Writing With Her Feet
You would never tell Sun Lukang, who has authored four books by typing with her feet in spite of Cerebral Palsy, that she isn't a writer. Of course she's a writer.
When you receive an email, you don't know if the sender pecked with two index fingers on a mechanical keyboard, tapped on the glass screen of an iPad, or dictated with their voice.
What matters is the result: words on a page.
To write is to be the author of something. To write is to communicate.
There are many ways to be a writer.
Writing With His Cheek
Stephen Hawking was a renowned scientist. He communicated against all odds.
Having lost nearly all mobility to a slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease, Stephen wrote by using his cheek muscle. An infrared camera attached to his glasses monitored the movement of his cheek to stop the automatic scanning across rows and columns of a software keyboard attached to his wheelchair.
Stephen would move his cheek to stop the cursor on a letter he wanted to type. He needed only to type the first few characters before his computer's prediction algorithm, which had trained on his own books and lectures, would suggest the the whole word.
Writing With Your Voice
People who say, "Dictation isn't writing," are the type who would claim listening to audiobooks isn't reading.
No one who reads a book cares if you typed it with one hand or two. They don't care how the words got there. All that matters is the message.
Why type with one hand if you have two? Two is faster. You will get more words on the page in less time.
Why type with two hands if you are well-spoken? Speak the words and have them transcribed. You will get more words on the page in less time.
There is no wrong way to get words on the page. Whether you write by hand, type by foot, or dictate by speech, you are a writer.
Two Modes: Writing and Editing
Dive into the memoirs of well-known authors and they will all tell you the story is told in the edit.
The famous sculptor, Michelangelo, said of his masterpiece, The David: “I just chipped away all the rock that wasn’t David.”
I drill this into my students in a lessons from 30 Days to Better Writing titled "Write Poorly". That sounds like terrible advice, doesn't it? But this is what most students need to hear.
Novice writers think writing is a one-step process: write perfect words. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Writing is a two-step process:
Stop trying to write the perfect words. Writing is a two-step process.
Start putting some imperfect words on the page. You can’t improve what you haven’t written.
Words are the raw materials of your masterpiece. Michelangelo couldn't begin sculpting until he had a slab of marble. You cannot begin crafting your message until you get imperfect words on the page.
Your Hybrid Voice
With all this talk of imperfection, I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I'm not saying to be sloppy on purpose. I'm saying get past your ego and don't let perfectionism keep you from writing. You can always edit later.
With practice, you will improve. Your first drafts will get better and better.
I record hundreds of videos per year and write over a million words per year. I've reached a point where what I write as my first draft for a blog post is 98% ready to go.
I've honed my ability to write and speak. I've developed what I call a Hybrid Voice.
You know how on a podcast you can always tell when someone reads from a script?
It’s a trick question because you can’t always tell. You only notice when you notice.
It’s the toupée fallacy:
“All toupées look fake. I’ve never seen one I couldn’t tell was fake.”
What you really mean is all bad toupées look fake.
You notice when someone is reading from a script only if the person is not well practiced.
With deliberate practice, you can reach a point where your writing sounds like your speaking and your speaking sounds like your writing. Eventually, they can become indistinguishable.
I call this your Hybrid Voice.
I teach you how to intentionally develop your Hybrid Voice in 30 Days to Better Writing.
I can read what I've written and it sounds the same as how I normally talk. When I speak, the transcription of my words reads like my writing.
This takes deliberate practice. You won't get better automatically. If you’re not aware of the vocal tics you have, time and repetition will only cement those bad habits.
Writing 100,000 Words in a Day
This brings me to the original reason I wrote this post.
On May 1st, 2019, I will write 100,000 words in a day.
You can learn more about this project at Write100K.com.
At Write100K.com I explain more and go over 6 reasons I'm writing 100,000 words in a day.
I had already planned to take off the month of May to write my next book, Sabbatical (which you can learn more about at sabbatical.blog). I've now decided to start the month by writing 100,000 words on the first day. Most of these words will be for the first draft of the book. Throughout the remainder of the month, I will edit what I've written.
You've may have guessed by this point how I will write these 100,000 words: by dictating them.
I didn't originally announce how I would write 100,000 words in a day because I anticipated detractors who would claim dictation isn't writing. I needed to first have this article written so I had something to point them to.
How I Will Write 100,000 Words in a Day
I know my message. You can read my mission statement on the sabbatical.blog About Page. I've been taking sabbaticals and talking about them for 5 years. I've had hundreds of conversations in person with people and coached them through taking their sabbaticals. Now, it's a matter of getting everything I already have in my mind onto the page.
I did something similar a few years ago when I wrote Overlap. I wrote the 80,000 word draft in two weeks and documented the process daily. I'd already spent the 3 prior years honing my message and having hundreds of in-person conversations with my target audience.
What I'm doing differently for my second book is speaking the words instead of typing them.
I will speak 100,000 words on May 1st and stream the event LIVE on video.
When you know your message, it's simply a matter of getting it out. People who don't know their message have a hard time understanding this. They can't imagine speaking for hours on end without running out of material and resorting to incoherent babble.
- I know my message.
- I have a lot of practice speaking.
I record at least 2 to 3 hours most days for various shows, interviews, courses, coaching, teaching, and writing. On busier days, I may record up to 4 hours. At peak, I've recorded for between 6–8 hours during the recording of the Overlap audiobook.
