"You are working on a first draft and small wonder you’re unhappy. If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer. If you say you see things differently and describe your efforts positively, if you tell people that you “just love to write,” you may be delusional. How could anyone ever know that something is good before it exists? And unless you can identify what is not succeeding—unless you can see those dark clunky spots that are giving you such a low opinion of your prose as it develops—how are you going to be able to tone it up and make it work?"
Hey, Jesse! What Podcasts Do You Listen To?
Since folks ask me all the time, I thought I’d share a list of the non-MaxFun podcasts I listen to regularly. And let’s be clear first: I listen to the MaxFun shows all the time. I hang out with Dave & Graham, laugh with the McElroys, find out about Biz and Theresa’s mom problems, catch up with Bryan and Erin, cringe to the crazy stories on Risk, visit with Dave Hill and marvel at the Memory Palace. But I do listen to a few shows in which I’ve got no vested interest.
- On the Media - I think that this is the best news show in public radio. It’s theoretically focused on media, and towards that end you will find many stories about journalism, but it’s also a critical, long-view look at the news. Something I wish there was more of in the world.
- The Best Show on WFMU - My friend Tom Scharpling hosts this ineffable show. It’s sort of like a regular radio talk show, sort of like a heightened, parodic version of a regular radio talk show, is full of amazing comedy bits featuring Tom’s writing partner Jon Wurster, and generally lives up to its billing as “three hours of mirth, music and mayhem.” It’s my go-to on long car trips, because it’s so easy to slip into this alternate world. Here’s an outshot I wrote about it on Bullseye.
- Answer Me This - My pal Helen Zaltzman hosts this show with her best college buddy Olly Mann. It’s a Q&A show, with questions about sticky social situations, history, language and everything else. And Helen and Olly are hilarious.
- 99% Invisible - I think this might be the best show on public radio, even though it’s barely on public radio. A look at architecture and design from superproducer and megahost Roman Mars. Absolutely fascinating every single week.
- Fresh Air - You know what Fresh Air is, right? Terry Gross is my hero, and Dave Davies is like a Terry Gross that likes sports.
- Never Not Funny - I’ve been listening to Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap every week since episode one of their hilarious, hilarious show. Like JJGo, it isn’t really about anything, but Jimmy and Matt are wonderful, hilarious guys. The full show’s $20 every six months, and worth every penny.
- The Dana Gould Hour - Dana Gould has more funniness inside him than maybe any other person on earth. His monthly show is a discussion of a given topic, but it always veers into Dana’s particular pop culture obsessions (Planet of the Apes, Universal horror movies) and his genuinely strange font of knowledge on every topic. Also: hilarious.
- Good Food - This is a classic public radio food show from KCRW in Santa Monica. It’s good-hearted, well-produced and exceedingly pleasant.
- Shields & Brooks - I grew up watching the Newshour with my dad, and seeing him get excited every Friday for Shields & Gigot. The Newshour’s still the only place you can find such a concentrated blast of intelligent, balanced and respectful political analysis.
- This American Life - If it weren’t for This American Life, I wouldn’t be a public radio host. Which, thinking about it, might have been for the better, but you gotta pick your battles. Fifteen-ish years in, they’re still the best thing going.
- Radiolab - I am so inspired by Jad and Robert’s brilliant show, brilliant production and brilliant minds. Never not fascinating, and a signficantly lower chance than TAL of leaving me unexpectedly in a puddle of tears.
So, there you have it. Just don’t forget to listen to MY SHOWS, Bullseye (arts & culture interviews and recommendations), Jordan Jesse Go (silly comedy talk), International Waters (comedy game show) and Judge John Hodgman (people’s court, but funny).
Note to self when looking for additional podcasts!
Common Characteristics of Natural Born, Freelance, or Career Writers
- An “odd ball” childhood.
Writers tend to start off as peculiar kids. They never quite fit in with their classmates. Their abstract thinking begins early on, and it causes them to struggle to relate to other children and elementary interests. Future writers commonly start off as either lonesome or socially inept kids.
- They were handed books as toys.
Naturally gifted writers are almost always reading enthusiasts. They have a further developed vocabulary and stronger syntax abilities because their scholastic experience goes beyond traditional curriculum.
- They believe in the “All or nothing” policy.
Writers are often perfectionists that will edit until their eyes bleed or completely scratch an idea off the table. They tend to carry that trait into their other projects as well. The writer will either create something complete or nothing at all.
- They take pride in their work.
Even if they need help, writers like doing their work 100% themselves without contribution. This is seen often in college, when the self-proclaimed writers don’t show up to office hours or ask for tutoring. Writers tend to treat even essays as a personal work of art. It’s their work, and it matters that it’s only theirs.
- They are equally organized and disorganized.
A writer’s mind works in choreographed chaos. With too much chaos comes no productivity. With too much organization comes no passion. The writer has learned how to have the perfect combination of both.
- They have both an ego and self-doubt.
-Enough ego to invest in one’s own thoughts, enough doubt to revise and rethink continuously.
- They enjoy simplicity.
Hot coffee, music, and a sunrise could make their morning flawless.
- They are observant.Writers tend to learn about things from as many angles as they can. They’ll see the same sign for ten years and connect ten-thousand other separate things to the sign in that amount of time. They take in what they can and make a mental map of how things co-exist.
- They recognize the importance of memories.Writers learn how to utilize past moments as criteria for their work. A writer will not forget their first love, or heartache.
Writing is hard, but apparently I’m meet all of the requirements for being a good one.
"all or nothing," et cetera… this is how I am justifying being the only person in my first sketch class to not bring in the assignment.
"Even for those thousands of young people who don’t get something out there, the process [of studying writing] is still a noble one — the process of trying to say something, of working through craft issues and the worldview issues and the ego issues — all of this is character-building, and, God forbid, everything we do should have concrete career results. I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person."
The Mountain Goats - This Year