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?

What To Do When Your Manuscript Is The Wrong Length

If you’ve tried to write a manuscript, you’ve probably been at one end of the scale or the other, before. It’s hard to get a manuscript — or even a short story — to end up at the right word count. I know I’ve talked about this before, but a refresher never hurts.

While I’m not cutting down a manuscript to size right now, when a friend asked me for help, I called on all my experience and notes. My first manuscript originally ended at 120,000 words. I trimmed it to 80,000, edited it back up to around 95,000, then trimmed it down under 90,000 again.

For my current work-in-progress, I realized my word count was going to be on the short side, and there was a lot more story I could tell.

So. Let’s talk about how to get your manuscript to the wordcount you need, starting on the low end and working our way up.

If You Need 20,000 words or more

You’re going to have to add a major component. The easiest way to do this is what I’m doing in my current work-in-progress — to add another point-of-view character. But, a side quest can work as well, especially if it’s filtered into the story, not just spliced into the middle.

If You Need Less Than 20,000 words

This is where you’re going to want to flesh out your scenes, or add more internal monologue. Whatever you typically leave sparse when drafting. Perhaps a few character building scenes that flesh out the main and secondary characters and make your readers care more.

If You Need To Cut Less Than 20,000 Words

If it’s just a few thousand, or less than 10% of your work-in-progress (WIP), you can probably get away with cleaning up paragraphs, trimming sentences, and streamlining action.

You might start off looking at each of your scenes. Many writers find that they start scenes too early, and go longer than they need to be. Look at your scenes and chapters — can you trim paragraphs or pages from either end?

If You Need To Cut Over 20,000 Words

If you need to remove 10%-25% of your work in progress? Unless you are focused on one aspect, to the detriment of the story (be it descriptions, all the stage directions, info-dumps, or other) you’re going to have to work a bit harder.

You can try combining background characters, or even secondary characters, and dropping subplots. Perhaps even getting rid of a point-of-view character.

If You Need To Cut Over 50,000 Words

Sometimes, this happens with excessive world building. Sometimes, you’re following too many characters. Sometimes, the plot is too large for one book.

But usually? Just split the story. Find an emotional arch and partial goal and split the story there — or see where you could create one.


Have you ever had to massively adjust wordcount on a project? How did you do it?

If You’re Not Making Progress, Change Direction

There was an inauguration yesterday. The United States of America swore in a new president.

But. This is a writing blog, so let’s talk about writing.

I may have complained some about how my space fantasy story that I started during NaNoWriMo went off the rails and I wasn’t sure where it was going. I might have been getting words in, but I have been struggling to advance the plot.

This weekend, I took a drive, thought about my story, and realized the problem.

When a story is fighting you, the problem just might be that you’re going the wrong direction. Sometimes, you’re writing the wrong story.

Types of Stories

We’re all familiar with the different types of stories, even if we don’t have the lists memorized. While different people split them up differently, let’s go with this subset of six categories of stories.

  1. “Human versus human” – Someone is standing in your way, blocking you from achieving your goals.
  2. “Human versus nature” – A survival tale.
  3. “Human versus machine” – Technology, at whatever level, might be your undoing.
  4. “Human versus fate” – Can you fight the gods and/or destiny?
  5. “Human versus society” – Where you’re fighting ‘the man’, the system, the government, the corporation…
  6. “Human versus self” – When you really are your own worst enemy

What Was Wrong In Morgan’s Story

For me, I typically write “human versus society”, where the problem is social expectations, or a corrupt government, that sort of thing. That’s my – for lack of a better term – comfort zone.

Which is a bit silly, because in my personal life, I’m the sort that is comfortable being a cog in the wheel. I can rationalize a lot, and I typically go along with authority unless I have a clear reason to fight back. Which doesn’t happen often.

With my space fantasy, I was trying to base the story structure on classic fairy tales… while still having the enemy be a nebulous corporation — or at least a debt to them.

But fairytales thrive on conflict. Well, all stories do. But fairytales thrive specifically on interpersonal conflict.

I was driving down that tree-lined highway in the mountains, thinking about my story and how to get it from where it was to the ending I needed, when the solution dawned on me.

I need an enemy, one close at hand, with motivations and reasons all their own. And I knew exactly who it was, who I’d been trying to reform since the very beginning. That was my mistake.

Not all antagonists can be swayed to the side of the main character. Some are just in it for themselves.

I’ve attended panels on writing villains before, but I’ve never written one. Let’s see how this turns out.


Have you ever been writing the wrong story?

Have you ever read a story that you thought was going to be one type, but ended up being another? Did you like the shift?

In Space, No One Can See You Hide The Evidence: Crimes In Space

Welcome to Part 12, my final WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write up.

The panelists for the titular panel were as follows: Trish Matson (as moderator), Valarie Valdes, Carl Fink, and Kat Clay.

The panel description was brief and to the point (since the title covered so much): The panel discusses SF mysteries set in space.

