Dictating in the Car: Why Each Session Must Have a Goal

First off, I want to be clear that when I refer to dictation I mean dictating into a portable voice recorder (with no rewind feature) and then transcribing the audio file. I have never dictated while in front of my computer and so I can’t compare the two, but I imagine there are differences. Onward!

Each Session Must Have a Goal. 

Just like your main character starts every scene with a specific goal, you need to start every dictation session with a specific goal, otherwise you risk rambling in circles or, worse, saying nothing at all.

My first dictation session was just me talking about the fact that I was dictating, why I made that choice, and what I hoped to achieve. Later sessions were me roughly sketching out (in very broad strokes) various short story and novel ideas. This was great because I have “great ideas” while driving but I can forget something faster than Acme delivers to the Coyote. I’ve lost countless “great ideas,” and this got those ideas pinned down in transcribed notes.

When I quickly hit a point where brainstorming wasn’t enough– I needed to sit down and weed through the brainstormed word-vomit and find the good stuff before I could move forward with any one project — I found myself just driving in silence thinking about random stuff. Worse, when I’d get into the car and not know what to say, so I’d waste the whole commute.

If I wanted this dictation thing to be productive (and I did), I would need to find a new writing process. The problem is, I dislike outlines and I’m not very good at them. To add insult to injury, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to plotting. I needed help. So, reluctantly, I turned to various resources that encouraged plotting rather than “pantsing.”

Now I start each session with an index card with some writing prompt or specific questions to answer on it. For my purposes, the prompt is specific to the stage of the project that I am on. These prompts vary drastically depending on the project stage or what I want to accomplish.

For example:

  • Tuesday, evening session: Scene: Academy incident
    What does Kate go into the scene believing?
    What is her goal?
    What does she expect to happen?
    What actually happens?
  • Wednesday, morning session: Actually dictate the Academy Incident scene (includes notes from previous questions to keep me on track).

You and I don’t have a lot of time to spare and the time you have is too precious to be wasted over something as simple as not having a writing prompt. If you find yourself driving in silence with no idea what to record that day, try setting specific milestone goals or writing prompts for yourself ahead of time.

What about you? Have you discovered any tricks to keep yourself on track when writing on the move, or when writing on a time-budget?


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