The Rhythm of Dictation

In studying Winston Churchill I came across an interesting tidbit during the period he was based stateside in 1943.

Nightly, Churchill would dictate his thoughts. One would think that given his natural gift for oratory, this would be a smooth feat. Not always so.

Like a writer, of which he famously was, he’d experiment audibly with words in a first draft. I’ve spoken about the nature of those before. First drafts are meant to be anything but perfect. They’re the writer’s fulcrum.

Said one of his American secretaries, Phyllis Forbes, in the documentary Churchill—The Beginning of the End:

He would march up and down using his cigar like a baton, trying different words for their rhythm; discarding some; whispering to himself. But when he finally got the rhythm, he would go on with the speech … it was like seeing a great piece of music.

The skill in drafting thoughts on paper then moulding them through editing into a cohesive whole is extraordinary. To do it with the voice alone is exceptional. I’ve tried it and by lack of familiarity am nowhere close to the hubris of mastery. I truly admire those with the gift for dictation. It’s definitely something worth pursuing as a writer—if just for those days when the eyes being to tire!

Still, all this went to surprise me: that one could dictate in draft form at all.