If you’re not already familiar, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a national writing project that happens every November. During November, writers challenge themselves to writing a 50,000-word novel. This seems impossible at first glance, but once you start setting goals and writing diligently, it’s actually much more attainable than it seems.
I have a theory. I believe that nobody who has written a “top podcasts for writers” list listens to the podcasts they put on the list, that they are not writers, or both. I’ve always been astounded by how all of these list only include writing podcasts–things like Grammar Girl, I Should Be Writing, etc. Don’t get me wrong; those podcasts are great shows. But has any writer actually thought, “You know what would help me write today? A grammar lesson.” No. Nobody has thought that, ever, unless they are procrastinating–and during NaNoWriMo, you don’t have any time to procrastinate.
I am relatively new to the NaNoWriMo game. After debating about it for years, I finally started participating four years ago. I’ve participated thrice, and I “won” NaNoWriMo (meaning I finished the 50,000 words needed) each time. I attribute a lot of this success to podcasts, and not just podcasts about writing. To me, the podcasts that made me successful were the ones that gave me more resources to use when planning out my novels, or the ones that put my mind in a more creatively analytical framework. Podcasts about writing usually didn’t do anything for me. Podcasts about seeing the world creatively absolutely did.
Song Exploder is a podcast in which host Hrishikesh Hirway sits down with a musician and breaks apart each step of how a song was made. Each episode goes in depth on the creation of one song, and the musicians featured range from Perfume Genius (one of my favorite podcast episodes ever made) to Janelle Monáe to Lin Manual Miranda to the composer of the Black Panther score to Carly Rae Jepsen. Not only will Song Exploder expose you to some new, interesting music that can help set the tone for a scene or inspire new characters, it’s also a gorgeous look into the creative process. Hearing writers, performers, and producers break down every facet of a song’s creation is a great way to get you thinking about your own creative process. If an artist used a specific noise to convey this feeling that was being conveyed in the lyrics to hammer in their meaning, how can you replicate that with imagery, setting, or a character’s body language? How can you hone your words to get just the right feeling out of them?
I am a firm believer that to be a better writer, you need to consume stories better. Stories that challenge you as a member of the audience are going to make you more curious about what the story is. Instead of just consuming media, challenging stories make the audience ask questions like, “Why is this written this way?”, “What does this structure accomplish?”, and “What does this form add to plot, character, or theme?” While I was conceptualizing my first novel, ars PARADOXICA helped me remember to ask myself questions while I was writing. ars PARADOXICA is an audio drama about a scientist who accidentally figures out how to time travel, but i’s much more than that. The show is expertly written and consistently breaks genre and subverts common tropes. ars PARADOXICA is the perfect reminder to always think about what you are writing, how, and why. It’s also, of course, entertaining to boot, and if nothing else, will provide you for some much-needed distraction during November.
3. The Truth
The Truth is a fiction anthology podcast made up mostly short fiction that fits into a single episode, with a few exceptions like the four-episode serialized story, “The Off Season.” The Truth has been running since 2011 and features a wide array of stories from different genres, moods, points of view, and writing styles, usually in about just 20 minutes. The Truth is a great way to expose yourself to tons of different kinds of stories in about the time of a standard commute to work. The wide range of stories explored will help you see how many different routes your writing could take, whether it be in the writing, how you convey a character, or how that character speaks. In my experience, the best inspiration for writing is consuming as many great, different stories as I can, and The Truth is the perfect vehicle for that.
One of the most important lessons I think a writer can learn is being insatiably curious. 99% Invisible is an exercise in looking at the most mundane things and thinking, “What’s the story behind this?” 99% Invisible is “about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world,” and it doesn’t disappoint. While writing, this podcast reminds me to think about every facet of the story I’m telling. Why does the world I’m creating operate the way it does? What was it shaped by? How do these things affect the characters? Even if you’re writing realistic fiction, 99% Invisible still reminds the listener that everything has a story, and most are more interesting than you’d think. I can’t count how many times I was stuck in a scene only to think back to this show and tell myself, “Something mundane here is actually so interesting. What is it? How can I use it?”
Radio Drama Revival is a long-running podcast all about different types of audio fictions. Like The Truth, it helps expose you to different types of stories: about half of its episodes are an introduction and first episode to an existing piece of audio fiction. Like Song Exploder, it also breaks down the creative process: about half of its episodes are in-depth, deep interviews with that audio fiction’s creator. Radio Drama Revival also has a series of episodes in which a certain topic in audio fiction is looked at more closely with a guest–and full disclosure, I have been a guest on Radio Drama Revival, talking about the ethical quandaries of hoax fiction. What makes Radio Drama Revival stand out is not just its method of exposing the listener to new audio fiction, but also the deeply philosophical questions host David Rheinstrom asks his interviewees. Rheinstrom not only asks the creators about their process, but also about their beliefs, their philosophies, their inspirations, and what their works mean. It’s easy to take his questions and ask yourself the same, looking at your own works with the same astute lens, as a way of figuring out what your work means, too.
Which podcasts do you turn to while you’re writing? Have any podcasts helped you with NaNoWriMo in the past? Did any podcasts help inspire your novel for this year’s challenge? Let me know in the comments below, and good luck with NaNoWriMo!