Two bears in a river, mouths open as if they are yelling at each other. Text: Is your book a bear? Talk it out! (Speak your book)

First published February 6, 2018; last updated May 7, 2024.

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 or have other challenges with using a keyboard efficiently. 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 more robust and refined as they’re discussed. And 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 speak-your-book 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? (This article on nonfiction book structures might help.)

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 with 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 or two.
  • Most people tire after about two hours of talking, so don’t try to do too much at once. You want to be fresh for each discussion so that 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, 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. (More about transcription methods in the tool section below.) A call of 1–2 hours might generate 20–35 pages of content (or more). 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. And sometimes these can be one and the same. (TBH I think the concept of recording vs. transcription vs. captioning vs. dictation tools is kind of merging as AI improves.)

Recording method

There are any number of way to record your conversation via video conferencing: Zoom (my preferred method), Microsoft Teams, Skype, and so on. You might need to explore the functionality on whatever service you use, but most will generate an audio file (e.g., MP3) that can be transcribed (or the service may have transcription built in).

If you prefer an in-person 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. If you try them, be sure to test the quality of the recording; you may need to explore microphones as well.

If you are trying the talk-to-yourself method, you can dictate directly into Word; it will transcribe your “conversation” as you speak.

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

Transcription method

Once you’ve got a recording of the conversation, you’ve got a few options. And in the past year or two, it has become enormously easier and cheaper to get transcriptions, mostly due to AI.

A transcription from the recording tools – Some apps, e.g., Zoom, now provide AI transcriptions. You may need to turn on or set up this functionality, so again, do a test run.

Transcription from Word – As noted above, Word can transcribe as you speak. You can also upload an audio file (say, from Zoom) for Word to transcribe. This functionality comes with an Office 365 subscription. (Google Docs has some functionality as well.)

Voice recognition/transcription tools – There are other AI voice-recognition tools that could be useful. I know some people like Dragon. I’ve also tried, which has a limited free option as well as paid plans.

Human transcription – While AI transcriptions are fast and cheap, you get what you pay for—they are also notoriously and sometimes humorously inaccurate. If you need a higher quality of transcription, you can upload your recording to a transcription service for a real live person to transcribe.

In the past I’ve used’s human transcription; I have found the quality to be high and the turnaround fast. Current pricing is $1.50 per minute. This level of quality is important if you plan share transcripts publicly (say, from a public meeting), but it might be higher quality than needed for capturing your book ideas.

And, you can always transcribe the recording yourself—literally listening to the recording and typing it up. 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!)

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!

Related Reading

Word Tips: How to Use Read Aloud, Transcription, and Dictation

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. Shoot me an email, and we’ll discuss how I can help you through the process.