What Is Crime?

Where ever you find people, you find good people and you fine bad people. But, what makes certain people’s behavior qualify as ‘bad’? Well, there is typically an official and/or unofficial codification of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Hurting others, putting others at risk, or taking advantage of others to their detriment usually tops the list. These days, the law of your country and the society in which you find yourself defines what is and is not a crime.

In our own world, we see groups like Black Lives Matter protesting what they see as the law being excessively enforced against Black Americans — among others — without accountability. Additionally, we also see justice somehow coming down on the side with the most money more often than statistically it should.

In speculative fiction, though, we often set humanity in situations where, through ignorance, (willful or not), the humans or the aliens hurt one another. In the classic Orson Scott Card Ender’s Game series, the bugs had a hive mind and didn’t realize that killing individual bodies was ending the consciousness of another sentient being, forever, (give-or-take some sort of afterlife or reincarnation).

Crimes take place in all sorts of novels, but here are some of the major crime genres.

Types of Crime Novels

  1. Cozy mystery
  2. Thriller
  3. Suspense
  4. Private Eye
  5. Classic Detective – like ‘locked room’ mysteries
  6. Police Procedural
  7. Hard-Boiled
  8. Capers

Things To Think About When Writing About Crime in Speculative Fiction:

Three Things To Think About When Writing Laws

  1. Who is creating the laws?

    Very often in speculative fiction, and often in life, the people creating the laws do not expect them to be enforced on themselves or their families. They bring in their own prejudices and assumptions about “those-types-of-people”. Or, you have people making laws based on theory, who are out of touch with the realities of life and the deviousness of people.

    If you’re in a closed environment, like a generational ship, it would likely be the officer level crew making the laws – like the Captain and those working closely with the Captain.
  2. Who is enforcing the laws?

    We expect it to be brave people and/or artificial intelligences who follow the letter of the law with a compassionate, (but far from naive), interpretation. That’s not always the case. In some societies, bribes are so expected, they’re counted as business expenses. Often, people from a particular class or background end up in law enforcement. Those enforcing the laws see people on their worst day, or only the worst people, and it can jade them, so that they come to expect that from everyone. That sort of attitude can lead to them prioritizing their own over justice, or the law.

    On that generational ship, it would likely be the enlisted level crew enforcing the laws. Security has a lot of authority, but most of us know just how expendable ‘Red Shirts’ are on Star Trek: The Original Series.
  3. Who is being policed?

    We expect it to be everyone, equally, with none above the law. Historically, we have often seen poorer areas heavily policed and heavily punished in an attempt to cut down on crime, while better off areas were less heavily policed and their residents punished with a gentler touch. And we can’t forget that those with money can often make trouble with the law go away.

    In the States, it used to be that children getting in trouble in school would end up in suspension – in school or out. Now, cops are called in, charges filed, and jail is becoming common.

    Back to the generational ship example. Most of the policing would be of the passengers, but are there class distinctions there?
    Perhaps, there some who paid for a large suite for their families, while others bought just a bunk? Are there criminals assigned to the ship to work off their debts? What happens to the later generations? Do these roles become a caste system?

    Things to think about when creating your speculative world. Which leads us to a few other thoughts.

Two Things To Think About Regarding The Speculative Aspect

  1. What are the technical limitations?

    If we’re futuristic, do we have cameras? If we’re magic, can we cast a truth spell or seeing spell? With the tech level, for less advanced societies, don’t give them modern forensics. For more advanced societies, think about how far forensics has come in the last century!

    Play fair with the reader!

    If you’re writing a who-dunnit in space, you want to establish what the laws are and at least hint at what the technology is capable of. Mystery readers typically enjoy stories better if they can either work it out themselves in advance from the clues, without it being too blatant, or see it’s obvious in retrospect.

    If you make the twist something that wasn’t explained, the readers often feel cheated.

    And we all know, readers who feel cheated leave 1-star bashing reviews.

    If there are AIs (created beings with artificial intelligence), are they the criminal? The tool used to commit the crime? The detective? Is there a thing in their programming that’s preventing them from solving the crime?

    Some of the best speculative mysteries are when the world building sets up the ‘smoking gun’, where it’s only obvious in retrospect.
  2. Who are people?

    Can you create backups of people from their last transporter session. Or from clones? So, would killing a body still count as murder.

    And delving into this, are clones recognized as people? What about other species that we may or may not recognize as fully sentient? And should we enforce our morality and expectations on alien societies?

    PERSONAL NOTE: I will always believe that the moment a clone experiences life differently than the original, they are creating their own memories and are their own person, with all the rights that entails. Why yes, I’m a second-born identical twin, why do you ask?

All The Book Recommendations!

