Long before I was relearning fifth-grade math at our local “faux-school,” I was a fan of writerly podcasts. I devoured audio craft lessons and author interviews with the hopes they would crack open plot issues, shed light on the mysteries of style, or allow me to think about a book a little longer.
These past weeks, as the world dissolves into fiction before our eyes, I’ve revisited my favorites—for the distraction, yes, but also to keep close my goals as a writer. Headphones on, podcasts are a great way to zone out of the real world and into the wonderful alchemy of a fictional one. Here is where I turn to find what I’m looking for.
Let’s talk about it.
Podcasts are now a staple of any marketing and publicity campaign—interviews for the latest releases are easy to come by. Lit Hub Radio provides a smorgasbord, aggregating some of the most popular stops on the digital book tour.
Of these, I gravitate to the Maris Review. Maris Kreizman interviews writers as their work hits the shelves. Recent highlights include Rebecca Solnit, Miranda Popkey, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Kevin Wilson. This is a great podcast when you’ve finished a front-list title and want to linger with discussions about the author’s intention and influences.
First Draft, hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, provides thoughtful interviews that go beyond topics addressed by the novel into craft issues. Check out the interview with GrubStreet’s Christopher Castellani. The podcast has been running since 2013, which allows for a deep dive into backlist books. Look at the entire index of interviews here. Similarly thoughtful and long-running: Writers on Writing. The index gets extra points for a convenient search function.
When Christopher Hermelin and Drew Broussard met cute in the comment section of the Tournament of Books, a pod was born. So Many Damn Books offers a more jocular interview—though no less informative. These fellows are always excited, looking for the same inspo-wisdom I am. Conversations extend beyond their interviewee’s latest publication into politics, art, social issues—and cocktails. Each interview comes with the creation of a new drink, like the “Get a Clue” for Kate Racullia’s Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts.
I miss talking about craft so much, I’m willing to listen to other people talk about it. Luckily, there’s a pod for that. Writing Excuses episodes run about fifteen minutes long “because you’re in a hurry,” and they’re “not that smart.” Most of its hosts work in the spec-fiction arena, but media crossover is what makes this podcast exceptional. They are novelists, screenwriters, graphic novelists, game designers… There is even a resident puppeteer, though that’s just her day job. Story is discussed as a universal concept: How can you approach setting from the perspective of sci-fi world building? How is tension and release—the basic elements of suspense fiction—a structural tool all stories benefit from? All of Season 10 is designed as a master class. Subsequent seasons dive into single, year-long topics. Almost every episode ends with a prompt. Best bet, have a look at the main index.
Like I do my first crush, I maintain a certain allegiance to the Story Makers Show. Angie Powers and Elizabeth Stark (and usually their dog) podcast from their California home about the ins and outs of story. Smart, authentic, committed (though not always concise), I’ve learned a lot from this show. As novelists and screenwriters, they bring buckets of insight to reader expectations—and ways to meet or subvert those expectations. As one or the other is usually in revision agony (who isn’t?) I’ve found this show particularly helpful when thinking about revision strategies. Recent episodes deal with forging ahead while the world turns upside-down—if you’re asking why your story matters right now, it’s worth a listen.
If you can get past the opening (“Hey there, word nerds!”) there is good stuff afoot on DIY MFA. Many of the episodes skew toward YA and Middle Grade, as well as genre (romance, mystery, thriller, and spec fiction). Host Gabriela Pereira’s gift is for the follow up questions—getting authors to hone in on their choices. It’s like listening to a novel undergo analysis. Here’s a recent episode to start with: Character Dynamics in an In-Depth Scene Analysis — Interview with Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age.
If you’re having one of those days (pacing the kitchen, opening the fridge, closing the fridge, everything is stupid, stupid, stupid) try Write Minded, hosted by Brooke Warner from She Writes and Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNoWriMo. Plug into this podcast when you want confirmation that you are a writer and your story matters. There’s no shame in an affirmation, damnit, so find out why schlepping is a good thing with Meg Worlitzer.
If you prefer your inspiration grounded in science, check out The Writer Files, which uses neuroscience as a means to increasing productivity and creativity. This is for the writer looking for habit-making and habit-breaking tricks—and (no spoiler here) it’s good for geeks. (You know who you are.) It’s not exclusively produced for fiction writers, and episodes range from ways to design creative writing spaces, improv for writers, juggling the work-life balance, and getting un-stuck.
It goes without saying that no podcast can replace the community of a workshop or writers group—but if you’re feeling a little lost (and you are certainly not alone) you may discover something you’re seeking, something that gets you through this weirder-than-fiction moment. At the very least, put on some headphones. Tune out to tune in.