Voice Dictation Is the Most Underrated Writing Tool

If you want to be a better writer, speak

Herbert Lui
Published in
4 min readFeb 4, 2020


Photo: fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

“Don’t let a sentence through unless it’s the way you’d say it to a friend.”

The advice comes from the Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham in his essay “Write Like You Talk.” Graham, who’s somehow able to distill complex topics like fragmentation and scalability into digestible essays, explains that if you can write in spoken language, you’re already doing better than 95% of writers.

I agree with his assessment, which is why I often write by dictation. I’ll spew out my unstructured thoughts aloud, while dictation software such as Otter or Mac’s built-in dictation tool transforms my word into written copy. (You can also upload sound clips to transcription services like Rev and Auspre.) I find this technique particularly useful when I feel stuck on an idea. As the author Seth Godin has observed: “No one ever gets talker’s block.”

It might feel unnatural at first, but after writing this way for several years, I’ve learned some tips and tricks for helping the words flow without writing them down or typing them out. Here’s my best advice for writing by dictation.

Be alone

I generally like to write by dictation in the living room or in my study when I’m by myself. It’s just more comfortable this way. I don’t have to worry about looking weird while talking to myself, or how silly my ideas might sound. You might also try turning on a voice recorder such as the Voice Memos app while taking a long solitary walk.

Pretend like you’re talking to your best friend

Keeping someone else in mind when you speak or write can be powerful. That’s how many songwriters craft their best work; the Motown legend Lamont Dozier once said in an interview that whenever he felt stuck while writing, he would think about Bernadette, his first love who lived across the street from his childhood home.

When you’re speaking, think about someone that you’re always excited to talk to. This could be your best friend, mom, or favorite teacher. Whoever it is, imagine that they’re there with you, and have a conversation.

Give yourself prompts



Herbert Lui
Writer for

Covering the psychology of creative work for content creators, professionals, hobbyists, and independents. Author of Creative Doing: https://www.holloway.com/cd