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, The Allusionist, 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 National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, you don’t have any time to procrastinate.
If you’re not already familiar, NaNoWriMo is a writing project that happens every November. During November, writers challenge themselves to writing a 50,000-word novel (though, technically, this is actually a novella). This seems impossible at first glance, but once you start setting goals and writing diligently, it’s actually much more attainable than it seems. This list might seem like it’s coming out far too early, but these next few months are when most of you should be planning. These podcasts will not only help with writing but with the planning process. And besides, the NaNo flair images are out, and that’s good enough for me.
I am relatively new to the NaNoWriMo game. After debating about it for years, I finally started participating three years ago. I’ve participated twice–the middle year was for editing–and I “won” NaNoWriMo (meaning I finished the 50,000 words needed) both times. Both years, I actually almost doubled the word count both times as well. 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.
If you think you’d prefer just podcasts about writing, there are plenty of other lists out there I’d recommend. If you want to see what helped me write almost 100,000 words in one month two different times, though, here are my recommendations.
The one exception to my rule about writing podcasts is, and has always been, Writing Excuses. Writing Excuses is perfect for a writer, especially before and during NaNoWriMo: the hosts aren’t pretentious, the tips and conversation are practical, and the show is short. So many writing podcasts I have encountered are an hour of people speaking with their best NPR voices about how sacred writing is, and I cannot fathom how that would be helpful to anyone. With Writing Excuses, you get a short dose of self-deprecating writers who are experienced enough to bring you quality advice–Writing Excuses has been around for nine years now–but not so massively accomplished that they feel a need to take themselves too seriously. Each episode tackles one specific topic and always leaves the listener with direct advice they can implement in their writing instead of being too nebulous. If you have to add a podcast about writing to your NaNo prep, make it this one.
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 metacognitive 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.
Like ars PARADOXICA, Snap Judgment is an asset when it comes to storytelling, but in a much more typical way. Snap Judgment takes after This American Life with its “stories on a theme” structure, but with a better flair for actually crafting a story. While Snap Judgment does have some fiction pieces, its primary focus is nonfiction. The level of writing that goes into the shows is impeccable, though, and it usually feels much more like reading a piece of creative nonfiction like David Sedaris than anything you’d find in a newspaper. While The Moth, another popular storytelling podcast, might seem the more appropriate choice, Snap Judgment has a leg up in how it curates its stories. Going into a story, the listener already has an expectation for what the piece will be about thanks to the episodes’ theming, allowing the listener to think about how the theme applies to each story, and how many different ways there are to approach a theme.
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?”
Writers talk about how they “need” certain things to write. Some writers “need” a good cafe. Some writers “need” a cozy blanket. Some writers “need” the perfect pen or notebook or software. I am a big believer, though, that the real thing every writer needs is a good playlist (or a few). All Songs Considered is the foremost podcast for finding new music, and it has been for over a decade. When i started my novel, I thought I had all of the music I’d need, but All Songs Considered quickly proved me wrong. when I couldn’t quite place how I wanted to convey a character, a song would come on that would give me more ideas on how I wanted them to come across. When I had a scene but I couldn’t quite set the tone right, a song would come on and help get the right words out of me. The show is even a great way to practice for NaNoWriMo; each song can act as a quick prompt, whether the lyrics give you ideas for dialogue or the tone gives you ideas for a short plot or character study.
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!