[0:00] Introduction/Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee
[2:05] Organifi Green Juice
[3:58] Introduction to this Episode
[5:32] Joanna Penn
[10:32] What Kind of Books Joanna Writes
[12:37] What Made Joanna Turn To Dictation
[17:49] Using What Kind of Microphone For Dictation
[19:20] What is Dragon Dictate
[24:33] Joanna’s Standing Desk
[28:02] Lav Mics
[29:44] How Dragon Works
[32:39] Why Someone Would Use Scrivener
[34:26] How Joanna Got Used To Dictation
[39:18] Whether Joanna Uses Other Software When She Writes
[46:07] Resources People Can Use
[51:02] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey. What’s up? It’s Ben Greenfield. I just got back from four days of hunting down in Texas and one thing that I discovered while hunting is that the coffee can be mighty weak. That’s right. When you dump some regular old Folger’s ground coffee into a percolator, you just get coffee that’s kinda a tea-like. You know, light brown, not super tasty, not as dense or as muddy as I like my coffee. Now when I’m in a situation like that, I actually add coffee to my coffee. I add coffee to my coffee. So I travel with this stuff called mushroom coffee.
Mushroom coffee is made by this company called Four Sigmatic Foods, and what they do is they take really, really high quality coffee, they add mushrooms to it, and it’s in a little packet that you can then dump into water, or if you’re like me and you’re a glutton for caffeinated goodness, you actually dump your coffee into coffee. I do this in hotel rooms too when the little hotel room coffee maker makes this super-duper weak coffee that it’s always prone to make… I take a packet of the coffee I travel with, add it to that, stir it in, and all of a sudden it’s ambrosia like mud. You gotta try it out.
So how can you get your hands on Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee? Go to foursigmafoods.com/greenfield. That’s FOURsigmafoods.com/greenfield. And when you go there, you get 15% off any of the mushroom coffees with the following coupon code: Ben Greenfield. So foursigmafoods.com/greenfield. I recommend their mushroom coffee that has chaga and cordyceps in it, so you get the boost for your immune system and the boost for your performance all at the same time as you make your coffee taste muddy.
So who else is bringing in today’s podcast? Organifi. Organifi makes this stuff called coconut and ashwagandha-infused green juice. Now here’s the deal, most of the juices and the powders that you get, they’ve been heat dried. That means they’re oxidized, that means they’re bad for you in the same way that like fish oil that’s been heated is bad for you. Green juice powders and super food powders that have been heated are also bad for you because you’re getting a bunch of oxidized crap that you’re dumping into your body.
Well, what they do with this coconut and ashwagandha-infused green juice is they gently dry it so it doesn’t get exposed to as much heat. It’s gluten free, it’s soy free, it’s dairy free, it’s vegan, and all you do is you take a scoop of it and you add it to anything, like a smoothie, tea, I suppose you could probably put it in a casserole or in a cup of coffee. I don’t do that. I just put it in my morning smoothie. But it’s got matcha green tea, wheat grass, ashwagandha, turmeric, lemon, coconut water, monk fruit, spirulina, moringa, chlorella, mint, beets. You name it, it’s in there. So how can you get your hands on this stuff so that you can add it to your favorite recipe? Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitlife, that’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitlife, and discount code Ben will get you 20% off. That’s 20% off at bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitlife with discount code Ben.
Alright. That’s it. That was easy, huh? Two cool things that you can add into your life. Alright. Let’s move on to another cool thing that you can add into your life, and that is dictation. Just wait ’til you hear today’s episode with Joanna Penn. You’re gonna love it. Let’s do this.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“You know, this is the best time in history to be an author, to be creative, and all of this type of fitness stuff is so important for making it continuously fun because one of the worst things is loving your job but being in pain.” “This bashing on the keyboard and taking the impulses in our brain, and then bashing them out on keys, this is not gonna last that long in big wave things. People have always communicated through voice, and look at the rise of podcasts. This is only going to shift.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield, and if you’ve been listening to the podcast lately, you know that we’ve had a few episodes about staying healthy at work, staying fit at work, using things like standing desks and treadmill work stations. And this week, I begin to delve into the list of historical figures who have used things like standing work stations, and it really is kind of a veritable who’s who. Everyone from Leonardo DaVinci, to Thomas Jefferson, to Charles Dickens, to Winston Churchill, to Abraham Lincoln, all of these folks used standing work stations. And then if you wanna take things to the next level, it turns out that many of them didn’t even write at the standing work stations.
But many of these folks, especially famous authors, dictated and were able to walk, and move, and stand as they dictated. Folks like Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, John Milton, Alexander Dumas, Henry James, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, who I mentioned earlier, Bram Stoker, a lot of these folks actually used, not just standing work stations, but also the power of dictation to stay healthier while they were being productive. And whether you are an author or a writer, or whether you’re someone who’s perhaps doing computer programming, consulting, running a company, whatever the case may be, or even perhaps just paying your bills at the desk, it turns out that there’s quite a bit that you can do that goes above and beyond just standing at your desk when it comes to being more productive.
Now considering that I’m personally beginning to delve into the magic of dictation a little bit more, I figured we would get somebody on the show today who really knows this stuff a little bit more intimately when it to comes to how to be productive as a writer, and perhaps do it without just say, typing. So my guest today is author J.F. Penn. Now, she is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, primarily of thrillers, but she’s written a lot of other books as well, and I’ll give her a chance here in a moment to fill you in on some of her works. And she also has a fantastic blog over at thecreativepenn.com. That’s pen with two Ns.
