If you’re a freelance writer or beat reporter, you likely spend a lot of time on the go, either meeting with new clients or chasing your next assignment. You listen to music in the car, read a book on the subway and maybe check your email while you wait for your Uber ride. But have you considered downloading some podcasts that can help make you a better writer? If you haven’t hopped on the podcast train yet, it’s about time you did.
Chicago-based reporter Robin Amer says she feels podcasts help emphasize the importance of keeping it simple. “Radio [personalities] and podcasters have to be good at explaining things in an easy-to-process language,” Amer says. “Unlike with print, the listener only has one chance to understand what you’re talking about, so you have to make it simple right from the start. Having that mentality helps me communicate more effectively in print, too.”
Public radio journalist Stacy Bond, who is currently developing her own podcast for writers, agrees. “Podcasts can be entertaining companions for writers who have unusual schedules or spend a great deal of time alone,” Bond says. “They’re also a great way to learn. You can tune into a podcast and listen to how fellow writers approach a problem or brush up on a topic you plan to write about.”
To give you a head start, here are five of the best podcasts for writers we’ve found.
1. Longform Podcast
Description: The Longform Podcast, which is produced by the same people who run long-form platform The Atavist, is among Amer’s personal favorites. The show, says Amer, includes interviews with “everyone from Buzz Bissinger to Masha Gessen to Emily Bazelon, and each interview delves into process and the economics of their coverage in a way I find very useful and informative.”
Must-hear episode: Episode #142 features New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir. She explains, step by step, how she broke and reported the stories of abused nail salon workers in New York City.
Excerpt: “The idea of a discount luxury is an oxymoron. And it’s an oxymoron for a reason: because someone is bearing the cost of that discount. In nail salons it’s always the person doing your nails, my investigation found. That has put a new lens on the world for me.”
2. Writing Excuses
Description: Writing Excuses is one of the first and longest-running podcasts about writing. It launched in 2008 and is in its 11th season. Yet you can still power through the entire series in a relatively short time. Episodes are just long enough to give listeners solid information in an entertaining format. To get an idea of the voice, the podcast’s tongue-in-cheek tagline is: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”
Must-hear episode: Season 9, Episode 47: Conversation With a Bookseller. In this episode, guest Sara Glassman, a bookseller and reviewer, advises on query letters, book covers, book signings and how to make your first page stand out to retailers. This is an important listen for writers in need of ways to market their final product.
Excerpt: “For self-published authors, being able to engage with the customers [in a bookstore] and say, ‘Hi, would you like to take a look at my book’ or ‘How are you doing today?’ is great. But don’t say, ‘Do you want to buy my book?”
3. The Writing Show
Description: This pod ended in 2012, but audio is forever! Hosted by Paula Berinstein, The Writing Show covers a wide range of subjects that are of interest to writers, such as presenting yourself online and overcoming bad habits like procrastination. While the podcast is no longer releasing new episodes, the old shows are still highly relevant.
Must-hear episode: The Secret Rules of Hollywood Screenwriting with screenplay consultant Michele Wallerstein is this podcast’s most popular episode, and with good reason. The show debunks the myth that it’s impossible to get your script read in Hollywood and explains how to get your work into the right hands.
Excerpt: “You have to continue to be actively involved in pushing your own career, forever, as a writer… You have to be writing another spec screenplay. Otherwise, you get very cold, very fast. You fall right off the hot list. So, in terms of proving yourself, [have] new ideas to pitch, consistently [write] new material [and come up] with new ideas that you talk to your agent about.”
4. I Should Be Writing
Description: This podcast is fantastic because it focuses on the journey of a writer from amateur to professional. Consequently, I Should Be Writing (ISBW) has the entertainment value of a storytelling podcast, combined with the hard info of an interview-based show. Even better, it’s hosted by author Mur Lafferty, winner of the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
Must-hear episode: Stop Kicking Your Own Ass features literary agent and author Jen Udden, who gives writers the kind of pep talk we need to hear every once in a while—along the lines of, “You’re not a worthless pile of writer garbage. You can do this!”
Excerpt: “If you’re not writing, you’re not writing for a reason. Find the reason and figure out how to get around it. Either write at a different time or write a different part of your story. Write when the people in your house are asleep. Write when they’re gone. Write on the weekends. There are so many options that exist beyond kicking your own ass.”
5. The Dead Robots’ Society Podcast
Description: The Dead Robots’ Society was created by Justin Macumber to offer advice and support to other aspiring writers. In fact, it was partially inspired by Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast (see above). The ultimate goal of the podcast, according to its mission statement, is to get writers to “the promised land of publication.”
Must-hear episode: Being Good At Being Bad focuses on how important it is for writers to create great antagonists in fiction writing.
Excerpt: “You have far more time in terms of percentage of your story to develop your hero when your hero is struggling against overwhelming odds that are faceless; whereas, when you have fully developed villains the story becomes less about the hero and more about the relationship between the hero and the villain. It’s not that it’s a more difficult story to write, as much as it’s a different set of mental gears that you have to engage as a writer.”
Go ahead, make your commute more productive by bypassing the streaming music for once in favor of one or more of these podcasts. Who knows, maybe you’ll think of an idea for your next great novel while sitting in traffic tomorrow!