If a podcast airs in a forest but there’s no one there to hear it, did it really make a sound?
I started a creative-writing podcast in August to take the place of school visits during COVID-19. I write for children and teens, and I do a lot of writing workshops in normal years. During the pandemic, I’m offering teachers a podcast instead: “Cabin Tales: Spooky Stories for Young Writers.” Each episode tackles one creative writing topic (setting, point of view, etc.) and features stories, writing exercises, interviews, and prompts to help listeners write their own tales. It’s fun, it’s informative, it’s consuming my life.
I fall asleep muttering my next intro. I walk my dog composing commentary. I blurt, “I forgot to normalize the volume!” in the middle of dinner. And on Sunday nights, I sit at my desk and edit “um”s from interviews instead of writing fiction. My family has never seen me so devoted to a pastime. If only she’d work that hard on a new book, they think.
I’m disciplined about getting episodes planned and podcasted—far more than I am about finishing books. In part, that’s because of the weekly deadline and public face. (If I don’t revise a work-in-progress, no one cares because no one knows. If I don’t upload a promised episode, my subscribers will call me on it.) But mostly, I’m working so hard on the podcast because it’s fun. Creative fun. Challenging fun. The same sort of fun that writing fiction can be.
Have you ever had a story in a literary journal that you’re pretty sure no one read except the editor? But you didn’t care because you knew it was a good story? My podcast is like that. There may be only two classes tuning in, but I don’t care because it’s a pleasure to make, and my listeners like it.
“You should put your podcast on YouTube to get more listens,” my son says. Like I’m not already spending Saturday mornings making audiograms for guest authors. There is only one Saturday morning in the week. I used to spend it housecleaning. Someone else had better change the cat box because I’m doing a podcast now.
Recording interviews; editing audio; fixing voice-to-text transcription—those tedious chores take far more time than coming up with content. But should the time-consuming nature of podcasts stop you from starting your own? No. If you have something to say, say it loud. (But normalize the volume before you upload.)
There is something deeply satisfying about having one week to create something and never having to recreate it. A podcast isn’t like the short story you revise each time it gets rejected, or the novel you repeatedly edit, or the poetry collection you add to for years. You plan; you create; you upload; and then you move on. It’s like being a kid again.
So I encourage you to join the podverse. There are 1,000,000 podcasts already out there—but that shouldn’t stop you from starting a new one, any more than 100,000,000 books stop you from writing. Just know that, like any creative endeavour, it will take more time than you expect. And your few hundred downloads might feel like boxes of self-published books in your garage. But there’s a pandemic of loneliness in the world right now, so grab a mic. Even if you only find a few ears.
My podcast has allowed me to reach the teachers whose classes I can’t visit this year, and help them help their students write. It has brought two dozen YA and children’s literature authors together virtually.
The best thing, though, is that writing fiction is now a reward instead of a chore. I spent half of Thursday on the podcast, so Friday I had time to write. Hurrah! Before “Cabin Tales” consumed my time, I felt burdened by the to-do: “Write.” I’ve rediscovered writing for the fun of it. My podcast taught me that.
Catherine Austen writes short stories for adults, novels for children and teens, and reports for corporate clients. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead and The New Quarterly. Her books have won the CLA Young Adult Book Award and the QWF Prize for Children’s and YA Literature. Listen to her podcast, Cabin Tales: Spooky Stories for Young Writers, at CabinTales.ca.
Photo credits: Catherine Austen
If you’re interested in podcasting, check out a 2-part QWF workshop this November: https://qwf.org/activity/the-essentials-of-starting-your-own-podcast