Transcribing a Novel: Why Transcribing is Time Travelling

After writing a little every day for 121 days, I’ve completed the first draft of a novel. What now? Since I wrote the novel long hand, the next phase is transcribing. It’s not a particularly creative step, but one I enjoy. 

Transcribing would be my first experience reading my story through, from beginning to end. While it’s advised to give your first draft some time to rest and create some distance before you edit, I don’t feel the cool-off period needs to be that long. Since I wrote the first word in the novel over 121 days ago, I don’t even remember what happened at the beginning. At least, not the words I chose to tell the story. 

Transcribing is time traveling. It’s bringing your past to the future. It’s like going back in time and stepping on some butterflies. What I do in this transcription doesn’t need to be a replica of the past. I’m free to modify words, add details, change character names, and relocate whole scenes. 

Transcribing is also like moving to a new house. I’m packing and deciding whether a long scene is worth keeping or not. I could cut it and save a lot of time bringing it over, typing it out, dusting it off, and polishing it. If I transcribe it, I’d read it over and over again during each revision. While transcribing is a good time to cut anything you aren’t at least 60% confident in. Cutting it at this phase will save you both time now transcribing and later while editing. If there is a section that doesn’t add to the story, don’t type it out. 

I love transcribing because as a hoarder, I feel safe. I’m not actually getting rid of anything. By writing longhand, a physical copy of the text will always exist. That is comforting to me. When I write the first draft on the computer, and later I was to cut something, I’d feel like I’m losing it permanently. Even though I save multiple files for each draft, transcribing the first draft reassures me that I’m not deleting anything good by accident. Every decision was made intentionally. To not transcribe a word, a sentence, or a paragraph feels better than cutting that same on the computer. I’m saving myself a lot of emotional energy later on. 

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Transcribing is so different from writing. While I’m transcribing, I’m more relaxed. Unlike writing, where I need to imagine something out of nothing or form a clear sentence using my pen and paper, transcribing is like singing along to a song. There is a rhythm to follow, and I’m not traveling alone. There is also a clear destination in sight. I know how many words, paragraphs, and pages are ahead. By being able to see the end coming, I know when I can stop and when I can push on. 

When I write, I don’t write a lot every day, anywhere between 300 to 1000 words. I would always start each day by dating the page, and when transcribing, I use these little markers as checkpoints. I recall how hard it was to sit down and write each and every day — and I could empathize with myself from the past. When I transcribe a page written on a certain day, I feel a connection with who I was. For example, on Feb 28, I wrote this. When I transcribe that today, Jun 24, I feel like I’m looking over the shoulder of myself from Feb. It’s kind of freaky, but that’s how it feels sometimes. 

I don’t know what my favorite part of the writing process is, but transcribing is in my top three. If you can get over the fact that you’re transcribing imperfect work, and that you’re still early in your process, I think you’ll enjoy it too. This is, of course, coming from the guy who typed all of The Great Gatsby. 

It took me 121 days to write the first draft of this story. My goal is to transcribe it faster than that. But we’ll see — no pressure. What motivates me is that I have so many more projects I want to work on. The reward is that I can move to the next phase of another one. 

Stay tuned for more updates on my writing projects. I now have both book 1 and 2 written in some form. And that is exciting. I can’t wait to finish Book one, I can’t wait to start editing Book two, and I can’t wait to start drafting Book three. Most importantly, I can’t wait until it’s all done. Until then, I’ll just enjoy this phase for a bit: transcribing. 

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