen King’s ON WRITING…” –Mason James Cole, author of Buster Voodoo

I wish I’d read this sooner! I’m going to get back to my manuscript – not tomorrow, but right now!” –Shannon Giglio, author of Short Bus Hero

Short of a Picnic12 short stories about 12 different characters with 12 different mental illnesses.

It’s Only TemporaryIt’s the last day on Earth. A meteorite will hit at sundown. A heartbroken kid hits the road to say goodbye to the only girl he’s ever loved.

The DevotedIt’s the last day in the life of a suicide cult. But as the clock ticks, one of the cult members gets second thoughts and stages a revolt.

Check Eric Shapiro out across the web!

Amazon | Goodreads | Milpitas Beat

Week In Review: February 19

In Case You Missed it: here’s the round up of all of my latest content, plus updates from old guests!

Read on if you want to know more.

If not? See you next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Coming up this week:

On Youtube: My Lazy Sunday afternoon livestream write-in is back again from 4:30pm-6:30pm EST. Come, hang out, and we’ll probably even do a few productivity sprints.

Content Around The Web:

On Youtube:

  • Getting An Agent: Querying In Batches – If you want to be traditionally published, you’re gonna need an agent. But, querying every agent in your genre in one week is a bad idea. SLOW DOWN.

On the Podcast:

On The Blog (In Case You Missed It):


I’ll be helping out with Farpoint this weekend.

What I’ve Been Reading:

Finished rereading from book 10 through book 28 of the Anita Blake series, to remember the timeline of all the relationships and character nuances.

New Works By Previous Guests!

New from Azriel Hope: Celestine: 1900’s Parisian Fairytale RomanceInspired by the Moulin Rouge and Bridgeton, Celestine will take you behind the curtains of the famed Palais Rose to meet its shining star, the most coveted courtesan in all of Paris.

Do you take the cover off of hardbacks before reading them? Do you leave them on? Or do you just not read many hardbacks at all?

4 hardback books on a cabinet. 5 dust covers from the Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton

Getting An Agent – Querying In Batches

I talk a lot about the querying process. Maybe someday I can talk about actually working with an agent. But, if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that traditionally published books need an agent and that most publishing houses don’t accept submissions for unagented works. You know, in order to get an agent, you need to send them a one-page query letter, telling them about the story — the characters and the stakes, the manuscript’s stats and comparative novels, and a brief biography of yourself. I’ve talked about how to pick who to query. I’ve even let you know about my worries about when to send that query letter.

But that’s not all you need to think about.

There’s debate about how many agents to query at a time, when to stop, and whether to give up and ‘drawer’ the manuscript or self-publish. I know I have the bad habit of revising my whole manuscript every ten queries or so, which I shouldn’t need to do unless I’m getting consistent feedback or my manuscript isn’t ready.

However, I’ve been running into querying writers who are sending out ten queries a day, without stop, until they’ve queried everyone in their genre, (or at least not opposed to their genre.)

Stop it!

You’re only hurting your own chances.

I agree that queries should be sent out in batches — but of 3-5, maybe up to 10. But then you need to wait. You need to see what sort of responses you’re getting.

If you’re getting form rejections, that doesn’t tell you if the agent doesn’t find your voice or story compelling, nor does it say that it’s not what the market is looking for. It simply means your query (and/or your first 10-pages) aren’t working.

It’s a LOT easier to edit or tweak a query and opening chapter than it is to revise and revamp an entire manuscript. But, industry standards are such that one does not re-query with the same manuscript unless there have been substantial changes — plot, pacing, characters — to a majority of the story.

A slight aside about those opening pages – a lot of publishers and agents and even veteran writers have told me that newbie writers often start the story in the wrong place — even if their writing is great.

Now, back to the query talk. If you query every agent immediately, you’ll never know if the problem is your query and opening, or the story itself.

If you query in smaller batches, you can tweak and adjust until you’re getting requests for more pages, or more personalized rejections. Both mean you’re getting closer. Feedback is useful, but lack of feedback just means you haven’t hit the mark yet (or you’ve been querying the wrong people).

Don’t waste your query chances with your first polished query. Once you’re getting rejections on partial or full requests, it may be time to query more widely, because you’ve got the query just right. Or, it might be time to look at the story. But all a form rejection means on a query is that the query isn’t working.

