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The secret Sidney Sheldon used to become a great writer . . . [Archive] - SOWPub Small Business Forums

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Dien Rice
February 7, 2007, 08:01 AM
Last week someone I've had a lot of respect for passed away... the novelist Sidney Sheldon.

In recent years, Sidney Sheldon has mostly been known as a novelist. He wrote a long string of best-selling novels, dating from the early 1970s until recent years. However, before that Sidney Sheldon actually had four successful "careers"! (Although all those "careers" involved writing.)

For example, his first career was in the movie industry, where he wrote the scripts for many movies. His script for "The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer" (with Cary Grant and Shirley Temple) won him an Academy Award. He also became a playwright (he wrote plays), and he even won a Tony (which is like winning an Academy Award, except it's for plays instead of movies). After that he became a TV producer and writer, and one of his best known shows is probably "I Dream of Jeannie", where he created it, produced it, and also wrote a lot of the episodes. After the end of "I Dream of Jeannie", he decided to turn his hand to writing novels.

He had an unusual technique for most novelists - and this is something those of us who have to do any kind of writing can learn from. Instead of toiling away over a keyboard, Sidney Sheldon dictated his novels instead. He'd dictate 50 pages a day to a secretary or to a tape machine, and then the next day he would make corrections to those 50 pages, and then he'd continue on in this way until he had around 1,500 pages of work. He would then edit it down and revise, revise, and revise, for about a year, until it was "boiled down" into a very good novel.

By the way, this is also the technique that was used by the romance novelist Barbara Cartland. She would actually dictate her novels at the rate of one novel every 2 weeks! She was very prolific. (She eventually wrote 657 novels - that's not a typo!) This is a technique that any of us who do any kind of writing could apply, to dictate our writings and then write that way, instead of toiling over a keyboard.

I think the whole psychology of this type of writing is quite different. When you talk, you talk a lot faster than you can write, so you don't lose your train of thought, while if you're writing quite slowly you could lose your train of thought. Also, with typing there's a tendency to constantly correct yourself, whereas with talking, of course, you can't - because once you've said something, you can't take it back. This technique could be especially valuable to people who think they can't write - because if you can talk, really, you can write!

There are a few ways you can apply this technique. One way is to use software, the best well-known one and probably the most accurate one is one called "Dragon Naturally Speaking". I tried that about 4 years ago. When I tried it at that time, I found that it "misheard" my words every now and then, and it sometimes wrote down different words from the ones I spoke. However, because the words were actually dictionary words that it wrote down, I couldn't detect them with a simple spell-checker. I had to actually proofread it, and unfortunately sometimes I missed the mistakes. So I actually sent out some articles which had some of these misspellings in them, and when I discovered them later I wasn't happy. However, the software might be better now.

Another approach you can take which might be better is to record your words, then get a person to transcribe it. One approach now is to just record directly on to your computer - you may need an external microphone. (Some free software you can use to record audio on your computer is Sound Capture (http://www.download.com/SoundCapture/3000-2168_4-10117490.html?tag=lst-0-1).) Alternatively you could use a little voice recorder, or even an MP3 Player / iPod which you can record with. (Some MP3 Players have an in-built record function, and there are accessories you can buy for your iPod so you can record with it.) This approach might be even easier because it's portable, so you can go around and can talk/write wherever you are. You can then transfer the file on to your computer, and send it to a transcriptionist, who can then transcribe your writings. There's a former thread here at Sowpub (http://www.sowpub.com/forum/showthread.php?p=5590) which lists a number of transcriptionists you can use if you want to use this technique. The great thing about this is you might be able to really increase your productivity.

There's also a third approach you can use. That is if you're actually a good typist yourself. You can record your words, and then play the audio recording back and transcribe it yourself. For example, Windows Media Player (which comes with Windows) actually has an adjustable playback speed, so you can slow down the playback speed. If you're a decent typist, you should then be able to type in the words when they're played back at the slower speed. There's also other software you can get too which can slow it down even further.

Anyhow, this post was really a way to commemorate the life of Sidney Sheldon, and also learn from him... I hope you liked it, and found it useful too!

- Dien Rice

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