Why Writers Should Learn to Listen — to Podcasts

For a long time, I didn’t understand the allure of the podcast for aspiring writers. I didn’t understand the point in listening to advice on writing as opposed to reading it. It felt a bit like cheating on the written word to me, but I’ve since learned that I’ve been seriously missing out on some great entertainment with a side-order of excellent fiction-writing advice.

As with most things, with the exception of learning how to base jump from the roof of a very tall skyscraper, writing is learned best by just throwing yourself into it. Doing it, doing it badly and then redoing it. Because, unlike a misjudgment made whilst freefalling from a tall building, the mess can be fixed with a discerning eye and a delete button. But there are nuggets of advice-gold to be found in them thar podcasts, but something else too. Something just as precious. Writers are a sharey bunch, and they are sharing their experiences of writing with you. Their ups, their downs, their highs, their lows. Many of them will resonate, and it makes you feel a little less alone in your writing bubble. And all of these people came out the other side with a finished story. That’s reassuring. Not as reassuring as a safety net might be for that reckless base-jumper, but reassuring nonetheless.

Here are my top reasons to listen to writer’s podcasts:

1. You learn free of charge

I am yet to find a podcast that charges, but podcasts do cost people time and therefore money to produce. Most podcasts raise the money to produce episodes through advertising, and they get advertising based on listenership, so please, at a minimum, subscribe to a podcast if you like it. Other podcasters have a Patron site or similar, where you can make donations, or they are writers themselves, so buy their books. Podcasts are incredible resources, so keeping them going is in all of our interests.

2. You get access to some great minds

Podcast creators are often great minds in and of themselves and have so much to offer, but many podcasters invite really incredible guests on to discuss writing. The only way you will get to hear these people speak in many cases, is by hoping that they’ll attend a writing event near you, or wait, pen and notepad at the ready, for them to do a radio or television interview. Podcasts give you access to some incredible literary minds, and the best thing is you can rewind and replay a podcast over and over.

3. You can learn while you do other things

You can listen to a podcast while doing anything– except writing. I can’t listen and write at the same time. But you can clean, walk, watch the kids, commute etc. while listening away.

4. You feel like you’re listening to a friend

Writing is a lonely profession. Listening to a podcast makes you realise that other people are going through the same trials and tribulations that you are, and it makes you feel like you are part of a community.

So I’m going to recommend some podcasts…

Due to my newly discovered love of the podcast I’ve decided to write a few posts, concentrating on the various categories of podcast aimed at writers, and though many of them overlap to some extent in their content, I’m going to categorise them based on what the majority of their podcast episodes deal with, and I’m also going to write a post on short podcasts for those of you that can’t dedicate an hour or so of your day to listening attentively:

1. Writing Advice podcasts:

These podcasts might deal with the craft of storytelling, or they might deal with the nuts and bolts of grammar or punctuation. It is often solid, tried and tested advice mixed with the experiences of the host/guests in terms of what works for them.

2. Motivational and Inspirational podcasts:

These deal with the creative side of writing.

3. Business podcasts:

These involve discussion around the business of writing, such as marketing and platform-building. These are very important, as all writers must know how to build their audience, regardless of whether they are published or self-published. I include ‘techy’ podcasts in relation to marketing in this category.

4. Author Interview podcasts:

Authors will often read from their book and talk about how their novel came to fruition. Though these aren’t specifically ‘advice’ podcasts, it is always interesting to hear about the processes of other writers. You might learn something.

5. Book review podcasts:

Though these podcasts aren’t specifically aimed at writers, there are two reasons that a writer might want to listen to a podcast like this. Firstly, it is really important that a writer learns how to dissect a novel and analyse its composition. What works, what doesn’t. Listening to a book reviewer will help you to develop those critical thinkings skills. It also reminds you that you have an audience to cater to, and what kinds of things might they say about your novel if they were reviewing it.

6. Short podcasts:

There are a number of podcasts out there that pride themselves on being brief and to the point and come in under thirty minutes per episode. They fit into the various categories above but deserve an entire post of their own as I love trying to fit a few episodes into a day as I snatch time here and there.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together posts on specific categories of podcasts, and picking the best from each bunch. Let me know in the comments if you have any favourites you want me to take a look at.

