Rachel McLean

Author of Twisted Realities

My ‘Writing’ Experiment

Being a writer has its ups and downs when it comes to health.

For starters, it’s great for your mental health. I’m not one of those writers who subscribes to the ‘writing is torture darling, it’s like raking through your brains with a fork,’ school of thought.

In fact, every time I see a quote from a writer saying they hate their job, I want to scream at them. Maybe they should try being a paramedic, or a miner, or working in a sweatshop in Bangladesh. If I didn’t love writing, I’d spend my time doing something that earns more money. Or that didn’t involve neglecting my family so much.

No, I’m a firm believer that writing is great for your mental health. It lets you stretch mental muscles that you might not otherwise, and all without a boss breathing down your neck. It also helps you work through issues in your own life. I realised a few nights ago that of the four protagonists in the novels I’ve written to date, two of them are struggling to come to terms with the death of their mother. I can’t quite believe that it’s taken me so long to realise that I’m still working through the loss of my own mum some years ago through my characters.

But. And this is a big but.

The (Un)healthy Writer

Writing can be bad for your physical health. OK, so it won’t give you asbestosis, or lead to you breaking your neck or drowning (except in your imagination).

But a dedicated writer will spend many, many hours sitting in a chair, tapping away at a keyboard. Many of us (me included) do at least some of our writing in coffee shops, where the seating is less than ergonomic.

I’ve been successful at spending a lot more ‘butt in chair’ time this year, and as a result I’ve written a lot more. Three and a half novels and countless stories. But I’m aware that every book adds an inch to my waistline. And my back, neck, shoulders and wrist don’t thank me.

I took steps to improve this situation earlier this year by learning to touch type. I can recommend it to anyone who spends a lot of time typing – I’ve just typed the first 350 words of this post in eight minutes, and can average 2,200 words per hour on my novels.

But that’s not everything.

Which is why I decided this week to start another experiment. (If you’ve been following my writing for a while, you’ll know I’m fond of those).

And this experiment is… dictation.

My Experiment

Not only dictation, but dictation while walking.

It’s autumn here in England, and the trees look gorgeous. I live less than a mile from one of Europe’s biggest parks. So I thought it would be interesting to get myself an over-the-ear mic and go for a walk, while dictating my next novel.

Here’s my office on Tuesday:

walking in an autumnal park

Not bad, huh?

So how did it go?

Well, it took a while to get started. The first day was great for the walking – I walked nearly ten miles and thoroughly enjoyed the autumn colours. The word count wasn’t so good for the first hour as I got used to the software(I’m using Google docs on Android). But once I got used to it, my word count rose to 4k per hour. Not too shabby. I know that there will be plenty of correcting needed so it may bring my average word count down, but it still gives me the benefit of some healthy exercise and fresh air.

On day two (Wednesday), it rained. Undeterred, I set up a microphone in my office and dictated there.

office with microphone and laptop

This was much more successful in terms of accuracy – I dictated at 4k words per hour again, but know there’ll be less corrections to make when I come to edit it.

However I found I couldn’t sustain the ‘writing’ for as long as when I’m typing. I had to dictate in short bursts because I couldn’t maintain the level of focus. I’m sure this will improve as I get used to it.

Yesterday, disaster struck. I’d lost my voice! So I switched back to good old typing, and managed to get more words down due to the familiarity of the method. I’m now at 17,000 words after three days.

The Verdict

So is it working?

I would say the jury’s still out. I certainly won’t spend solid days dictating, in order to preserve my voice. But the plan for next week is to type in the mornings and (weather permitting) go outside and dictate in the afternoons.

I’ll report back next week, at which point I should be very close to finishing the first draft.

Do you use dictation? Have you got any tips you could share with me? Please share your comments below!

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