I will link to that for you in the show notes. But she’s a professional speaker on creative entrepreneurship, digital publishing, internet marketing, she was voted one of the Guardian UK’s Top 100 Creative Professionals. So she really knows her way around creating things, and I know that she’s also delved into dictation a bit. Now as we chat and as we come up with good lists of everything from tools, and software, and gear, and tips, and books for you, I will take furious notes, and I’m going to put today’s notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitwriter. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitwriter. So that all being said, Joanna, welcome to the show.
Joanna: Thanks so much for having me, Ben. I’m super excited to be here.
Ben: And I have to ask you, I’ve noticed you have, I believe, is it a pen name and a real name? Is it J.F., or is it Joanna?
Joanna: Yeah, you can call me Joanna. But I think of myself as kinda two writers. I write non-fiction as Joanna Penn, and books for authors, like “How To Make A Living With Your Writing,” stuff like that. And then it’s J.F. Penn, I’m a kind of dark soul, more like Stephen King, writing thrillers with a supernatural edge. So you’re interviewing Joanna Penn here today. J.F. Penn tends to stay in the shadows.
Ben: Okay. I’ve noticed a lot of authors seem to do that, like Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. She’s writing a new, kind of like a dark, I believe it’s like a mystery series or something like that, like a murder type a series. I believe it’s dark, somewhat violent. I’ve heard little snippets here and there, but she’s writing that under a completely different name, right?
Joanna: Yeah. She writes as Robert Galbraith. And actually, I’m a fan of Robert Galbraith, not the Harry Potter books. So, yeah. It’s interesting, and actually, the crossover book for her, “The Casual Vacancy,” she wrote under J.K. Rowling and got such a bad review because her existing audience expected another Harry Potter. So she actually changed names, trying to keep it secret, but failed miserably about that. But, yeah, Robert Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling.
Ben: That’s very interesting. That’s a conundrum I’ve thought about a little bit because I’m writing a fantasy fiction, and I’m writing it as Ben Greenfield. And I think I’m confusing a lot of people, being the health and fitness writer who’s out there writing about castles, and dragons, and princesses.
Anyways though, you’re obviously a pretty prolific author yourself, and I just wanna kinda let folks know, before we jump into what a typical day of producing content looks like for you, what kind of books you actually write. Because you’ve got a big range of books, and I’ll link to your Amazon page, but can you fill us in a little bit?
Joanna: Yeah. Sure. So when I started writing, I was a miserable IT consultant, so my book was called “Career Change”. And I thought I would end up sort of as a British Tony Robbins, self-help author, but ended up, I know. It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? But went down the route of writing, continued to write help for authors specifically, around the digital marketing space. So “How To Market A Book”, for example, “Business For Authors”, “How To Be An Author-Entrepreneur”, so those type of books, and the non-fiction book I’m writing at the moment is “Mindset For Authors”, was around the psychology of being an author, which is crazy. You know a lot about mindset, you know the same with fitness, a lot of this stuff is about mindset. So that’s one side of me, that non-fiction side.
And then fiction, I’ve got the Arcane series, which is Dan Brown meets Lara Croft, sort of kick ass, travel around the world, fighting the bad guys type of thing. And then a darker series, similar to Robert Galbraith actually, the London Psychic series. And I also have a fantasy book, as you were talking about there, Risen Gods. So I have 17 books now, most of which have been written over the last couple of years. And as we talk about dictation, we’ll sort of talk about releasing your creativity, but certainly you tend to speed up as you sort of understand the process of how to who write a book. It’s a bit like fitness, again. If you keep those muscles going, it becomes much quicker to get into actually achieving something.
Ben: Yeah, sure. And Dan Brown meets Lara Croft is a perfect elevator pitch, by the way. That just kind of sums everything up with in fewer than 30 seconds.
Joanna: Yeah. Oh, we’re just on that! You pointed out a list of historical people who dictate. Dan Brown actually uses dictation for his first drafts.
Ben: He does.
Joanna: I thought people might be interested in that.
Ben: Now, when it comes to dictation, for you personally, what influenced you to begin to look into dictating rather than, say, the traditional method of sitting in front of a roaring fire and typing a book?
Joanna: Well, mainly it was pain. I have had RSI in my elbow. Technically, it is tennis elbow even though it’s from writing, not tennis.
Ben: Now what is RSI for those listening in?
Joanna: Oh. Sorry. Repetitive strain injury, which is something that a lot of those sedentary worker out there, if you work in an office, or if you work on a computer in general, the longer you do this, the more likely you are to get RSI, repetitive strain injury. I’m 41 and I started working in an office environment in my 20’s. So after 20 years of essentially using your arms in, let’s face it, evolutionarily-wise, not a very natural position, I started to get real pain. So I tried lots of things, we can come back to things like a Swiss ball, and the standing desk, but in terms of the elbow, I tried everything.
I got a desktop guy to come around and help me shift my positions, I tried all the different mouse techniques, different mice, I’ve become ambimousetrous, used my left hand as well as my right. I tried so many things, and then I just went, “You know what? I just have to master dictation.” Because if you take away the hours everyday of actually you know bashing the keyboard, this is going to be a much better idea. And in terms of longevity and wanting to be a fit author who does this for the rest of my life, if I can muster this now, this is going to pay dividends until I die, basically. So the motivation for me was really to stop the pain, and we all know how big a deal that is in motivation.
Ben: Yeah. And is this going to allow you, as you move from typing, and even foregoing, I know there are a lot of ergonomic keyboards and ergonomic mice out there, but you’re still, as you alluded to, you’re still moving all those little digital, and flexor, and extensor, and pronator, and supinator muscles in your hand just over and over again, even if it is a good ergonomic setup. If you take yourself away from having to be tied down to a keyboard, what are you looking for that can do for you from like a fitness standpoint, in addition to just like reducing your risk of chronic repetitive motion injury?
