Writing podcasts: The good, the also good, and the different good

As I stated in my previous blog post, I haven’t been writing lately (though I did write a short story on a whim not too long ago, inspired by a submission theme, and naturally it got rejected because I didn’t start writing until four days before the deadline), but I have been listening.

To be a writer, you have to write (obviously) and read, but also to listen and observe human interaction. Sure, fiction shouldn’t be exactly like real life (in fact, fiction needs to make more sense than real life does at the moment), but getting a sense of real human interaction, and how to describe it, can add an important layer of authenticity to your work.

Another thing to listen to is advice. Yes, all advice is subjective, and every writer has to find what works for them, and you should never follow any professional writer’s advice without question, even if it is J.K. Rowling or whoever your literary god may be. In fact, a good writer will tell you to take their advice with a grain of salt precisely because it is all so subjective and everyone has their own process. That doesn’t mean they don’t have things worth saying. And if you’re lucky, they’ll share their wisdoms on a podcast. Here are a few I’ve listened to that I think are helpful, entertaining, or a good wake-up call. They’re all available to listen to for free on iTunes and via the handy-dandy links I’ve included.

The Writers Panel

Admittedly, Ben Blacker talks more to screen/TV writers and even comic writers than he does to novel writers, and you might be able to learn more about the actual craft of writing simply by listening to the superb Thrilling Adventure Hour, which he co-wrote with Ben Acker, but this podcast offers a lot of insight into the ways in which people get into writing, their different processes, writing with other people, and how the things you love get made. Seriously, just look through the long list of podcasts and find the writers/producers/directors of the shows that you love, and see what they have to say for themselves. Guaranteed inspiration.

This is also a good podcast if you want to get into screen/TV writing and are happy/able to move to sunny California to pursue your dreams. It has lots of hopefully helpful advice about writers rooms, etc. An alternative to this would be the Scriptnotes podcast, which talks more about the technicalities of screenplay writing.

I should be writing

Well, the name really says it all. Mur Lafferty is not only an excellent writer (I can highly recommend the Shambling Guides series for you fantasy/Buffy/mystery fans out there), but she’s also a well-seasoned podcast host, yet she still manages to keep her advice fresh. She usually does a special NaNoWriMo podcast (or series of podcasts) and generally just talks about the craft of writing, her own insecurities and problems, and she does some great, insightful interviews with writers in various career stages that may make you think, “Hey, I could be like that”. And of course, she always reminds you that you should be writing!

Ditch diggers

Another podcast by Mur Lafferty, but this time she’s joined by Matt Effin’ Wallace (yes, it’s a sweary podcast, so beware). Together, they are the ditch diggers, coming to you live from various rooms in Morgan Freeman’s expansive estate (allegedly). Unlike ‘I should be writing’, this podcast covers the practicalities of writing as a job. So, if you see writing as a hobby, stick to the previous podcast, but if you’re serious about making writing into a career, whether fulltime or not, then this is the podcast for you. Together, they offer lots of tough-love advice and again some amazing interviews with other writers from various different backgrounds.

There are many other podcasts on writing out there, for example Print Run if you want to hear about publishing from the perspective of agents/authors, and I would also recommend listening to fiction podcasts to get a sense of a good story in another medium – you might discover something new about writing that you wouldn’t have picked up from reading a book. My personal favourites are the above mentioned Thrilling Adventure Hour, as well as Welcome to Night Vale, Limetown and Within the Wires. There’s also Escape Artists and its various podcasts, which are open to submissions if you would like the chance to see your story audio-fied.

In short, there are many different podcasts out there to inspire, advise and otherwise give you fresh perspectives on this wacky endeavour called writing. So if you run, or commute, or have some other 30-minute/1-hour time window every once in a while that could do to be filled with some random people talking at you, why not give one of these podcasts a shot?

The toxicity of the American Dream

Make America Great

Again A Wall is Built

Who Will Tear it Down

This time

When will we learn?

When will we change?

 

I wrote the above not long after Trump was announced as President of the US, and I’ve since watched, with a mix of horror and numbness and worry, all the toxic things that have been happening in the US, all the things I knew where going to happen and so much worse. I don’t live there, there’s nothing I can do, no elected officials to call, no vote that can change anything. It reminds me of the Brexit vote, where I also watched, with horror, as this country I live in voted to try and kick me out, as a marginal victory was touted as the unavoidable ‘will of the people’ with no sense of rhyme or reason.

