un, deux, trois: dictations, anyone?

A wild WRITING UPDATE appears.

Wow, I’m actually posting a blog about writing for once, instead of about legal name changes/depression/San Francisco/being depressed while going through a legal name change in San Francisco/etc. It’s because–surprise, surprise–I’ve actually been writing again lately. Though I would hazard a guess that my newest method isn’t exactly “writing.”

I’ve been working on dictations, if you couldn’t guess from the title. I’ve been developing a novel idea with fleshed-out characters and everything. Hell, I can even watch it unfold in my head, like a movie. Unfortunately, my depression-caused apathy has lead me into a serious case of what my psychologist calls “the writer’s block.” So, despite my compelling superhero-ish novel idea (tentatively entitled Runs in the Family), I haven’t been able to write a word! Oh, lawdy, it’s bad. Why can’t someone just get an innoculation for “the writer’s block”?

Actually, there is such a thing, though it isn’t much of an innoculation as much as it is a quick-fix. It’s dictating your novel–or, at the very least, a rough outline of your novel. I dictate with my cell phone’s voice memo feature, then play it back and type what I said into Scrivener (which, by the way, is the best writing program ever). What ends up coming out is some sort of strange hybrid of a screenplay and prose. If you took a screenplay and converted it into prose, that’s sort of what this looks like.

Have an excerpt:

Jonathan Ellis sits in a very clean, very large office behind a modest mahogany desk with a few stacks of paper on top. Behind him is a large, wall-spanning picture window that leads to a view of the streets and other buildings of downtown Blaze City. In the leftmost corner behind John are two filing cabinets, both looking barren and dusty. By the door at the front there is a small pile of gifts and other such trinkets. Jonathan sits at his desk, leaning forward with his head in his hands, wearing a black business suit. He has shortish dark brown hair, much longer than usual, and a few days’ worth of stubble on his chin.
The red intercom light on his desk blinks and he presses the button. A male receptionist’s voice comes from the speaker, “Mr. Ellis… Ms. Samantha Sharpe is at the door, requesting you, and she won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
John looks up. He sighs. “Let her in,” he says.
“Alright, sir.” The receptionist at the other end of the intercom hangs up.

Yes, it’s shoddy. Yes, it’s clumsy. It’s fast-paced, descriptive in all of the wrong places, and does a good job of telling instead of showing. However, it is a tool that I am using to get over my writer’s block.

So why don’t you try the same? Take that idea of yours, a microphone or cell phone with recording capacity, and just say what happens. If your thought process looks like:

  1. Matt sitting at bar, notebook.
  2. Thinking about patient’s diagnosis.
  3. Mysterious, government-looking people come in.
  4. Matt keeps writing.
  5. Government man taps Matt on the shoulder, whispers something.
  6. Matt frowns and dismisses them.
  7. Folds notebook and leaves the bar.

Then you can turn it into a dictation such as:

Matt sits at a bar, writing in a small notebook. His shaggy hair hangs in his face, but he pays no mind to it. There is an open bottle of beer next to his notebook, condensating running down the sides of the amber bottle, but he hasn’t taken a sip from it. The only thing that exists is his notebook and his patient’s diagnosis.
A hush goes up around the bar, but Matt pays no mind. A group of three bulky men in crisp business suits and buzz cuts walks through the crowd. One of them, with a pale face and a steady manner, walks behind Matt and taps him on the shoulder. Matt jumps and looks around. The man leans in to whisper something in Matt’s ear, his sunglasses sliding down his nose.
Matt’s expression turns from surprise into a harsh grimace. He nods grimly and the two mysterious men leave. The notebook closes. Matt takes a long swig of his beer, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and stands up. He pockets the notebook and leaves the bar.

There you go. It’s not much, it reads like a script with a little extra description, but it’s a serviceable start. Think of your dictation like a zero draft: a little meatier than an outline, but a little too thin for a first draft.

If you’re blocked, give it a shot. Post your results in the comments! I want to see what you guys can think up.


P.S. The second excerpt was an alternate beginning to Runs in the Family.


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