Joanna: Yes. So taking the fitness thing separately, you can do dictation at your desk. So for example, right now I’m standing, I’m at a Varidesk that goes up and down, and I’m standing up and the mic I’m using now, which is an ATR2100, I do dictate with this mic into Scrivener while standing here. Scrivener writer’s software. It’s absolutely brilliant. So I do quite a lot of just, like this morning for example, I did two hours of standing here, talking at my computer. Now I’m doing all the micro movements of standing, and I have a Swiss ball that I do bends on the things.
But in terms of the fitness side, what I’m also doing is going round my, I’m only doing around it the park at the moment, I haven’t gone for like really massive walks yet, but I take my iPhone and I’ve got a lac microphone which goes on my lapel, and I’m just walking around the park, kind of turning around and avoiding people as they walk towards me, and talking into, I’m actually just using Voice Memos on the iPhone. And then when I get back…
Ben: Is Voice Memos an app on the iPhone?
Joanna: Yeah. It comes native with the iPhone, but there are lots of dictation apps. And then when I get home, I drag these MP3 files into Dragon Dictate, which is the software I’m using, and then that transcribes the file. Now it doesn’t stop the editing process, but what it does is, if you think about the first draft typing that we all do, whether it’s blog posts, whether it’s e-mails, whether it’s if you’re writing books, long periods of bashing a keyboard, if it takes you a couple of hours a day, then that’s just amazing. So that’s kind of my plan at the moment is the fitness side is slightly secondary to the getting rid of the pain. But there’s another author, Kevin J. Anderson, I don’t know if you’ve looked at him, everyday he walks for four hours. He lives in Colorado, or something. He hikes four hours every day and dictates while he walks, and then he gives that to a transcriptionist, and he edits in the afternoon. And he’s written like hundreds of books that way. You can definitely be a very fit author and still write a lot of books.
Ben: So many questions. So many questions based on what you just said. So let’s start here. You mention, first of all that, you’re using a special kind of microphone, like when you’re at your computer and dictating, you use an Audio Technica microphone. Now for people listening in who perhaps want to stand at their standing desk and dictate, or pace around the room and dictate, or do dictation, do they need a special microphone like that versus using like the native microphone that might come built into a computer?
Joanna: Okay. So I have tried and failed at dictation twice before because of the microphone. And if you read all the message boards about Dragon, you can go down a real microphone hole in the internet all about microphones. So this is the third mic I’ve tried. It’s the one I use for podcasting, and the quality’s very good. Now I also just said I use a standard lav mic for the dictation files, and I think I might have overestimated the impact of the mic because those lav files are not that bad.
So I think what you have to consider is the quality of the microphone that will impact how quickly the software will learn your voice. And I have found that the accuracy, I mean I’ve really been doing this seriously now since New Year, I’ve been recording like second week of January, but I’ve converted so fast to this because of the quality of the mic. So what I would say to people is you can give it a go with just whatever is standard. If you order Dragon, you can get mics with it, you can get Bluetooth, et cetera. But if you’re struggling, then the first thing to look at is the quality of your mic, because obviously the audio quality, it doesn’t understand your voice. It only understands sound waves. So the quality of the sound is super important.
Ben: Okay. Got it. Now the next thing that you mentioned, in addition to the mic, was this Dragon. For people not familiar with Dragon, what is that?
Joanna: Yeah. So the software is Dragon Dictate, and it’s on Mac and Windows. So it’s just software that you install on your computer and then you train it. So you open it up, and you have to set up the specific microphone, and scenario you’re in. So I have two profiles. One profile is my office with the ATR2100. So there’s not much external noise, the sound is regular because of the walls. And then I have a separate profile which is walking around the park with the lav mics because the quality of the files are different. So then what you have to do is train your dragon, which with the movie and everything, some people like to give the dragon a name.
Ben: Train your dragon? Like the movie?
Joanna: Yeah. And what that means is, obviously, people are listening to my voice versus your voice, the software will be able to do both of our voices, but it needs to get to know us and how we speak. And I’m English, so I would set English, UK English, you would set American English, and that will be things like I say full stop, you say period at the end of a sentence. That will impact some of those types of things, and also it will pick up your accent in different ways. So that then you read, you have to actually read a number of passages into the software, and, again, you can put up all of these barriers, and one of my barriers to doing this before was, “Oh, I don’t wanna spend all that time training my dragon.” Seriously, it took about two hours, two days in a row. I mean, it was crazy.
Joanna: I know. I mean if you think about it, we’ve got the…
Ben: And did that training process, sorry to interrupt, but did that training process simply involve you reading scripts into your Dragon software, or saying specific words that you use frequently? How does the training process actually work?
Joanna: Yeah. So they have a number of exercises that you read that presumably include all the different tones that you might use normally. But also, you actually read the Dragon tutorial. So you read to them how Dragon works. So you’re actually learning how to use Dragon while you’re reading to them. So it’s actually very smart that way. And one little tip is I wrote down a whole load of the commands that I knew I would use regularly. So, for example, “spell that” or “open quote”, ’cause when I’m dictating fiction, I have to say “open quote”, and then whatever, then “close quote”, et cetera. Non-fictional as blogs won’t have to say so much like that. So that’s really important. But you just read these exercises, then what I did was I actually opened one of my own novels, and started to read my own novels to the software on the second day. And if you don’t have your own novels, you can just read whatever you like, pick a book off your shelf, just so you can get a nice chunk of audio, and then what you do is you go through it and correct it. So you just go choose, if we’re looking at a line of text, I would say, “choose Greenfield,” because maybe, sorry. “Correct Greenfield,” and then spell that if it had spelled it wrong.
Ben: That makes sense.
