Breaking Through Pandemic Writer’s Block
Fight screen overload by writing your first draft with speech to text
A Weekend Experiment
For the last several months, I’ve been stuck in an absolutely agonizing case of writer’s block. I‘ve had SO many ideas for articles I’ve wanted to write, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to, you know, open a text editor and write anything down. Who knows… maybe sitting at my home computer, day in and day out, for both my day job and my social outlets for the last year has something to do with it. Well, whatever the reason, I sure wasn’t getting any writing done.
A few weekends ago, everything came to a head. My boyfriend and I were both feeling vaguely guilty; we’d been slacking on our side projects and we knew it. We hadn’t gotten anything of note done in an embarrassingly long time, so we made a deal: both of us needed to get SOMETHING done today, damnit. We each declared a goal for the day and, come hell or high water, we promised each other we’d get it done. Or else, well… the other partner would hold the slacker accountable. Probably by fobbing off their chores onto the offending party.
I could finally get all of my fuzzy, disjointed thoughts out of my head and into one easy-to-process place.
After an hour of mindless scrolling and getting absolutely nothing done (AND not enjoying my Sunday because of the miasma of guilt I’d generated by shirking my end of the deal), I decided to try something that I’d been meaning to do for a while: talk through my ideas out loud. I stood up, popped open Medium, hit “record” on my phone’s keyboard, and started talking to see if I could get anything on paper.
The Freedom of a Good Ramble
Do you know what’s really fun? Rambling. The opening sentences of my first verbal draft weren’t what you’d call… coherent, (let alone well-organized), but when I started speaking aloud, I felt like I could finally get all of my fuzzy, disjointed thoughts out of my head and into one easy-to-process place. Maybe it’s a product of spending so much of my workday in Slack, but the deceptively simple act of talking out loud helped me open up. For the next half hour, I paced back and forth in my office doing the verbal equivalent of an intense freewriting session. I thought about the topic I wanted to write about and just started talking about it, saying anything and everything that came to mind.
After a while, the steady stream of loosely connected thoughts started to wind down. I stood in the middle of the room and, to my surprise, realized that yeah, you know what, I’ve said everything that I wanted to say. But hey, look at this: rather than being tangled up in my brain, now all my thoughts were in one spot for me to read through and edit at my leisure.
It was baffling. Just like that, I felt completely unblocked. All that was left was editing. It was amazingly freeing. So freeing, in fact, that I opened up a new article template and did the same thing again. And again. By the end of that Sunday, I was able to tell my boyfriend that I’d kept up my end of the bargain: I’d written the first draft of a few articles and broken through my writer’s block.
Taking Advantage of New Technology
Speech to text isn’t anything new. Neither is dictation. The practice of speaking into a tape recorder to get your thoughts down has been around for decades, and the concept of having someone take dictation is even older. What’s relatively new, though, is how accessible this workflow has become.
In fact, this wasn’t the first time I’d tried this workflow on for size. I’d attempted a similar experiment several years ago, but I found that speech to text wasn’t quite there yet, at least at a reasonable price for someone looking to dabble. In the last few years, though, speech recognition has become baked into the tech we use every day. For my experiment, I just used the microphone option on the keyboard on my phone. If you’re willing to put up with a few mistakes in word choice, you can easily make use of the timeless practice of writing by dictation all by yourself.
Compared to other drafting methods, speech-to-text might initially feel messy and disjointed. If you don’t start with an outline, your first draft will probably meander, staggering from point to point as each new thought comes to mind. Eventually, of course, you’ll want to edit your ideas into a concise, easy-to-read format.
Just remember: there’s no rule that says you have to start there. In fact, many writers will tell you that it’s better to dedicate one day to writing and a different day to editing. As it turns out, writing and editing require you to adopt completely different mindsets. That means that as long as you can get a draft on paper somehow, you’ll be headed in the right direction. Not to mention, (as I need to constantly remind myself), writing is hard! Unless you’re a professional writer, (and sometimes even then), getting up the gumption to write something new can feel almost like a Herculean physical effort. The good news is, you can get back into writing the same way you get back into exercising: start off slow; just start somewhere. And, like a walk around the block or an impromptu race with a friend to the top of a hill, there’s no wrong way to ease yourself back into writing.
Next time I run into writer’s block, I know where I’ll be: in my pajama pants, pacing back and forth, holding my iPhone, and saying whatever comes to mind until the juices start flowing again. If you’re having trouble putting pencil to paper, or if you just want to try a new workflow, give speech-to-text a try and let me know how it goes!