All of this has made it hard to write. It’s made it hard to do many things other than get through the day. Will I get kicked out of the country in (less than) two years? I don’t know, so I can’t plan. Will we be in the midst of a nuclear war before then? I don’t know (follow Sarah Kendzior on Twitter for a clear, reasoned and sadly worrying view on where the US is heading), and it terrifies me. My friends and family in the US are shielded by some degree of privilege, but I’m not sure that will be enough. I doubt my partner will be drafted into military service (what a weird thing to not have to worry about as a woman, and feel like for full equality to ever happen maybe we should, but then again… Sexism is super weird sometimes). But many other people likely will end up dead, not to mention the damage being done to the planet, and all because certain people with varying degrees of privilege are afraid of seeing that privilege ever so slightly diminished, of giving anyone else a seat at the table, so they voted to slice their nose off just to spite their own face.

And most of all, of course, these frightened people have been told their whole life it’s not the people in power that are screwing them over, but the other guys, the ones that have zero power at all. And because the people in power make sure they have no eduction that allows them to question this, they believe it. It’s very interesting from a psychological perspective, but also very scary, because it’s hard to change this narrative.

Another part of the problem, the part I wanted to write a cohesive, well-argued blog post about all those months ago, is the mindset of ‘US = Number 1’, and its British counterpart of (as I like to call it) Empire-state-of-mind. If you’re told your whole life that you’re the best, or you were the best, and in a place like the US it’s highly unlikely that you ever step outside the country to see any different, then you can never see what other countries have done that you can learn from (the prime examples for the US being healthcare and labour unions/worker’s rights). And indeed, you can never see that the people that serve you, and the news that reaches you, is actually doing you harm. You need to step outside your own narrative to get a better sense of it (much like with writing!).

In the UK, the feeling of quiet superiority is made worse by the tendency of politicians this last decade (or more) to blame everything that goes wrong on EU regulation and take the credit for anything that the EU does right. In the US, it’s made far worse by the American dream idea that you don’t need anyone else to succeed – all it takes is a lot of hard work. This ignores the fact that most billionaires got that way by using inherited wealth, pre-existing networks, or a combination of both (not to mention a whole lot of white privilege). And even if a person somehow manages the rags-to-riches story, it’s not like they haven’t had to rely on a lot of other people doing work for them and helping them in many other ways. Oh, and there’s the fact that they use roads, feel protected by police and firefighters, see their intellectual property protected by the courts, and generally rely on a lot of public good. But since everyone in the US is told they don’t need anyone or anything else to succeed, they are never told it’s okay to ask for help, that it’s good to have a community to rely on, that some Government intervention and help is warranted. That it’s better to succeed together, and a good thing to help others because someday you might need help yourself.

Looking out for number one, and thinking without factual basis that you are number one, are two very toxic ideas that make it hard to adapt and improve yourself. And what’s worse, if you think you’re the best, then any information that disagrees with that falls to the sword of cognitive dissonance, and you end up in a situation where a Trump-voting lady with an immigrant husband is genuinely surprised when they come to take her husband away. Or where people tell me “Oh, you’ll be fine” when discussing Brexit, because obviously it’s those other immigrants that are in trouble, and I’m somehow magically exempt merely through being someone they know…

Anyway, all of this means that it will remain hard for me to write for the time being, and I’m not sure how to get over that. I wish there was something I could do to change the world, but I can’t, and I’ve lost faith that writing can change anything, because nobody seems to take note of the people who are doing the best writing about the current situation and using that to change things. Politicians seem more selfish and short-sighted than they’ve ever been. Nobody seems to be in sufficient uproar (I mean, the NHS is being dismantled, but because it’s being done slowly, or maybe because British people find it hard to protest, to realise that their vote matters in a democratic system where oftentimes votes do not – who knows how much of an effect the not-very-democratic voting systems of the UK and US have had on the current situation – politicians are feeling free to continue as they are). All of the lessons from history are sitting ignored in books, as we repeat them once again.

And here I am, watching and feeling like a failure because I’m not writing, I’m not in London protesting at Westminster, I’m not important enough for any UK politician to listen to. What can I do? Well, I’m open to suggestions.