Joanna: Yeah. And once you do that and you think, “Oh my goodness, that’ll take forever,” but the novel I’m writing at the moment, “Destroyer of Worlds,” is set in India, and it’s about a statue of Shiva Nataraja. Now most people listening won’t be able to spell Shiva Nataraja, but once I’d helped it once, every time I said that from then on, it spelled it right. So I think my biggest tip would be just give it a couple of days, do those exercises, read something that contains the words that you would normally read. I’m like a super convert. It’s amazing. It’s made such a difference to me, and we can talk about productivity, but just healthwise, it’s amazing.
Ben: Yeah. It’s really interesting. And this Dragon Dictate software, I mean it sounds like training, like you put in the initial amount of work necessary when it comes to, say, preparing for a triathlon. And once you’ve got that work kind of put in the bank, you can begin to go on cruise control and just maintain fitness. It sounds similar with Dragon Dictation where once you train this software to be able to dictate your words effectively, things get a lot easier from there.
Joanna: Yes. And they get easier, and easier, and easier because they learn your patterns. What you can also do is actually drag whole chunks of, say, blog posts. If you do podcasts for example, you could drag in a podcast, and go through that, and train with that. So it will pick up more of your vocabulary. Some people just try and do that up front, or you can do it over time. And as I said, I found even just in two weeks, the quality is getting better and better.
Ben: Amazing. Okay. Cool. So another thing that you mentioned was that you use a Varidesk. Now for you, is that something that you’re kind of adjusting from a seated to a standing position throughout the day? Do you primarily use it in its standing position? And kind of as a follow up question to that, are you just standing on like carpet, or wood, or do you use one of these like fancy, bouncy mats, or topographical mats, or something like that?
Joanna: Yes. So I have just an Ikea varidesk that goes up and down. When I’m dictating or when I’m doing a podcast like this, I’m standing. And the added benefit of doing that is it’s up so high, like the desk is kind of near my chest, so I can’t actually use my hands. So it’s a really good chance to, unless I put them up near my shoulders in a really unnatural position. So what it does is help me when I’m dictating to not to use my arm. And at that point, I could be squeezing a ball, or I could be just relaxing, or whatever. So the varidesk kind of also forces the issue of relaxing the painful arm, which is really good.
And then when I’ve finished dictation, I will often do just a first pass through the scene I’ve just written, and just pick up anything that needed picking up. And for that, I put the desk back down to sitting, and use a Swiss ball as a chair, I have done for a couple of years due to back pain. There’s another one. And the Swiss ball got rid of my back pain completely. So that’s magic too. But I just stand, I have a carpet in this room. So I do think that if you have a hard floor, you should get just a bit of carpet from a carpet warehouse or something. I don’t know if you need one of these like special mats. You can just get like an off-cut carpet just so you’re not standing on hard floor.
Ben: Yeah. I personally have a desk, it’s one of these hand crank desks that goes up and down called a Rebel desk that’s in my office that I’m speaking to at right now, and I’m standing on like a foam mat. It’s like this bouncy kind of foam mat that makes you shift your weight back and forth as you’re standing. And then up on my kitchen table, I have one of these Varidesks. It’s like a very small one built for a laptop that also goes up and down.
And I recently interviewed someone, you might be interested in this, they make a stool called a Mogo stool that you lean, it’s made by a company called Focal Upright. You lean back on and it kinda opens up your hip flexors, apparently that’s one of the issues with the stability ball. And this is another interview I recently did with a guy who wrote a book called “All The Good Things That Are Bad For You”, and he writes about a stability ball in that book. He says all these people sitting on stability balls, they help with kinda keeping your core activated and stuff, but what happens is they actually can compress, over time, your lower spine, your lumber spine. And so I started to use one of these little stools that you lean back on instead of a ball to sit on.
Joanna: Oh, okay! I’ll check that out. Yeah. I mean, this is the thing. I think we’re constantly kinda trying to hack the way we do stuff, and I’ve been changing little things over time to try and just get a little extra less pain and more productivity. That’s kinda what we all want, isn’t it?
Ben: Yeah. Exactly. Now back to you story about how you dictate, you talked about how when you’re at the park, you will speak into a, I believe you said a lav mic. Now is that just like the microphone that comes with your iPhone that you’re speaking into?
Joanna: I bought a Rode, R-O-D-E, lav. Pretty really not massively technical, and I couldn’t find the packet, but I think the phrase lav mic is just the ones that you attach to your collar. You know, have like a cable that go to your phone. So it’s just slightly better than the iPhone one, but I think you could just try with the iPhone normal thing and see what happens. I just decided to go with this slightly one better. And then, yeah, just talking into that. The other thing with if you’re doing that is make sure you stop and save the file regularly because you don’t look down and 20 minutes later, you’ve just lost all that. So I tend to save each file at about 5 minutes, and you can sync it, or e-mail it to yourself, or just when you get back, plug the phone into your computer and drag the files over.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. Now when you are bringing those audio files that you have recorded while on the go, because I know a lot of our listeners, those who are running or who wanna build endurance while walking, they’ll really like this concept of using of a lav mic plus the iPhone’s native voice dictation software, and then bringing that back and somehow feeding it into the computer. But when you feed it into the computer, let’s say when you download this MP3 and you put it on to your computer, are you then playing that out loud while the Dragon Dictation software is open, kinda sucking that in? Is that how that works?
Joanna: No. Dragon has a feature of transcription. So it’s like a transcription mode. So you drag the file, it’s like magic. It’s really weird. You drag the file into this little box, and then over on the other side of the page, it starts typing. It’s like your words appear on the screen. So you can literally drag the file in and then leave it to just run if you want, and it will just appear on the screen. I should say there’s a couple of other options. There is a Dragon Dictate app for the iPhone, and probably for all the other phones, but you can use voice-to-text directly into the app, as opposed to recording an MP3 and then getting it transcribed later, either with Dragon or paying for transcription which is another option.