Slow down your querying. The publishing industry is a slow process, and rushing the querying process won’t do anything but close doors to your current manuscript.

Have you queried a manuscript? What did you find to be the right size for a batch?

Have you mass queried and actually had it work?

Author Spotlight: James Schannep

  • a purveyor of interactive fiction & gamebooks for grown-ups

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to James Schannep!

James Schannep has a son and a daughter, a cat and a dog, enjoys both running and napping, loves vanilla and chocolate, has a desire to travel but also to stay put and write. He loves horror, comedy, and nearly everything in between. Rather than being torn asunder by his dichotomies, he harnesses these schizophrenic impulses by writing branching fiction with over fifty possible endings.

James, thanks for agreeing to be here today. While most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

I always wanted a pet dinosaur as a kid, so it’s going to be really hard not to say dinosaur, but… if we’re talking fantasy, I’m going to have to go with Lying Cat from Saga. Let’s face it, a dinosaur would be a bit much for a lot of life, but a walking, talking lie detector that’s fiercely loyal and gives smugly sarcastic side-long glances? It’s perfect. Purrfect. Oh, my car needs a new transmission? What say you, Lying Cat? It’s time to renegotiate my contract? Sorry, Lying Cat absolutely needs to be in the room for that. I don’t have enough time to get my writing done? Okay, okay, Lying Cat — thanks for keeping me on track. And you’re right, I do still want a dinosaur, if we’re being honest.

Now I have the ‘Dino, the Last Dinosaur’ song stuck in my head. But yes, I could see a cat being friendly and Lying Cat being… so much more helpful.

What do you write? And how did you get started?

A chance conversation with a friend contained the question, “Why aren’t there any Choose Your Own Adventure books for adults?” That led down a Google rabbit hole, a writing experiment, and eventually a passion for a new form of storytelling.

Yay for a new era of choose your own adventures!

What do you like to read?

Part of the fun for me is that each interactive book I take on is in a different subgenre. So, for a few months I become a zombie fanatic. Then, once that’s done, I read all the best mystery writing I can get my hands on. After I finish my detective story, I become immersed in the superhero genre, and on and on it goes.

Love it! I know some authors who are more interested in research than writing…

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Don’t worry about the details, it’s fiction.

No. No, no, no, no. I love learning; as a writer, as a reader, as a human. So if consuming entertainment can also teach me something? Good! I believe if a detail in a book can be accurate, it should be accurate. In addition to being a small way to improve upon society through microeducation, researching various topics also prevents us from alienating certain segments of our readership. We all know the nurse who hates the way X portrays hospitals or the soldier who can’t watch Y because the details are laughably wrong. Don’t they deserve to be immersed in your stories as well? 

I’m with you one-hundred percent. I’ve heard one of the things you should try to never do is to kick your audience out of the story, triggering their disbelief, and making them stop to think about the story. Getting small details wrong can ruin the story for plenty of people.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

No one can tell the story the way you can.

I’m going to write a haunted house story next. Haunted house stories have been done…ahem…to death, but no one has ever told a haunted house story the way that I can. And if I don’t, who will?

Definitely! I’ve heard writer friends stress out, because a published book sounded superficially like theirs. But, Pocahontas, Avatar, and Fern Gully all have the same plot, but very different styles and moods. And they’re all enjoyable in different ways. Just because a plot sounds similar to yours doesn’t mean your story will be seen as a copy-cat. As long as you’re not plagiarizing, you should be fine.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

New release time! SPIED has just launched. 3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question…Can YOU Crack the Code as a Secret Agent?

SPIED is a suspense thriller unlike any other — YOU are the main character. Recruited from the lower-levels of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to become a field agent (finally!), it’s up to you to break into secure facilities, solve cryptic puzzles, expose potential moles, and suavely talk your way out of any situation before shadowy forces [REDACTED] the world!

Praise for SPIED: “Filled with so many twists and turns, Schannep had me both shaken and stirred.” -Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series

If spies aren’t for you, check out James’s other choose-your-own-adventure stories: Murdered, Infected, Superpowered, Marooned, and Pathogens.

Check James Schannep out across the web!

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Book Trailer | Amazon