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Starting The Second Novel- Feelings

 

I usually like to eat negative feelings into oblivion one cheesy corn-snack at a time, or drown them thoroughly with a nice glass (bottle) or two of red wine. Mostly, I like to bury them in the deep, deep sands of denial. But apparently, writing your feelings down is supposed to be cathartic and therapeutic. Thankfully, I like to write, so there’s some hope of getting through this period of emotional turmoil without ending up with diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver.

I am supposed to be starting my second novel today, and as you can see, instead of doing that I’m writing this blog post. So why amn’t I writing my novel? I have everything I need to begin: a good idea, experience and I know the process. The prospect of starting that magical first draft process anew should fill me with anticipation, excitement and happy tingles.

And yet? And yet.

I am terrified.

For all of you embarking on your first novel, I’d love to tell you that having finished it you’ll be brimming with confidence. That you’ll strut to your desk with a popped collar, crack your knuckles to get to work on book #2– you probably won’t. You’ll likely be full of apprehension and procrastinate for a long time. Like me. And here are five reasons why:

1. The second novel is notoriously difficult

The myth of the difficult second novel will have drilled its way into your psyche by now. If it hasn’t, I just popped it in there. Sorry about that. Obviously, if you keep hearing that something is going to be difficult, it fills you with dread. If professional, successful, published authors feel that fear, then it is normal for you and me to feel it too.

I remember draft #1 of my first novel so well. Before I started I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. King advised me that magic was involved. That magic is what carries you from day to day. You don’t know where the words and ideas are springing from, but they come. It was surprisingly easy to write 2000 words or more every day. I had the ‘writing fever’ as JK Rowling likes to call it.

What if you can’t conjure that magic again the second time around? I suppose we need to just try and remember the feelings we had before starting the first book, and how well it all turned out in the end– in other words, we need to have faith in the process.

2. This novel won’t be as good as the first

This is a danger. I mean, this is a real danger. I’m not a published author, yet. So I don’t have an audience to please. There are no expectations weighing me down. But the way I’ve decided to look at this is: reactions to the stories themselves are totally subjective. Whether a story is more interesting or engaging than another, is entirely down to the reader. If you would read it, then write it. You’re as good a judge as anyone else. When it comes to the objective stuff, such as the quality of the writing, you should be able to craft a better novel the second time around. Or at least, you should find it easier to craft a good novel the second time around. We know the wrong turns we took the first time around, and we know how to avoid them.

3. My Second Novel is too Similar/Different to the First

Published authors embarking on their second novel are terrified of trying something new but equally terrified of writing something too similar to the last novel and becoming formulaic in their approach. That is the fear that writers have. However, some readers enjoy the familiarity. They feel that reading their favourite author should be like putting on a pair of comfy, well-worn slippers at the end of the day. This mostly applies to genre fiction or serial fiction. And I love a bit of genre fiction now and again. How comforting it is to put on those comfy slippers and relax.

Other readers like to see the range of what one writer can do. I’m also this kind of reader. I don’t mean that I want the writer to jump from one genre to another, but if the writer is ‘genreless’, I like to be surprised. I crave a completely new experience from that same writer. If I discover a really good author, I trust them to write something good and to write something compelling. Something that I can’t possibly predict.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors because she manages to do both. She writes a lot of dystopian/speculative fiction, but she doesn’t limit herself to that, so I don’t count her as a genre writer. Each of her novels differs in voice and content, and whilst some, like Oryx and Crake, are as funny as they are dark, some are very serious in their tone such as The Handmaid’s Tale. When it comes to placing those two books side by side, you’d think they were written by two different authors. I think that’s an amazing feat to pull off without compromising on the quality of the writing itself. When I pick up a Margaret Atwood novel, I’m guaranteed three things:

(a) A gripping plot

(b) A well-written story

(c) It will be different to her last.

I trust her to deliver, whatever the content of the book. I hope that if I can have her confidence and attitude, my novel, despite being very different, will be as good as my first. I hope that when they are published, my readers will trust me to produce something good every time, and not worry that one book differs too much from the last.

Of course, Margaret Atwood can get away with this stuff because she’s Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood is in a position to do whatever the hell she likes at this stage, but who’s to say that one day you won’t be nipping at her ankles, as you rise through the ranks. Who’s to say you can’t make diversity work for you.