The other thing that you have in America, which I don’t have in the UK yet because it’s not released, is Dragon Anywhere. And that is like software as a service-based Dragon. And I actually think that that may be amazing, as in it may become even more amazing because if you think that the software as a service option, they’re going to be somehow collecting, I guess, those voices, and they will get a lot more varied data, and a lot more varied voices by doing software as a service, than doing downloadable software to your computer because they can’t sample my voice because it’s not connected in any way to them. So I think people should check out Dragon Anywhere, and I think that will sync directly in the cloud. But as I said, it’s not available here. So, check that out.
Ben: Yeah. I see that. I’ll link to this, by the way, in the show notes. I’m taking furious notes for folks ’cause I know we’re going over a lot of little different tools and pieces of software. I see that they do have this Dragon Anywhere, and, yes, it appears that it will sink to the cloud. So I’ll look into that and link to that for folks as well.
Now there was another piece of software that you briefly mentioned, Joanna, that I wanna make sure that I clear up for folks, and that was this Scrivener. And the reason I wanted to mention that is because I actually, I began using Scrivener. Swivener, as Elmer Fudd would say. I began using when I started writing fiction because I wanted to look into something that was different than Word or Evernote, which I’ve used to write all my books in the past, and it’s quite an interesting piece of software that I’m sure I underutilized because I just recently started using it. But can you explain what exactly that is and why someone may want to look into using something like that?
Joanna: Yeah. Sure. So Scrivener is basically, for writing, it’s like Word on steroids. And the main reason you want to use it is because of its drag and drop functionality. So if you’re writing in a Word document and you want to move a chapter, writing a non-fiction book, for example, pretty much nobody writes in order for a non-fiction book. And even with fiction, I don’t write in order. I’ll often write a scene that I’ll want to move around later on. So Scrivener allows you to just write each thing as a separate document, and then drag and drop them around, and then compile them into the finished document.
So for writing, it’s amazing. It has a kind of planning overview screen, it’s got a writing screen. The statistics on it are so brilliant. It’s like a power bar which shows you how many words a day you need to write in order to make your deadlines, which is really super motivating. But it also has, it outputs the files you need to publish. So if you are an indie author, or self-publishing, as I am, I go direct to Amazon, iBooks, all the publishers, I just export the files directly from Scrivener and use those to publish. So it’s saves a super amount of money on publishing, as well as time and productivity with writing. So it’s absolutely probably the one tool I couldn’t run my business without.
Ben: Yeah. I’ve found it to be quite helpful, again I’m only about halfway through the user manual, but for any of you out there who write any type of books, or I believe like papers, projects, things like that, it works very, very well for it. That one’s called Scrivener.
So, Joanna, I’ve got some other questions for you in terms of the way that you dictate. One is that I have heard complaints from people who write, people who go into like right brain creative mode at specific times during the day, they will claim, and I found this to even be the case for me sometimes, that they need to sit, they need to rest, they need to have nothing else going on except just like them and their special sit spot while they write or while they produce that creative work that they’re producing. Have you found that you’ve been able to overcome that? Was that never an issue with you, sitting to be productive? Or how have you overcome that and combine that with this use of dictation?
Joanna: Well, I think that it depends what your goals are as a writer or a creative, and how you look at it. So I’m going with the kind of Stephen King, and Lee Child approach, which is… it’s a brilliant job but it’s a job like any other. So you don’t say, “Oh, I need to be in this special place to be this specific thing,” or you don’t say, “I have to be in this gym, on that piece of equipment in order to get fit.” That’s not how it should work. You should be out to do this stuff anywhere. And if you are a full-time creative, making a living from your writing, as I do, I don’t think you can afford to get too precious about the way you create. So for me, although I used to, if you interviewed me last year, I used to go to cafes and write, and I would listen to rain and thunderstorms. So I would plug in my rain and thunderstorms, and I would go to a cafe, and I would write. And that was my thing.
A year before that, I would go to a library and write there. And now I can’t listen to rain and thunderstorms while I’m speaking, at least I haven’t tried it yet. So I’ve changed my process and what I found, really interestingly, with the dictation is it’s better than I expected it to be. Like even that walking around the park, I was just, it was awful. I was just thinking, “Oh my goodness, this is a pile of garbage.” And then when I got it back, what’s so interesting with that dictation is the voice is much freer. So what I am discovering, and I think we all discover, is that you can be creative in different ways anywhere. So, yeah. There we go.
Ben: Has it changed your writing voice much in terms of the way that you write when typing versus the way that you write when dictating? It seems as though people just, they express themselves differently via voice than via writing. Like have you noticed that your books have changed?
Joanna: Well, I’ll tell you what has changed and that’s the dialogue in fiction. Because when you write dialogue with your hands, you can come up with convoluted sentences, and read it later and go, “What the hell?” You can’t physically say that out loud in a good way. But with dialogue in fiction, it makes a real difference to actually speak it because it always comes out right. Or at least when you speak it, you’re like, “Yeah, that didn’t sound good,” so you stop doing it. And I would say that dictating a book, or a blog post, or whatever is different to what we’re doing. So we’re using words like “you know”, and “yeah”, and “nah”, you know, filler words. But when you’re dictating you kind of have to think about it a bit before you speak, but then the words appear on the screen or they get recorded, and what I’m finding is I might say, “the room smelled of tobacco,” “the room smelled of roses,” “the room smelled of sweat.” Now those three things affect the tone of the book in very different ways, right?
