The Art of Writing Without Writing

Art of Writing“Madge, I want to you to take dictation.”

Have you ever watched those old black-and-white films, where a stern-looking CEO demands his secretary to fastidiously scribble notes based on his ramblings while pacing around his extravagant office? It’s a tempting thought, but the idea of having someone who not only took my every word, but molded it into coherent documents, may be out of my reach for this lifetime… or is it? As a writer and a lazy person, I’m always looking for more ways to make my workday more efficient. The less time I spend writing leaves more time for soaking in the numerous accolades that are well overdue.

Okay, I’m being facetious, but making my workday more efficient is always at the forefront of my mind. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for writing hacks, and I’ve come up with quite a few that I use regularly to improve my productivity. After all, with carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress disorder, and tendonitis always looming in the background, threatening to curtail our writing careers, it helps to have some ways to offset those effects. That’s why I recommend NOT writing (well, some of the time) and exploring the art of writing without writing.

Outsource It or Delegate It

I know, I know. The word outsource has evil connotations (and somewhat deserved, too), but there will come a point when you will have to consider just how long it takes for you to create an article from scratch. If you’ve found your editing abilities are better than sourcing material, you may want to consider outsourcing at least a portion of your work. To accomplish this, you can enlist the services of freelancers on websites like Upwork, Guru, Freelancer and the like. Freelancers bid on your project based on a prefunded budget, and then you can choose the proposal that best fits the project.

There are a couple of points to follow when outsourcing your work online:

When assigning work, be sure to clearly describe your project. And I mean clearly. You may be dealing with someone who speaks English as a second language.

Don’t always go with the cheapest proposal. These websites have a reputation of producing substandard work and you may find yourself trying to salvage an assignment gone wrong.

Consider the character Jubal Harshaw from Stranger in a Strange Land, where he lives among his estate with assistants/concubines that take his dictation from his half-formed thoughts. He’s not necessarily interested in the end-product, but his ideas are carried to fruition. In the past, I’ve detailed projects as “transcribe the audio into an 800-word SEO document,” providing an audio file and a loose outline. My results have been mixed, but it has certainly saved me time that I could use for other assignments. The clearer my direction, the more successful the project was.

There’s two methodologies to outsourcing. One is the exploitative mindset, where you look for the cheapest product to get a project off the ground, then invest whatever remaining time you have into honing the work.

The second methodology is just simple delegation. By placing an advertisement or asking around, you can find a warm body that can take care of tasks that you don’t have the time (or patience) for. I find that having a person physically present and paying cash the same day is a surefire way of getting things done. Sometimes all I need to do is transfer money via PayPal and voila!, assignment finished.

In both cases, you may need to continually hire a new roster of “employees” once they a) get burned out, or b) get hip to the money that you’re making off of their labor (and taking the credit for).


If you’ve found that managing people isn’t your forte, then you can still take advantage of having your own personal secretary: you. Lemme explain…

Let’s do some simple math:

1) First, determine your typed words-per-minute (WPM). For me, it’s a snail-like 65 WPM.

2) Then, find your words-per-hour (WPH) simply by multiplying my WPM by 60.

The end result for me is 3,900—not too shabby, eh?

However, that’s your baseline if you didn’t stop. And it’s an unrealistic baseline if you ask me–I don’t even think most typing classes in grade school subject their students to this type of output! Unless you knew every word beforehand, never made an error AND accounted for all of the formatting, that number is unrealistic. But, that does determine your maximum output if the stars ever did align.

Now, consider how fast you can speak. According to some sources, it’s between 110 – 160 WPM. Per hour, we’re looking at over 9,000 words/hour.

Why do I bring this up? Well, technology has caught up to the appetite of our on-demand society. Lucky for us, voice-recognition software is now better than ever and can transcribe our speech to the written page instantaneously. Better yet, you can even upload pre-recorded audio files and have them transcribed while catching up on whatever TV show strikes your fancy.

Sure beats hiring someone, no?

For me, Dragon Naturally Speaking has been the front-runner for all my dictation needs. You do need to train your Dragon, however, as their software is tailored to your speech patterns and usage (consider the problem of “their/they’re/there”), or by your use of uncommon words and proper names, but still, it saves me A LOT of time. Dragon is relatively cheap, too, and given that it can help you increase your efficiency, it can pay for itself.

If you’re REALLY cheap, most smartphones contain dictation software built into their messaging and note-taking. I’ve found I can record most brainstorming sessions with relative ease, but the software fizzles out when I start mentioning proper names and incorporating punctuation (which, by the way, Dragon handles wonderfully).

Now, you may be thinking, “that’s great, but I don’t always speak properly.” Well, we didn’t say that these programs do the editing work for you. However, they do take away a large part of the grunt work that goes into writing and that’s certainly a positive benefit, no?

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As a final thought, you owe it yourself to experiment with methods that aid the writing process. Writing is more than just scribbling on paper or tapping out your thoughts on a keyboard. By incorporating these methods, you may begin to see yourself as more than just “one who writes” and as someone who communicates ideas to a larger audience. No matter how you write, that is the end goal, isn’t it?

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