  • The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun (The Robot Series) – Isaac Asimov
  • Long Arm of Gil Hamilton – Larry Niven
  • Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
  • Retrieval Artist Series – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • All Systems Red (Murderbot) – Martha Wells
  • A Pale White In The Black – K. B. Wagers
  • A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
  • Lord Darcy Series – Randall Garrett
  • The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – Ursula Le Guin
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
  • Ethan of Athos – Lois Bujold
  • And Then There Were (N-One) [Uncanny Magazine] – Sarah Pinsker
  • Revelation Space – Alistair Reynolds
  • Deadly Litter – James White

What other things do you consider when you set a crime in space?

Do you have any favorite ‘crimes in space’ novels you’d like to recommend?

Writing For Young Adults

Welcome to Part 11, the penultimate of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were: A.j. Ponder (as moderator), Katya de Becerra, Darcie Little Badger, and Joe Struss. The panel description was as follows:

Does writing for young adults differ from other writing? In what ways?  How do writers approach it? What are some examples — from classics and from the panelists own work?

In the modern publishing industry, YA is a booming and, for now, a seemingly ever growing market. Despite the huge variety found within the category, there are two unifying requirements:

  1. The age of the point-of-view (POV) character needs to be young adult themselves, typically sixteen to maybe nineteen.
  2. The story must address issues that are important to young adults – such as coming of age, starting their independent lives, and establishing their own identities.

    While these themes can be explored in adult literature, those characters are often dealing with the aftermath of the decisions they made as young adults and the shape of the lives those decisions created.

Why is all the best literature YA and what makes it so great?

Obviously, we can’t list all the reasons, but here are some of the ones that easily sprang to mind for the panelists.

  1. YA literature is targeted toward teens as they’re growing and changing, and can be a formative part of their growth.
  2. YA literature is often about characters who are transitioning from childhood to adulthood, and that sort of growth makes for good stories. Stories are almost always about change.
  3. It has a great source of variety and diversity.
  4. There is a lot of space for experimentation in YA, with the genre expectations less strict
    • Graphic novels
    • Horror stories within a story
    • Epistolary – which is more texting than letters and newspaper clippings these days.
  5. Books can help model ways of handling things teens are going through, in a way that’s removed enough to not be traumatic, nor preachy. They can help with topical matters, trauma, depression, anxiety, and more.
  6. Dystopian YA shows that you can stand up to huge systems and make a difference — it’s an empowering message

What are the limits on cursing, sex, gore, violence, etc within YA?

It’s continually evolving. It used to be, you couldn’t use the ‘f’ word. And then you could use it once.

For the rest? It can be there, as long as it’s there for a story reason, not just for shock value, titulation, or gore’s sake. Consider your audience and write it in a meaningful way.

Mistakes To Be Wary Of

Of course, with writing, if you do it well enough, nothing is truly a mistake. But, these are things you may want to avoid:

  1. Chasing trends – the market fluxuates and your story may come after the enthusiasm has died down, especially if you’re being traditionally published, a process that can take years.
  2. Giving up too soon – publishing is a hard business, but perseverance can take you a long way. Maybe your road to success is your fifth manuscript, or your 200th agent query, or your twelth re-write, or self-publishing. But, you’ll never know if you give up.
  3. Not reaching out and hanging out with better writershaving a supportive group of writers you can call on is so helpful during the process. Having good friends who are better writers can only push you to reach their levels.
  4. Not being open to constructive criticism
    • CAVEAT – Constructive criticism from people you trust. BEFORE the work is published. After it’s published, it’s no use to you and will only make you second guess yourself.
    • There is very little to glean from negative reviews, unless you have structural or sensitivity issues. It’s best just to not read reviews. Or have a friend only forward the ones they think you need to see.
  5. Not writing things you enjoy or not using a voice that works for you and/or the story
  6. Not reading widelywhile you shouldn’t chase trends, you should know the shape of your market, and reading outside your genre just broadens you.
  7. Not doing your teen research – A lot of writers these days have teens magically loving 80s music and pop references. While there are some teens who do, they’re not the norm, and the trend is a bit overdone these days. Also, you have writers ignoring technology. If you’re doing a contemporary story, pay attention to the apps teens are using, how they’re using them, current slang, and more. These things become outdated quickly.
  8. Overdoing the angsty teen stereotype – Okay, this one wasn’t in the panel, but I skipped that phase, myself. (Right, Mom?) And when done poorly, it makes it hard to connect to the whiny main character.

YA stories these days run the gamut of genres and intensity, just like the true lives of teens themselves.

If you’re writing for teens, just be careful. With the popularity of YA books amongst adults, more and more YA books have main characters that teens often claim sound like adults. Keep the teen perspective in mind and write for the intended audience — or age your character up and just do an adult novel.


Do you enjoy YA novels? What are your favorites?

Have you written a YA novel? What did you find to be your biggest struggles?


P.S. Over on my podcast, this week’s episode is : How To Write? You Do You!

There are more ways to write a novel than there are writers — and what worked last time, may not work this time. In this episode, I talk about all the advice out there — and ways you can use and adapt them to work for you.