Joanna: You know, a smell. Now I don’t have to make that decision right now, so I can just say those three things. Now when, and remember, we’re just dictating first draft. I think is very difficult to edit with dictation. Obviously some people do it, but I’m just doing first draft. So then when I go and edit that draft later on in the day, I can change whichever one I want to. So I’m finding I’m actually putting more into it. I don’t feel like I’m wasting time. When you’re writing something, “I’m not gonna write three different things. I’m going to choose the one that I want right now,” which is a kind of self-editing thing. So I actually think it’s going to free my voice a lot more. And, yeah, I’m really enjoying it.
Ben: Really interesting. Now when you’re writing and you’re walking through the park, when you’re dictating and you’re walking through the park, or when you’re dictating at your desk, I’m curious if you’re using any of these focus apps, or even like audio and noise-based apps that I know a lot of people are kinda tapping into right now. Like I recently have discovered, for example, one website called brain.fm that plays like special focus noises that you listen to as you work, or there are also special apps that will pop up and tell you to “every 55 minutes, take a 5 minute break,” like Pomodoro Technique apps. Now in your quest to become a more geeky author and use things like dictation and other advanced forms of writing, have you begin to tap into any of these other type of apps or pieces of software that maybe go above and beyond dictation?
Joanna: Well, Scrivener, as you mentioned, has this kind of status bar, and that is really key for me. So I do you words per day, so my goal, actually, and this is interesting, my goal used to be 2,000 words a day. With dictation, it’s now 3,000 because I’m starting to speed up, and it will probably get more than that. So that’s really interesting. So my goals are around words per day. If I’m gonna finish a manuscript by the end of January, I have to do a certain number of words per day. So that’s the life of a working creator.
The Pomodoro thing, I just take breaks pretty much every thousand words, and that might take 45 minutes, it might take an hour, but I’m pretty much into the scene. If I’m writing a scene, like I was writing one earlier about a shootout in a church in Goa in India, I’m pretty into it. So I don’t even need a break until I’ve I reached somewhere in the scene and they escape, or they get caught, or whatever. But I do, like I said earlier, I used to listen to rain and thunderstorms when I wrote. And now I just have one album that I put on repeat on iTunes, which is just rain and thunderstorms. But I also use noisli.com, NOISLI.com, and you can…
Joanna: Yeah. Similar. It’s probably same as that brain thing you just select. Like I select rain, and waves, and thunder, and then you can adjust the intensity of the sound on each of the levels. But it’s nature noises, white noise really to just block out the world.
Ben: Right. Exactly. Obviously what you can’t listen to while you’re dictating, but then when you go in and you edit those drafts, that’s when you’re putting something like that on.
Joanna: Yeah. I mean, I’m going to experiment with listening while dictating. At the moment, I’m still a little obsessed with hearing my own voice as I do it because I’m still getting to the point where I’m learning which words I need to enunciate anymore, or how fast I can speak. It’s actually really good. You can speak pretty fast, and you can tell I’m quite a fast speaker, and it will catch up with you. But I think a soon as, I have started to close my eyes. So I think if I could get to a point where I close my eyes, plug myself into some rain, and just talk, which is pretty cool, I mean I’m hoping I’ll get to that point. I know you were gonna ask me about one of my bigger fitness goals, and I booked myself on this ultra marathon, Race To The Stones, in July. So I have to go and do 8 hour, 10 hour walks to train for that. So I’m really hoping that I can get to that point of a sort of Zen state where I just suddenly I’ve dictated 10,000 words.
Ben: Yeah. I mean it’s such a cool hack to be able to build up all the tiny foot, and core, and hip muscles that you’ll need for endurance, the bone density in your feet, et cetera, and still be able to produce. It’s something, even for me, as a guy who has been a vocal proponent of things like standing desks, and treadmill work stations, et cetera, it’s really been a two year process for me, personally, to get to the point where I can really truly be productive while walking four to six miles a day on my treadmill, or spending lots of time standing. It definitely takes, again just like anything, not to kick this horse to death, but just like anything, it takes a little bit of work put in on the front-end, but I’ve noticed that it really has begun to pay dividends.
And the cool thing is, and I’ve mentioned this before in a previous podcast, for folks who are maybe going after like a very hardcore, intense goal, like say, a sprint triathlon, or an obstacle race, or something that requires a lot of high intensity work, the cool thing is if you engage in like low-level physical activity during the day, you’re like standing, or walking, or I like to think of it as tricking my body into thinking it’s one of these ancestral hunter gatherers even though really I’m just working on the computer, what happens is that once you’ve done all that at the end of the day, you can just do like a very quick intense effort, like a 20 minute Cross Fit miniature workout, or like a high intensity set on the bike that might last 10 to 15 fifteen minutes. And that’s just kind of like the icing on the cake because you’ve built all the endurance, you’ve burnt all the calories, you’ve done all the other stuff that a long work out might do already just during your day of work, and I think that it’s a really cool one-two combo, even for athletes, not just for people who wanna stay active during the day. So I find this stuff fascinating and so useful. It’s really, not to overuse the word hack, but it’s a life hack, really.
Joanna: Yeah. What’s also interesting is I think we’re at this weird point in history that is not gonna be very long. The typewriter, QWERTY keyboard was invented to slow typists down. So there are some people who are using a different type of keyboard to enables you to type faster. But I think we’re also getting to the point where, if you think forward 5 years, maybe 10 years, to a more virtual reality world, the Minority Report thing with all the stuff around you, I think this bashing on the keyboard and taking the impulses in our brain, and then bashing them out on keys, this is not gonna last that long in the big way of things. People have always communicated through voice, and look at the rise of podcasts. This is only going to shift, I believe, into something that more and more people are doing in terms of doing their work with their full bodies, as opposed to being kind of hunched up around a desk. So I think we’re kinda living in this weird space before technology frees us from the computer.
