Dictation and Journaling

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Recently, I tried dictating some notes during a bout of insomnia. The results were encouraging. I was curious to see how dictation would affect my journaling practice. Capturing my thoughts and emotions via voice offered a few benefits and drawbacks that I’d like to share.

Speaking my Mind

Speech is our most natural form of communication. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that dictating journal entries felt natural. (Mostly. See “Punctuation Errors” below for the exception.) Switching from handwriting to dictating my journal entries enhanced the flow of my thoughts and emotions. Verbal expression has helped me delve deeper into introspection. There’s no physical barrier to slow the articulation of my experiences, feelings, and insights.


When I write by hand, my eyes can easily track back to check in with what I’ve already written. While dictating, I don’t look at my screen. It’s easier for my thoughts to wander away from my topic. Using dictation has encouraged me to order my thoughts more carefully as I work through a topic. After only a few voice entries, I found that my handwritten entries were also more coherent.


While multitasking is the bane of my workday, dictating my journal is different. I can dictate a journal entry while I do chores around the house and yard. Washing dishes, dusting, and watering plants takes no concentration. In fact, the tasks seem to go faster because I’m focused on journaling.

Punctuation Errors

While the iPhone’s text-to-speech tool inserts some punctuation, it’s not perfect. Sometimes, it produces run-on sentences that are difficult to parse afterward. Other times, it disrupts the sentences with extraneous punctuation. It also has no clue about when a new paragraph should start. Because of these inaccuracies, I sometimes have trouble interpreting my own thoughts when I read them afterward! To get cleaner output, I have to verbally insert punctuation and new paragraphs. That can disrupt my flow.

The Need to Edit

Because dictation isn’t 100% accurate, I have to edit what I’ve dictated to make sure that it makes sense. Punctuation is only one factor. I find frequent errors with homophones. The tool usually gets whether I mean “to,” “two,” or “too,” but inserts “right” when I mean “write,” for example. I always check hand-written entries, too, but dictation introduces more errors than handwriting. Editing those entries takes a lot more time.

Worth a Try

I dictated at least one entry each day for the last five days. While I still prefer writing by hand, dictation has elevated my journaling practice. If you’re considering a change in your journaling routine, give voice dictation a try. You may be surprised at the new levels of insight and self-discovery that await you.

Dictation and Thought

Last night I awoke at one A.M. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I wanted to write, but I was loathe to turn the lights on. Nor did I want to stare at a screen in the dark. That would only make my sleeplessness worse.

I decided to try dictating my thoughts into an iPhone Note. I didn’t know how well it would work, but I was happy with the results. The dictation wasn’t 100% accurate. For some reason, the app transcribed “thoughts” as “farts.” When I read it in the morning, I found fun sentences like, “My farts are all over the place.”

I also found it weird to have to dictate punctuation. It sort of disrupted the flow of my thoughts. (Not my farts). When I’m typing or writing by hand, I insert punctuation as part of the flow. I don’t think about it. But while dictating, I had to verbalize periods, commas, and new paragraphs.

Punctuation and transcription errors aside, the content of what I wrote/dictated was very good. I identified a psychological hang up that I’ve never been able to get my head around before, and the line of thought was steady and coherent. Maybe I should dictate instead of writing more often.

Blogger without a cause

I intended to make “memory” the theme of this week’s posts. I didn’t count on getting bored with the subject. I have been digging into childhood memories a lot lately but most of what I’ve dredged up isn’t all that interesting. On the subject of memory in general, I find I have no special insights worth sharing. Thus endeth the memory theme experiment.

Ending the experiment leaves me with no direction for blogging tonight. I suppose I could pick another theme. The problem is that right now, I find it difficult to do justice to any subject I take up. I am drained by the end of the work day. Blogging in the morning is out, because that is the the only time I have to work on my novel. Not that I’ve done any work on that this week. Other obligations have intruded on that time.

I am loathe to give this exercise up, though. I want to regain the skill I once had of being able to write short essays quickly. Establishing and maintaining the discipline of writing something every day is the only way I know to get there.

Kindergarten snob

Couple of weeks ago, I wrote about finding a memory that seems to have sown the seeds of depression in me. Finding out that I was so much more advanced than other children my age made me feel like a freak.

In an even earlier memory about reading, I had a much different reaction to being ahead of my class.

It was early in kindergarten, within the first week or so, I guess. The teacher separated us into two groups. That part is hazy. What I remember clearly happened after we were dismissed for the day.

As we filed out, one of the other children taunted us in the “non-selected” group. “You don’t get to learn to read, but we do.” His tone was provocative, sneering. He was trying to mark himself and his group as better than we who had been coloring or playing with trucks or whatever the heck we were doing.

I wouldn’t have it. “I already know how to read,” I said. It baffled me that he couldn’t. I was happy about knowing how to read. I felt superior. What changed so that three years later, I would be embarrassed by my skill?

Connecting past and present

Last December, I was in New York City for a night, so I arranged to meet my friend Don for drinks. He teaches in Connecticut but is often in the city. We shared an office when I was in graduate school and have maintained the friendship for almost a quarter of a century.

He asked about the novel I’m working on, role-playing a busy publisher whom I had to hook. I said I was writing the best prose of my life. He asked what had made that possible. “I guess I needed to care about what I was doing,” I joked.

“But you’ve always cared,” he said. “Don’t you remember how much you wrestled with ‘Charlie’s Heart?’”

“Charlie’s Heart” was a story I wrote in graduate school about a young boy who discovers that he has literally lost his heart. (I was experimenting with magical realism at the time.) It took me months to finish, because I was determined to tell not merely a “good” story, but one that was honest, as well. Don read multiple drafts and helped me see it through when I despaired of finishing it.

That reminder was such a precious gift. Sometimes I doubt myself when I write. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t be happier doing something else. Sometimes I feel as though I have made no progress as a writer. Don reminded me of who I am and who I have always been.


WordPress informs me that I am on a sixteen-day streak of blogging. I almost didn’t write anything yesterday. I didn’t sleep well the night before and working in the sun that afternoon drained what energy I had left. I didn’t like the cards I was pulling from the Hemingway Deck. They all required more depth of thought than I was capable of. I didn’t want to skip a day, though. I felt that if I did, it would be even easier to skip the next, and so on. What I wrote was inconsequential. The important thing was that I wrote.

I want to keep this streak going as long as I can, but I’m becoming bored with random subjects. I want to pick up a thread and follow it for a while. This week, I’m going to experiment with writing about childhood memories, both good and bad. I already wrote about my earliest memory as part of “Freak,” so I won’t cover the memory itself again. I’m interested in how I know that it really is my memory, and not a story someone told me and that I internalized.

I have some pseudo-memories from when I was younger than my first true memory. For example, when I was between two and three, we went to my mother’s best friend’s wedding. I was a gregarious child and liked to greet everyone I knew and shake hands. (Everyone joked that I would grow up to be a politician.) Concerned that I might disrupt the ceremony, my mother cautioned me not to call out to anyone while we were in the church. She went through a list of all the people I would see. She missed one, though, so when he appeared, I stood up on the pew and shouted, “Hi, Joe!” (Five decades later, I have no idea who Joe was.)

I remember that incident, but I know it’s not my memory. My mother told me that story several times. I have other pseudo-memories like that. In each one, the viewpoint is outside myself, seeing myself in action.

In the memory of my mother telling me about our new neighbors, I can’t see myself. I see my mother, sitting on my bed. The memory is coming from inside my brain.