How to Get an F in Podcasting
Confession: I’ve spent the last two years fantasizing about my future Best-of-iTunes-podcasting-career the way some social media singles daydream about their Pinterest-perfect wedding.
To longtime blog readers, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. You might remember the show I started recording and killed before launch. And when its zombie corpse came shambling back, I killed it again. Some of my closer friends, could probably publish a book full of shows I said I’d start one day.
And that’s to say nothing of the ideas themselves or the people I’ve worked with. The blame lies entirely with my own self-defeating behavior. I’ve spent so much time fetishizing the idea of having a podcast, of comparing myself to Roman Mars and Ira Glass, that I’ve never moved past the draft stage.
Somehow, with less skill, less time, and less resources, I’m supposed to achieve iTunes Top 10, and anything less isn’t worth doing. At least, that’s the delusion I’ve come to believe.
So as far as my podcasting career has gone thus far, I’d give myself an F.
Now, despite all of this whining, I actually do have a podcast now—one that’s fun to record and one that people say they enjoy (even though it’s not This American Life). But credit for the show does not belong to me. This is not a story of perseverance or overcoming self-doubt. I’d still be sitting here complaining about self-sabotage, with a big fat F on my report card, if not for one happy accident.
I Refused to Start a Podcasting…So My Friend Tricked Me
It all started in october. Brian and I had been meeting (and still do) every Sunday morning since some nebulous time in 2014. We were half-heartedly working on an improv website, but ultimately lost the fire and it never went anywhere. But we kept meeting. We’d share ideas, separately work on projects, or just talk.
Then last fall, on a recommendation from Austin Kleon, I picked up a copy of Jessica Crispin’s The Creative Tarot, a book (unsurprisingly) about reading tarot to kickstart the creative process.
Normally, I’d never pick up a book like that—too new age for me. But a few pages in, I was hooked. Crispin’s approach to tarot stood out because it was specifically rational.
“[Tarot] is not necessarily about telling the future. It is about retelling the present…A particular card will show up because, in some way, we need it to. We are not causing the cards to fall the way they do, but each card is a meaningful coincidence.”Jessica Crispin
To Crispin, any card is the “right” card, because the act of asking a question and thinking more deeply about a difficult situation is enough to make forward progress.
There was something novel about this approach, so I decided to secretly (I wasn’t quite ready to let everyone know I had joined the ranks of astrology readers and crystal folks) buy a deck of tarot cards. I did, however, do a reading for Brian the next Sunday—an excellent reading that involved looking up every card online after I turned it over.
In spite of my own epic ineptitude, Brian’s interest in tarot bloomed. He wanted to start a podcast where we’d read cards and answer questions, just as a way to force us to practice. But I resisted. I said it’d be too much work. I said we were no good.
Nevertheless, he persisted.
He showed up one Sunday with lav mics and told me we were going to just try it out. He had a few questions. We’d record right there in the coffee shop for 20 minutes. He wouldn’t even publish the episodes if I didn’t want. Easy.
But if I did want to release them, we could call the show Amateur Tarot Pod, excusing our incompetence right there in the title. And what do you know…the domain was available too.
And I said yes. Because I have no spine and didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
That first episode was god awful (please don’t listen to it), but slowly, Brian nudged me into investing more time into the show and increasing our production value. We started recording at his house to eliminate the coffee house music and overcaffeinated children from the mix, and after several published episodes, we started to loosen up and actually (gasp) have fun.
Want to Start Podcasting (or Any Creative Project)? Master the Three “Fs.”
Find a Partner
I consider myself a creative lone wolf. I know that’s not the best way to tackle projects, but I feel better when everything is under my control.
But like having a workout buddy, a project partner can inspire you when you’re not feeling it, come up with ideas you’d never think up, and take care of details you don’t want to. To this day, Brian does the lion’s share of the work—I mostly just show up and make jokes. But at the same time, the show wouldn’t be possible without both of us working together.
Focus on a Skill You Want to Master
One of my all-time favorites essays is Jonathan Harris’ Navigating Stuckness. In it, he talks about his process of designing a new project.
“Often, I use my work as a way to steer my life in a particular direction. I’ll identify something I want to change about myself, and then I’ll design a project to help me do it.”Jonathan Harris
Brian and I were both interested in tarot but had no real way (or reason) to practice. When we started, we didn’t know a single card meaning off the top of our heads. But the podcast provided an avenue by which we could do real readings with real questions (without having to force someone to sit there while we Googled definitions). Without the podcast, I guarantee my deck would be buried somewhere in my basement right now.
Follow the Fun
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from four years of improv training is that if you show up and get started, the magic will happen. You don’t have to worry about what you and your scene partner will talk about because you’ll just come up with something—you have to. Podcasting is no different.
We don’t show up with an agenda. We don’t have jokes planned. We don’t even discuss the question or cards before we turn on the mics. We just get started and, magically, something fun happens.
Amateur Tarot was never the podcast I dreamed of starting. There is a distinct lack of soft voices, interesting interviews, and intelligent commentary. And yet, it is the show I actually started. It’s not an idea dying in a Slack chat somewhere. It’s a real show that’s kind of easy and more than kind of fun. Thankfully I have a friend who gave me permission (aka forced me) to produce something that wasn’t perfect. Maybe it’s not an A+ (yet), but I’m certainly not getting an F.
PS: You can check out our latest episode (just published today, I think it’s our best yet) on SoundCloud. Or subscribe on iTunes.
Three Things is about creativity, improv, and inspiration. If you enjoyed this week’s letter, you can sign up to get them delivered to your inbox each week by digital carrier pigeon.