Ben: I’m looking out my window right now into the forest, because I live out in the forest and I have this giant picture window that looks out from my standing desk out into the trees, and I could just imagine removing this glass window and installing some kind of a special upgraded pane that allows me to do what Tom Cruise does in that movie. What was the movie again?
Joanna: Minority Report.
Ben: Yeah. Minority Report. Where I’m just using my hands to manipulate the entire screen and work that way during the day. I could totally see that happening. Just basically adding even more technology into the mix. Now when it comes to dictation, this is obviously a little bit of a process, like getting the software, getting the tools, training the computer, doing all this, are there any books or resources that you like or that you’ve learned, not that we haven’t just laid everything else out for people on this podcast quite thoroughly, but would you add anything into the mix when it comes to other resources for folks?
Joanna: Yeah. Sure. So there’s a great book called “Dictate Your Book” by Monica Leonelle, L-E-O-N-E-L-L-E, and I also interviewed Monica on my podcast, “The Creative Penn Podcast”, I think it was back in October, and I pick her brains. And it’s funny, if anyone does listen to that, and then after to listening to this, what you will hear is the resistance in my voice.
Ben: Meaning you did not want to dictate? You had the same raised eyebrow about it that I probably do?
Joanna: The excuses that I was putting out there are the ones that most people will be feeling right now, and you’re interviewing me, and I’m a convert. It’s so interesting, once you force yourself through the things that you think will be a problem, and then kind of the whole world opens up. It’s a bit like Scrivener for writers as well. When you go from Word to Scrivener, it’s like, “Oh my goodness! How did I do anything before?” It’s kind of amazing. And like how we believe that we couldn’t, how did we live before the internet or Skype. I mean, these are the crazy things. It’s kind of the next iteration, really. But, yes, the book is “Dictate Your Book” by Monica Leonelle.
Ben: Okay. Got it. “Dictate Your Book: How To Write Your Book Faster, Better, And Smarter (Growth Hacking For Storytellers)”. There we go. So she’s picked up the hacking word as well. I like it. Well, I’m going to put a list of resources for everything we’ve talked about from the Dragon Dictation, to the lav mic and the microphone that you use. I’ll look into this Kevin J. Anderson fellow that you mention as well and put a link to his page, and your page, and everything else that we discussed today, Joanna, because you’ve been a wealth of knowledge. Is there anything else that you wanna add in for folks when it comes to dictation, or staying fit while still being a writer or producer?
Joanna: Only that this is the best time in history to be an author, to be a creative, and all of this type of fitness stuff is so important for making it continuously fun because one of the worst things is loving your job but being in pain. And I hope everyone will create more in 2016, but also stay super fit. I’m on Twitter, @thecreativepenn, with a double N, if anyone has any questions about what we’ve talked about.
Ben: Well, fantastic. And I will also keep folks updated because, and I haven’t really talked about this much before aside from this podcast, but this really is pretty big on my radar for 2016 as I would really like personally to become a dictating author rather than a typing author for many of the reasons that Joanna talked about, including the fact, that as an obstacle course racer, I’m doing an ungodly number of pull-ups, and hangs, and wrist work, and hand work, and forearm work, and it sure would be nice if those muscles could rest while I write at the end of the day. So this is really, really good information, and I’m gonna put a link to the show notes for all of you listening in to ask your questions, leave your comments, and access the resources for today’s show. All of that will be over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitwriter, bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitwriter. And if you have some follow up questions, just leave them there, and I will be sure to jump in and reply. So, Joanna, thank you so much for coming on today’s show.
Joanna: Thanks so much for having me, Ben. That was really fun.
Ben: Alright folks. So this is Ben Greenfield and Joanna Penn signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting edge fitness and performance advice.
Have you ever dealt with frustrating wrist pain or carpal tunnel or tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow or climber’s elbow – pain that is aggravated by typing and computer work?
Have you ever wished you could walk one, five or ten miles while still being able to work on a book, a project, or a paper?
Have you ever wished you could simply talk your thoughts into existence, and have them appear in your emails, documents, books and more?
Then today’s podcast episode is for you.
Before jumping into today’s episode, let’s take a look at folks who have abandoned traditional methods of simply sitting down to produce, create and be productive.
The list of historical figures who have used standing desks is veritable “who’s who”. Here is just a brief snapshot of famous folks, writers, and inventors who leveraged the standing desk’s benefits throughout history.
For example, Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa while he stood at his standing desk. Da Vinci also stood at his desk while sketching new inventions, including parachutes, flying machines, and armored vehicles.
The standing desk also made its appearance in one of the world’s oldest colleges, the University of Cambridge, founded in 1209. Standing desks were first recorded as being used in the library in 1626, and the idea of writing while standing was placed at the epicenter of intellectual thought.
Napoléon Bonaparte also used a standing desk and found it conducive to quick thinking and strategizing for battle.
Thomas Jefferson also used the standing desk while composing documents, including the Declaration of Independence (he actually developed a six-legged adjustable standing desk, and was one of the first known people to use an adjustable standing desk).
Charles Dickens’ workspace where he penned such timeless classics as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities. is described as having “books all round, up to the ceiling and down to the ground; a standing-desk at which he writes; and all manner of comfortable easy chairs.”
Winston Churchill was often seen writing at his standing desk. Ernest Hemingway’s fashioned a standing desk out of a bookcase near his bed.
Honest Abe Lincoln was never too far from his trusty standing desk. He used it to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation and is famously quoted as saying ‘Verily, ’tis my standing desk that gave me the inspiration to end this wicked and iniquitous trade.’
