I recently got asked a question by one of my subscribers. Alex asked me this by email:
“How do you find the time and energy to write when you’re writing on a ‘part time’ basis when you’ve got a full time job? And other commitments like friends.”
This is a great question because recently my main web site – my how to play bass website – has grown from being something that I did for three or four hours a day (and so leaving plenty of time for writing and other stuff) to becoming a full time job. And consuming seven or eight hours a day.
And so I’ve had to solve that issue for myself.
The First Attempts At Solving The Problem
The first attempt I made at solving the conundrum of making time for writing was to try this: I’ll write in the evenings after I’ve finished my main workday.
Only this didn’t work – I’ve been ‘transcribing’and analyzing a lot of classic bass lines recently and it’s brain intensive work. Often by the early evening I’m done for the day and have no energy or inclination to write.
So I tried to switch it round and write first thing in the morning and THEN start the work that needed doing for my bass guitar website.
That didn’t work so well either. I found that I was cutting my publication deadlines too close and there was no ‘chaos allowance’ in my schedule. All it would take would be one unforeseen event that took up a few hours to totally screw up my publication deadlines.
I tried some other things too. But none of them worked. And whilst I know that the work I’m doing on my how to play bass website will pay off in a year or so and give me much more writing time then, I’m not prepared to sacrifice a year of not really writing.
So I plugged myself into The Hero’s Journey to try and come up with a solution.
Using The Hero’s Journey As A Problem Solving Tool
The Hero’s Journey is a paradigm that’s used by fiction writers and screenwriters the world over. But as well as being a “story structure” tool it also functions as a reasonably accurate psychological map of human behaviour.
And it works on a micro level as well as a macro level.
So I have a gazillion Hero’s Journey templates and models from my fiction writing endeavours and I started a new ‘story.’ And in this ‘story’ a guy exactly like me became the hero, and the problem this guy had to overcome was how to make writing time for a slew of writing projects that he had to write. And I approached this as if I were outlining a screenplay.
A few hours of ‘story work’ resulted in the answer that I’m sharing with you in this post – and that answer was to write in my dead time.
So What Is Dead Time?
Dead Time is that time in our lives that we all have where we’re not really doing anything constructive – but we’re travelling to do something constructive. Or waiting to do something constructive.
For example, every day I take a break to get away for the computer and either go for a swim. Or go for a walk. If I go for a swim I have to walk 20 minutes to get to my local gym. If I go for a walk, I walk for 50/60 minutes.
Now I need that time to get my eyes away from the screen and get some fresh air. But in most other ways it’s ‘dead time.’ I’m not doing anything constructive.
And I can use that time to create an article.
In fact I’m writing the first draft of this article away from my computer and I’m actually on my way to my local gym for a swim.
How Can You Write In Your Dead Time?
The solution I’ve come up with is a combination of a cheap, digital recorder (£35 from Amazon) and Dragon Dictate software. Plus I also bought a cheapie headset microphone that works with the recorder so I can dictate whilst I’m driving as well!
Here’s how it works:
- Prior to heading out for some dead time I decide what topic I’m going to write.
- Then I outline that topic. For this article my outline consisted of the sub-headlines and a couple of bullet points for each sub-headline
- Then I start walking. For the first five minutes I don’t do anything – just think about the article I’m about to dictate. Then it’s time to turn on the machine and hit record.
- I glance at my outline (on an index card) and start ‘writing.’ If I get stuck, or need to gather my thoughts I simply hit the record button on the digital recorder. When I’m ready to go again, I hit the pause button and carry on dictating to the same MP3 file.
- When I’ve finished I turn off the recorder.
- When I get home I connect the recorder to my Mac and drag the MP3 file onto my desktop.
- I open Dragon Dictate and set Dragon the task of transcribing my dictated article.
- Dragon outputs a text file – takes 5-10 minutes depending on how long the recording is – and then I copy and paste that to Scrivener and I have a first draft for editing.
Sounds simple right? It is. What’s more, it’s actually pretty quick. I wrote the first draft of this article in about 25 minutes.
The Main Advantage (For Me) Of This Process
Although I type fast, dictating is quicker. And though the dictation process is probably only about 85% accurate (due to my poor enunciation plus traffic noise plus weather noise), it’s takes far less energy to edit 1700 words that are already in Scrivener than write them from scratch and then edit them.
Plus I don’t have to carve out a spot in my day to actually sit down and write the first draft.
So for me, this process is about getting first draft words on a piece of paper.
An additional benefit of dictating rather than writing is that it’s hard to ‘edit on the fly’ because you can’t go back into the file and edit it. You just have to keep moving forward with your article or piece of writing. So if you’re a writer who often rewrites specific sentences multiple times, writing in this manner will instantly cure you of that! (Well, at least until the editing stage!)
There’s also none of those distractions you get when writing at your computer if you forget to turn your email off! (I leave my phone at home so there are zero distractions!)
Punctuation Commands That You’ll Need If You’re Going To Do This
You don’t need a massive shopping list of punctuation commands for your text to come out reasonably well formatted. Here are the main ones that I use:
- Full stop
- New line
- New paragraph
- Semi Colon
- Open bracket
- Close bracket
And that’s about it.
I add in sub-head formatting (bolding) at editing stage. Plus capital letters for each word in the sub-head at editing stage as well. But the remaining format of this article is pretty much as I dictated it.
Is Writing By Dictation For You?
Speaking personally I actually prefer to write at a keyboard. But my time constraints are such that I’m not getting keyboard time – so I’ve had to find another way.
If any of the following apply to you then this method might well be a good fit for you:
- Your typing speeds are poor (20 WPM or less) – talking slowly you’ll talk at 80 or 90 words a minute. Talking really slowly you can still hit 60 words a minute without too many problems.
- You have regular times in your day to day activities where you’re not really doing anything but would be able to dictate – e.g. commuting to work via car every day, waiting for appointments for 10 or 15 minutes or more regularly, and so on
- Suffer periodically from RSI or neck/back pains from long hours sat at your keyboard
- Suffer ‘dry eye’ issues caused by too much staring at a keyboard
Final Thoughts Before We Close Out
This isn’t anything new or radical…before the Word Processor started to become widely and cheaply available most office workers wrote their letters and reports by dictating them and having them typed up by secretarial staff. Being able to write by dictation was something a lot of business folk did on a daily basis.
But it’s not just business guys who’ve done this – there are fiction writers who write via dictation as well. Best selling Science Fiction and Fantasy author Kevin Anderson writes so much in this manner that he keeps not one, but TWO secretaries in full time employment transcribing his writing.
And Earle Stanley Gardner – creator and writer of fictional detective Perry Mason – wrote a prodigious amount of material during his lifetime. Most of it was done by dictation.
So it’s worth considering.
If – like me – you’re struggling with writing content, books and reports for your ‘part time business’ because you have a ‘full time’ job, then writing by dictation might be a way to solve your productivity issues.
It really helps too if you can fit that dictation into time slots where you are not actively doing anything else – e.g. a daily commute, waiting for appointments, etc. This kind of time is ‘dead time.’
Writing by dictation doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear to achieve. Although I use Dragon Dictate there are other options available. And the digital recorder I use cost around £35.
The first draft of this article was ‘written’ by dictation – it took around 25 minutes and weighs in at around 1700 words.
A Warning IF You’re Going To Dictate Whilst Driving
I’ve dictated articles and lessons whilst driving. If you’re going to do this, then for your own safety – and for the safety of others – please make sure you have some kind of headset microphone that you can use with your digital recorder.
If you have any questions, feel free to post them below.