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Trouble Getting That First Draft on the Page? Speak Your Book

When new acquaintances learn that I help business professionals write books, they often remark, “I have so many good ideas, but when I sit down to write, they just don’t come out the way I want them to!” After asking a few questions, I often suggest that instead of writing their initial content, they speak it.

The process is pretty straightforward:

  1. Plan a conversation about your content
  2. Record your conversation
  3. Transcribe the recording
  4. Use the transcript as a starting place for your initial draft

Let’s look at whether you could benefit from this approach, a few details about the process, and tools you might need.

Is speaking your book right for you?

Speaking your content might help if:

  • You talk naturally, but you write in a stiff, formal tone—maybe your natural tone got beaten out of you by a high school English teacher. Your writing just doesn’t sound like you.
  • You sit down to write and you stare at the page; after a few sentences, mental fatigue sets in, or you get Blank Page Syndrome (BPS).
  • You are a slow typist—simply not proficient at the keyboard. As a result, it takes hours to make minimal progress.
  • You’re just not “a writer.” You speak about your area of expertise all the time (you might even be a professional speaker), but you feel your writing doesn’t match the quality of your speaking.

Even if none of these apply, you might benefit from speaking your book, simply because ideas get better as they’re discussed. Even if you don’t go through the transcription process, a recording comes in handy when you can’t remember that brilliant phrase you just used…

The process

Speaking your book content is not difficult, but it does require some groundwork.

Step 1: Plan the conversation

Talking through your content without a plan will generate a frustrating mess, so map out what you want to cover. I’ll use a book as an example, but recognize you can use this process for articles, blog posts, and shorter pieces as well.

First, develop a high-level book outline. What are the key chapters in your book?

Then, for each chapter, develop an outline in the form of questions, perhaps something like this:

  • What is TOPIC?
  • Why is TOPIC important?
  • Who should care about TOPIC?
  • Where/when is the reader likely to run into TOPIC?
  • What questions does the reader have about TOPIC?
  • What are 3–5 main things the reader needs to know about TOPIC? For each one: What evidence backs up your statements? What case study, example, or story can you offer to support your point?

You get the idea—make the questions relevant to your subject matter and your readers.

A partner will ask you these questions during your conversation, so for each one, jot down your talking points. No need to write out full sentences, just reminders of what you want to say.

Once the conversation starts, more questions will arise organically. But starting with a core set of similar questions for all chapters helps bring a consistent structure to your book from the beginning.

Step 2: Record your conversation

Record a conversation in which a partner asks the questions and you answer. You might call this an interview, but I like the word “conversation” since it is less formal. (Less pressure!)

Many people find conversing more natural than writing and are surprised at the amount of ground they can cover during their Q&A. The back-and-forth dialog also allows you to explore the subject more deeply and take unexpected detours. (Some people can talk to themselves and get the information they need, so by all means try that if it feels right for you.)

Some tips for the conversation:

  • Talk with a friend or colleague who listens well, demonstrates curiosity, and asks follow-up questions. Make sure they are OK being recorded.
  • Focus on one chapter at a time. In my experience a 1–2 hour conversation will yield the bulk of the content for a chapter.
  • Most people tire after about two hours of talking, so don’t try to do too much. You want to be fresh for each discussion so your words are articulate, your thinking is fresh, and your energy comes through.
  • Your partner may find it helpful to take some notes as you talk, such as jotting down new questions that arise, but it’s not critical to take detailed notes—that’s what the transcript is for!

Step 3: Transcribe the recording

When you’ve finished your conversation, transcribe the recording or have someone transcribe it for you. If you use a transcription service, they typically provide a Word document of the entire conversation with the speakers labeled throughout.

A call of 1–2 hours might generate 20–35 pages of content. Of course, the content is not suitable for readers in that form, but that’s a whole lot of content for a writer to work with… No BPS here!

Step 4: Start writing from the transcript

You’ve got your raw material now—pages of content in a conversational voice, with more depth than you might have achieved otherwise, and, if you have prepared appropriately, in a logical flow. You can start working it into a manuscript yourself, or you can use a ghostwriter to shape the raw content into a working draft.

The tools

The two main tools you need to speak your book are a way to record and a way to transcribe.

Recording method

When I’m working with clients, I find it easiest to work on the phone. We dial into my number on FreeConferenceCall.com and I record our conversation. FreeConferenceCall.com generates an MP3 file that I can send for transcription. There are other online meeting services you can use for recording (such as UberConference, Zoom, and Skype). If you’ve already got one of those in place, explore the functionality to see if it does what you need.

Tip: Before you begin, make sure you know how to dial in or access the service, how to start and stop recording, and how to access the recording when you’re done. Do a test run.

If you prefer a face-to-face conversation, you also could use a digital recorder (think journalism) or an app on your phone. I won’t attempt to advise on specifics, because I don’t use those methods with any consistency. If you try them, be sure to test the quality of the recording; you may need to explore microphones as well.

Transcription method

Once I’ve got an MP3 of the conversation, I upload the file to Rev.com to have it transcribed. I like Rev.com because the quality is high and the turnaround is fast (often within 24 hours). Current pricing is $1 per minute, and my files are often 60–120 minutes (I might have several files for one book), so I do try to keep call time in check.

There are other transcription services with different pricing, quality, and turnaround times. Some specialize in particular industries; some will be better at handling particular accents. Rev.com is a safe bet, but explore to find the right fit for you.

And, you can always transcribe the recording yourself. Some people find this has the added value of internalizing your ideas and better capturing “voice.” Myself, I find transcribing too time consuming and frustrating. (I am a very sloppy typist!)

(Sidenote: If you decide you like speaking your content to yourself and plan to do it regularly, rather than paying a transcription service, consider speech recognition software such as Dragon.)

Ready to speak your book?

If you are frustrated with writing and this speaking approach sounds appealing, give it a try. Recognize it may feel awkward the first time you do it. As with most new processes, practice is required to develop skill and comfort.

And realize the process won’t work for everyone. Even though I use it for client projects, when it comes to my own writing, I just type. I seem to think with my fingers…

Happy talking!


Maybe you’d like to speak your book, but you don’t want to hunt for a partner, aren’t sure what your outline should look like, or don’t want to tangle with the technology. Give me a call, and we’ll discuss how I can help you through the process.

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  Phone: 919.609.2817

  Web: https://clearsightbooks.com/

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Why, yes, I DO have an opinion…

My goal is to offer useful information, not only about the craft of writing but also about the strategy of writing and how to integrate your book into your business plan.

And sometimes I write just to amuse myself…

KEY5 Speaker Podcast


Speakers, check out the KEY5 Speaker Podcast on iTunes. Each episode is 15-30 minutes chock full of speaking advice. Yours truly is interviewed in Episode 110 and Episode 302.