In addition to standing while writing, both dictating while writing is also something famous authors have done. For example, in her book The Productive Author’s Guide to Dictation: Speak Your Way to Higher (and Healthier!) Word Counts, author Cindy Grigg reports:
“Leo Tolstoy received one of the earliest dictaphone prototypes. To this he replied that the “Ediphone” was impressive but “too dreadfully exciting” for his methods. Instead, he seemed to favor dictating to his daughter Alexandra or even house guests. Fyodor Dostoyevsky reportedly struck a bargain with his publisher to pay off his and/or his brother’s debts. The deal required that the author submit his manuscript for The Gambler in short order. To do so, he employed stenographer Anna Grigorievna, who gave him collaborative feedback as well. He finished the manuscript in four weeks then married Anna.
“Thomas Hardy dictated his wife Florence Hardy’s ‘biography’ about himself to her, seemingly to retain control of the account. Like many authors, Hardy also dictated once he became ill. Stricken with pleurisy, he spoke his last poem to his wife Florence.
John Milton was blind when he created Paradise Lost, dictating the epic poetical work to his several daughters. This inspired paintings of him and his daughters by artists George Romney, Delacroix, and others.
Alexander Dumas was rumored to never touch up his drafts, having served as a historian, which had given him practice in thinking about what he wanted to say before he dictated it.
Michel de Montaigne , an acclaimed 16th-century essayist, dictated his journal and possibly other writings.
Henry James referred to his hired transcriptionists as amanuenses, needing to contract such help at least partially due to rheumatism in his wrist. One of them, Theodora Bosanquet, recorded in her diary, “Indeed, at the time when I began to work for him, he had reached a stage at which the click of the Remington machine acted as a positive spur. He found it more difficult to compose to the music of any other make. During a fortnight when the Remington was out of order he dictated to an Oliver typewriter with evident discomfort, and he found it almost disconcerting to speak to something that made no responsive sound at all.”
William Wordsworth was a kindred spirit to mobile writers such as myself. He ‘wrote’ Tintern Abbey mentally on a “ramble of four or five days…Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.” Thanks to transcriptionist Isabella Fenwick, he also dictated The Fenwick Notes commentary about his poetry. Of his long poem The Excursion, Wordsworth mentions, “Something must now be said of this poem, but chiefly, as has been done through the whole of these notes, with reference to my personal friends, and especially to her who has perseveringly taken them down from my dictation.”
Charles Dickens was rumored to act his characters out in front of a mirror, giving vocal dramatizations of dialogue and text. In 1882, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published an interview with someone who claimed to be Dickens’ amanuensis, describing him this way: “‘Yes, I did shorthand work for Mr. Dickens for eighteen months. I did not take dictation for any of his novels, only his fugitive pieces…Most people seem to think Dickens was a ready writer. This is by no means the case. He used to come into his office in St. Catherine Street about eight o’clock in the morning and begin dictating. He would walk up and down the floor several times after dictating a sentence or a paragraph and ask me to read it. I would do so, and he would, in nine cases out of ten, order me to strike out certain words and insert others. He was generally tired out by eleven o’clock, and went down to his club on the Strand. A singular thing was that he never dictated the closing paragraphs of his story. He always finished it himself. I used to look in the paper for it, and find that he had changed it very greatly from what he had dictated to me. Dickens had a very odd habit of combing his hair. He would comb it a hundred times in a day. He seemed never to tire of it. The first thing he did on coming into the office was to comb his hair. I have seen him dictate a sentence or two, and then begin combing. When he got through he dictated another sentence.”
Bram Stoker was himself a secretary and director of London’s Lyceum Theatre, as well as a manager for Henry Irving. His own experiences may have influenced how several chapters of Dracula are dedicated to asylum director Dr. Seward recording dictations on a phonograph, to the chagrin of Mina Harker, who typed them up as soon as possible, believing the veracity and emotion of the audio to be too much for other readers to bear. “I have copied the words on my typewriter, and none other need nowhear your heart beat, as I did.”
Dictation is also mentioned in Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars. Stendhal (the pen name for Marie-Henri Beyle) dictated The Charterhouse of Parma in seven weeks, 52 consecutive days–another kindred spirit to Marcel Proust dictated the Death of Bergotte to Celeste Albaret on his death bed, even though it was already finished, saying it needed to be written a second time. He supposedly explained, “I didn’t yet know what it’s like to die when I wrote it. I know it more now.”
James Joyce found inspiration in a random happening while dictating Finnegan’s Wake. While recording the story, Joyce was interrupted when someone came to the door and was welcomed with a phrase like, “Come in,” which Joyce thought worked well in the manuscript so he left it in his draft.
Thomas Aquinas was apparently so skilled at dictation that he gave observers the impression he could speak on several topics at once to multiple scribes and even to dictate in his sleep.”
In today’s podcast, we’re going to delve into how you too can be more productive, build endurance, maintain muscle, and burn more calories, all while writing from a standing desk and / or while dictating.
My guest, author J.F.Penn, is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers on the edge, as well as bestselling non-fiction for authors published under Joanna Penn.
Joanna’s site for writers, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted one of the Top 10 sites for writers three years running. She is a professional speaker on creative entrepreneurship, digital publishing and internet marketing, and was voted one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-How Joanna developed chronic repetitive motion injuries in her wrist, and why ergonomic keyboards and an ergonomic computer mouse weren’t working for her…
-Why Joanna decided to go way above and beyond simply using a standing workstation or treadmill desk…
-How Joanna is simultaneously working on multiple books while also training for an ultramarathon…
-Whether you can really, truly be creative while standing or walking, and why it’s a myth that you need to sit to write effectively…
-The exact tools, microphones and software that Joanna has found to work very well for dictation…
-A book that will teach you exactly how to dictate quickly and effectively…
-How to “train” your computer to recognize your voice and accent…
-How to enhance productivity with ambient noise and focus apps…
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
-Dragon Anywhere cloud software
–Kevin J. Anderson (an author who dictates while walking 4+ hours per day)