Talking Tuesday: How to Make $2.38 per Mile

  1. While driving down the road at an average speed of 60 m.p.h., or 1 mile per minute.
  2. Dictate science fiction at an average rate of 50 words per minute.
  3. Transcribe that dictation at a cost of 1.25 cents per word.
  4. Sell that fiction at a professional rate (i.e., 6 or more cents per word).

Bingo! $2.375 per mile!

Of course, these are all averages. Some days, the weather and traffic conditions won’t let me average 60 m.p.h. (That might actually mean more minutes, more words, and more money per mile.) Some days I’m more talkative than others. 50 words per minute is about my minimum, and I often manage 100.

And of course, step 4 is the trickiest part: actually selling the words. If I can’t sell them, then I’m actually losing 63 cents per mile.

But selling is, in large part, a matter of craft, practice, and persistence. And belief: if I didn’t believe it were possible, I never would’ve made it this far in the business. Not that I’m claiming any sort of expertise. I’m very much still a new writer. But I’m a new writer with a lot of sales and a couple of awards; and almost all of those stories were dictated.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch (among others) talk of the importance of writing from your story brain, not your analytical brain. Your story brain has been absorbing stories – listening, watching, reading, playing – for decades. It knows what makes a decent story, if you can just get out of its way and let it work. I know this sounds like a load of pop psychology; but when I started listening to them, I started selling stories. And I haven’t stopped.

But “getting out of your brain’s way” is different for each of us. It means finding a place and building a habit where storytelling comes natural to you. For some, it’s their office, with their favorite music, and no distractions. For others, it’s their favorite coffee shop, with their favorite beverage and no distractions. For Kevin J. Anderson (who has dictated his work for years now, maybe decades), it’s his favorite hiking trails, with the Great Outdoors and no distractions. (You notice a theme here?)

For me, it’s my Jeep:

Not exactly no distractions, but minimal. Dictating is about the same as talking to a passenger. When traffic or weather is bad, I ignore the microphone. When conditions are favorable, I talk. At 50-100 words per minute.

It’s about habit. Once I’m in the habit (it’s easy to fall out), every day is the same. I listen to the last five minutes of yesterday’s recording, to remind myself where I was. Then I start my Jeep, start driving, and start talking. On a good day, I dictate 50 minutes, and wrap up as I pull into the parking lot at work. Then when I leave work, I repeat. So on a very good day, that’s 100 minutes at 100 words per minute. 10,000 words. Two weeks to a first draft of a novel.

Do I maintain that pace all the time? Heck, no! Weather and traffic and errands and moods all interfere. But if I stick with it, I can do at least half that. I’m pretty happy with it. And I’m ecstatic about the really good weeks.

In future installments of Talking Tuesday, I’ll discuss my process, as well as other approaches you might take.

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