Inside the Community, I record a weekly, member-only show called Fired Up Mondays. It's like our office hours where you can get help with your struggles and find clarity. I looked at the past two weeks of episodes and saw that I recorded 52 and 56-minute episodes respectively. When transcribed, each hour-long episode totaled just shy of 10,000 words.
As long as I have prompts and questions ready to go, I'm able to speak an average of 10,000 words per hour.
I plan to cut caffeine 3 days in advance and stay hydrated both leading up to, and during, the event. Meal breaks will be 15–20 minutes.
I estimate it will me take around 13 hours to dictate 100,000 words.
If I lose my voice, I will switch to typing and write the remaining words by hand.
In advance of May 1st, I will plan out the list of chapters for the Sabbatical book. For each chapter, I will list some dozen or so questions to serve as prompts. From these prompts, I will speak.
Transcribing Audio to Text
What I usually do is take a recording of my speech and drop it into Descript.
Descript is an app that automatically transcribes any audio file you in almost no time. In minutes, you have a full transcription. But this is no ordinary computer-made transcription (more on that in a minute). No longer do I have to wait days for a transcription service to return a text file. Instead of the industry standard $1/min, it's only $0.07/min.
If you want to try it out, here's a link to get 100 free minutes with Descript.
Descript is simply magic. I know they use the Google Speech engine on the back end, but some kind of voodoo happens where the computer-made transcript actually has punctuation. Yes, we're talking intelligent commas, periods, etc. All ready within minutes. It's not like Dragon Dictate where you have to say "Period. Comma. New Paragraph." Descript figures all of that out intelligently.
- Speak naturally.
- Drag and drop your audio file.
- Get a fully punctuated transcript.
I use it every day, and I love it.
I record most of my conversations because I can always drop the recording into Descript to get a full transcript of what I said. From this transcript, I can create all kinds of other content: emails, blog posts, videos, social media posts, graphics, speeches—you name it.
What's remarkable about Descript is the accuracy of the transcription. Maybe it's because I use a quality microphone, but the transcription accuracy is darn near 98%, I'd say.
At any rate, Descript isn't paying me to write this. I'm just a big fan, and I've been telling everyone I know because they end up thanking me for it. It seems everyone is on the lookout for a service like this.
The Descript developers have been very responsive and have added numerous features in direct response to my feedback. This makes me an even bigger fan.
Now, with all of that said, I'm probably going to pay the premium for human-made transcription for my 100,000-word day (even though it will cost me an arm and a leg). Why? Because the difference between 98% accurate computer-made transcription and 99.9% accurate human-made transcription, when we're dealing with 100,000 words, is pretty significant.
This will be one of those rare times I go with the "white glove" option over computer-made transcription.
"But you can't write that much in a day and have it all be quality words…."
I'll close by addressing another common objection I received many times since announcing my plan to write 100,000 words in a day.
Many people assume if you do something in a relatively short amount of time, the quality must necessarily be worse.
I think you just waste a terrible amount of time and give yourself way too long to do things.
They're in disbelief.
"Surely they can't be quality words."
There are two problems with this line of thinking.
Problem #1: Writing isn't a one-step process.
No writer worth their salt would ever question whether a first draft contains "coherent words", because writers understand the story is told in the edit. Writing is not a one-step process—it's a two step process. It bears repeating:
- Step 1: Write
- Step 2: Edit
The first step is to get the raw, imperfect words onto the page. The second step is to remove, rearrange, and edit.
Focusing on coherence or perfection is the wrong thing to focus on in the first place.
Problem #2: It actually is possible to speak 100,000 coherent words.
Last year, I delivered a 4-week live class called Client Work Essentials. The course has 20 lessons. Each week, for four weeks, I spoke for 2 hours and 45 minutes, delivering an entire module with 4 lessons each time. Transcribed, each week's class came out to around 30,000 words.
Yes, 30,000 coherent words.
(This also supports my estimated speaking rate of 10,000 words per hour.)
People who claim the 100,000 words I'll write "can't be quality words" are merely projecting. They can't imagine themselves speaking coherently for that many hours, therefore the same must be true of anyone else.
I have a historical precedent for this kind of performance. When you know your message, it's quite simple. The only critical factor is only stamina.
Am I stretching myself? Absolutely. Is this possible? Yes, of course. I've done the math.
The main thing I must guard against is loss of my voice. Again, I am prepared for this possibility and will switch from dictation to typing if I do in fact lose my voice.
I've determined even if I make it 75% of the way through my projected completion time by dictating before my voice gives out, there should still be enough hours left in the day to type the remaining 25,000 words.
I'm Streaming the Event LIVE on Video
Whether you intend to cheer me on or simply expect to see me fall flat on my face, you can watch me write 100,000 words in a day on May 1st, live on video.
Scroll down and enter your email in the box below to receive a notification for this event.
Building a writing habit changed my life and changed my career.
It all starts with writing.
Everything you want to do starts with writing.
Writing is the fuel for all other mediums:
- Want to make a film? Write.
- Want to sell products? Write.
- Want to record a song? Write.
- Want to author a book? Write.
- Want to present a speech? Write.
- Want to produce a podcast? Write.
- Want to teach an online course? Write.
- Want to shoot a compelling video? Write.
One of the most valuable things you can do for your career is build a writing habit. Click that link to get my 52 Writing Prompts Guide with One Year of Topic Ideas so you never run out of things to write about.
Otherwise, enter your email below to receive a notification when I stream the Write100K event live.