4. I won’t love this book the way I loved the first

At times, when I was writing my first novel, I felt an incandescent rage towards it. When the characters weren’t behaving or the plot just wouldn’t knit together and I couldn’t think of solutions or because it felt like the editing would never end. But mostly, I loved my book. I adored the characters, the island, the plot– all of the things that I had created. They made me happy. They made me feel proud. I had written a book that I wanted to read. I know that my novel is, like most novels, far from perfect, but even with its flaws I still love it.

I’m the oldest child in my family. I remember when my mother confided in me that she was scared, when pregnant the second time, that she couldn’t love my sister as much as she loved me. I was totally adorable, so I understood her concerns. She thought it was impossible for her to love another person to the same extent– that there wasn’t enough love to go around and I’d always have the lion’s share. Then she gave birth to my sister, Lois, and she found that the capacity in her heart grew, and yes, she could love us both equally without diluting her love for me or giving my sister less. Though I suspect that I am secretly her favourite child, she assures me that love doesn’t have to be divided up, it can simply grow.

I hope that applies to novel #2. That I can just love them both equally, and with no favouritism.

Or else, I’m hoping that my first novel will be something like my first love– a defining period in my life but something I ultimately learn from and move on. And that my second novel might even (inconceivable right now, but possibly) be better.

5. Writing it is going to be daaaaamn hard

Having already had a spin on the mind-fuck merry-go-round that is writing a novel we are only too aware of the difficulties that face us. I think it’s natural to be hesitant about throwing yourself back into that particular emotional meat-grinder a second time around. It isn’t an easy thing to do, and we know that now.

We need to keep remembering how important it is that we transfer as much of ourselves onto the page before we leave this place, and how worthwhile it is. Look back on your first novel and think:

‘I did it. I really did it.’

And give yourself a pat on the back, before taking a deep breath, girding your loins and starting all over again.

New Year, New Novel?

It is now 5pm on the 1st January 2018, and the ‘new me’ still hasn’t shown up. I’m patiently awaiting my total transformation, but I’m not sure it’s coming. In fact, I seem to have disimproved since 2017. I swear to God I’ve gotten fatter, grumpier and stupider. And I have a throbbing headache, after drinking ONE solitary drink to ring in the new year. ONE DRINK because I thought ‘I’m going to be a good girl and ring in the New Year the right way…start as I mean to go on’.

One drink and I’m crippled with a headache! What brand new fuckery is this, 2018???

Am I to be punished for my virtue? If so, I see no point being virtuous (* hastily retrieves all the ‘bad food’ out of the bin).

To add insult to injury, 2018 has cursed me with a pigeon, who has craftily camouflaged himself in a nearby tree. This pigeon insists on tormenting me with his incessant hooting. I didn’t know that pigeons could hoot, but I’m no happier for having acquired this new information.

FUCK YOU PIGEON AND FUCK YOU 2018!

Anyway, though I may await change, I know damn well nothing will happen without me making it happen. Before I made the decision to write my first book I’d approach every January 1st with a list of resolutions as long as my arm. One by one, I’d abandon each of them. In the end, conclude that New Years’ resolutions are a load of shite, an annual exercise in mass-insanity.

But this year I’ve had a change of heart. I’ve decided to join the party. The beginning of a brand spanking new year is a good time to take stock of where you are, where you came from and where you’re going. This year, I’ve decided to make some resolutions. I’m doing this because I finally know how to go about achieving them. 2017 was the year I finished my first novel. The thing I had planned and failed to do every year before that. What I’ve realised is the same principles apply to all goals:

(a) I have to really, really want to achieve them and commit 100%

(b) I have to be SMART

(c) I will achieve them by making slow, steady, incremental progress

I have three big goals for this year. One of which is to write my second novel. I’m afraid that I won’t achieve it. I was afraid before I started writing novel #1 but the fear was different then. It was a fear of the unknown. A fear that my resolution would fall by the wayside, as it had done so many times before. The fear is different this time. It stems purely from the knowledge that writing novel #2 is going to be a hard, rocky, lonely road. But at least I know what is possible when I commit to it.

But before I start, I gotta do something about that fucking pigeon.

(*Googles gun laws in Ireland).