How Dictation Can Help Writers Capture a Sense of Place

by Travel Writing World
dictation travel writers

In this article, we explain how dictation can help writers capture a sense of place. We also provide some tips on using dictation to write about place more convincingly. This is the third article in a five-part series of articles about creating a sense of place in travel literature


Dictation is the writing community’s worst kept productivity secret. It is a revelation to the writer who first experiences its power, which promises to liberate the writer from the desk and alleviate some well-documented health issues associated with sitting down for prolonged periods of time.

While dictation can be a powerful tool for the travel writer who is trying to document conversations and remember experiences, it is also powerful in capturing a sense of place.

Why use dictation in travel writing?

Note-taking is the classic way travel writers record the details that give travel writing its life, blood, and soul. But note-taking can be notoriously fragmentary. A note here to remember an encounter, a random thought there.

In his book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux sheds light on his note-taking practice. In one scene, a young Indian boy named Murugam wearing a school uniform approaches Theroux, asks him questions, and demands his ballpoint pen when he sees what Theroux had written in his notebook: Boy. Uniform. Murugam. Theroux sketches his experiences just enough so he can remember them later. 

But these fleeting experiences are easily forgotten, especially if travel writers do not flesh out their notes every day.

Dictation can produce a dizzying amount of words in a short amount of time. The average person talks about 120 to 150 words per minute. Now compare that to typing and handwriting, which are around 40 and 13 words per minute respectively. 

Granted, you won’t actually use all of the words you dictate, but neither will you use all of the words you type or write. 

Productivity is not the only benefit of dictation for travel writers. Dictation allows travel writers to more accurately and immediately describe and report on their experiences. In other words, dictation can help capture a sense of place.

How to use dictation in travel writing

There is no better time to write about a place than when you’re actually in one.

However, the amount of raw data available in situ can be overwhelming and difficult to process. Even if you took a computer or a keyboard with you everywhere you went, you probably couldn’t type fast enough to capture it all.

You can more easily carry a voice recorder or a smartphone with you, with which you can dictate and capture the barrage of experiences.

When you’re on an assignment, you can speak a quick note about the external, sensory information you are experiencing. A simple walk down the street can reveal a lot of excellent information. What do you hear in your immediate surroundings and far off? What scents and fragrances are prominent? What action, colors, and textures do you see?

You can also dictate the inner experiences of travel when they’re the rawest. How does the location make you feel? What kind of reactions are you having? Describe how you are feeling in a place, and try to articulate why you’re feeling that way. Does something remind you of something else? A memory? An emotion?

All of the descriptions you dictate in situ will not, and should probably not, appear in your final draft as they’re recorded.

Not everything you say will be used in your writing. But what you’re doing is creating a record of your experiences to use later.

Devices of dictation

Some travel writers use a standalone voice recorder or dictaphone that records audio files in mp3 format. When they get home, they either transcribe what they wrote manually or upload the file into an automatic transcription service like Otter.ai. This is a wonderful way to do it, but it involves purchasing another gadget.

Some travel writers use their smartphones and dictate directly into an app. What’s more, travel writers can utilize their phone’s speech-to-text function, which automatically transcribes what you say into a text file.

For more information about using voice records or apps for dictation, see our article on note-taking and note-taking apps.


This is the third article in a five-part series of articles about creating a sense of place in travel literature. In part four of this five-part series, I discuss how meditation can help travel writers cultivate a sense of place

Download a copy of our free “Summoning the Spirit of Place” PDF, along with other travel writing freebies, eBooks, and checklists in our resource library, by joining our monthly newsletter:

Last Updated on 1 January 2021 by Travel Writing World

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