Podcasts are trust companions. They educate me as I stride, with an air of misleading purpose, from house to coffee shop and back again. Podcasts for freelance writers aren’t common, but they’re out there – and there are some crackers.
I was introduced to podcasts late in the game. Bored, exhausted and television-less after a move in 2015, I Googled “QI radio show”. Not very imaginative, but I was rewarded with No Such Thing as a Fish. I listened to the archived episodes back-to-back.
Since then, I’ve always had a few podcasts lined up. My feed is occasionally tweaked, usually when I finish the back catalogue of a show I enjoy (I’m not waiting another fortnight for my kicks like some kind of pleb).
Podcasts specifically for freelance writers and editors are quite thin on the ground. But listening only to writing podcasts wouldn’t do much good anyway. Inspiration comes from strange and varied sources, while tips on discipline or productivity can come from any freelance or other workaholic.
The shows listed below are, I believe, particularly useful to freelance writers, editors and other creatives.
In no particular order:
Private Eye’s podcast.
If you don’t know Private Eye, stop reading this and find a copy. It’s a fortnightly British mag, known for mocking and exposing those in power with satire and top-notch investigative journalism. It bucks the trend of declining print media and is the only acceptable news publication to read on a train.
The podcast, Page 94, is hosted by Andrew Hunter Murray, comedy writer and QI elf. It regularly features Private Eye editor Ian Hislop (often called – probably inaccurately – the most-sued man in Britain) and a line-up of journos, satirists and experts of various flavours.
Page 94 covers scandals, corruptions and analysis of deeply depressing trends. More relevantly for this article, episodes also include tit-bits from inside the magazine: writing insight, cover choice, hack-focused anecdotes and lawsuit reminiscing.
Ian Hislop and Private Eye magazine venture into the world of audio
The podcast isn’t prolifically churned out. Page 94 is a welcome surprise in the playlist, rather than a clockwork arrival.
Try Episode 19: Pubs & Lunches. It’s not a damning political exposé, but it’s full of lightly scandalous stories from the most notorious press luncheons in British history.
Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart
A bite-sized beauty, this writing podcast is perfect for my walk home from town.
The hosts (Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard – plus some regional extras) are all seasoned authors. They’re entertaining and fast-paced, keen to spill their wisdom all over the airwaves.
There’s a minimal amount of self-promotion; even the guests only give their new books a quick plug.
Writing Excuses is fiction-focused, but I’ve found that it also serves as a kick up the arse when I need to start an article. The show doles out homework most weeks; a little tweaking can often make it relevant to non-fiction writers.
“We’re all out of excuses – now get writing!”
New kid on the block Freelance Pod drew me in from Episode Three by bagging an interview with Charlie Brooker. I’m a sucker for cheerful misanthropy, so I tuned in; and I kept tuning in.
This is a proper podcast for freelance writers (mainly those of us in the non-fiction hemisphere), so subject matter is relevant as well as entertaining.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti keeps churning out high-value episodes at a rate that I frankly find a little frightening. She’s interviewed high-profile high-achievers from across the writing spectrum. This is serious ambition fodder.
Each episode, creative guests tell host Suchandrika Chakrabarti how the internet has revolutionised work.
Unsurprisingly, the internet has revolutionised freelance work in innumerable fascinating ways. You’ll be familiar with a lot of them, but some – for example, the effect that WhatsApp has had on news correspondents in West Africa – might be totally new.
The episodes are also full of actionable advice from writers and editors who’ve been where you are (or thereabouts) and made their way to greatness. For that alone, it’s a great listen.
From The Guardian to Vogue, via freelancing – with Laura Oliver is a great place to start. Oliver went freelance following redundancy, and she found a lot of work through LinkedIn. For many of us (…it’s not just me, right?), the platform is near impenetrable; so it’s great to hear some advice from a successful freelance.
I came to Cortex through Hello Internet, my favourite podcast which – with the best will in the world – I can’t shoehorn into this article.
But Cortex is pretty excellent, too. It’s hosted by Myke Hurley (podcast whizkid, Applephile and founder of Relay Fm) and CGP Grey (explanatory video maker and dangerously convincing opinion-pedlar).
CGP Grey and Myke Hurley are both independent content creators. Each episode, they get together to discuss their working lives.
The basic idea of the podcast was to dig into Grey’s very considered working processes. The scope has expanded somewhat, as podcast scopes tend to do; but at its core it is still a show about working effectively.
It’s useful if you want a bit of entrepreneurial inspiration, or insights into masterful productivity practices.
Cortex chimes with me, personally, because I share Grey’s attitude to work: I’m not a huge fan. I like to write and edit, sure, but all the faffing around that goes with it is a bore. So I automate whatever I can; and I work to increase productivity during those dull hours of digital drudgery. Grey and Hurley vocalise this attitude and offer actionable tips.
Start at the beginning with Cortex. Hurley and Myke are still finding their conversational flow, but the work tips are excellent.
It’s not strictly in keeping with the theme of this article, but I’d also recommend #59: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Hurley and Grey review this classic of the business-self-help genre so you don’t have to read it. And they recommend that you don’t, by the way.
. . . a frank and candid weekly phone call between John Roderick and Merlin Mann.
Roderick on the Line is rapid-fire nonsense. It’s incredible – often literally.
The podcast is hosted by Merlin Mann (writer/broadcaster/former productivity guru) and John Roderick (musician/writer). Mann is a highly-strung, distractable wit; Roderick a curious mix of misanthrope and extrovert.
They don’t often talk about writing, but I still find the show valuable in a work-skewed way. The shows are hour-long tangles of tangents delivered with such quick wit that I can’t help be inspired. I’m not 100% the inspiration is healthy, but it’s there.
Ep. 176: “The Opossum Had Distracted Me”. I’m not going to try and summarise this. Trust me.
Each week Dan, James, Anna and Andy discuss their favourite facts unearthed in the past seven days.
NSTF was my introduction to podcasts so, even though it’s not really related to my work, I’m including it. My excuse is that, if you’ve not dipped your toe in the podding waters, this show is a good way to get hooked (Christ, that’s a soggy mixed metaphor).
Hosted by four QI ‘elves’, the format is simple: each member offers an interesting fact that the four then discuss, expand upon and use as a launchpad for other titbits.
It’s useful for writers as a source for writing prompts. The podcast introduces me to subjects, and specialities within subjects, that I’d never considered. I can then research a fascinating niche or turn it over in my mind until something else occurs.
Honestly, start wherever. Maybe go for something sub-200, so you can enjoy the evolving patter as you keep listening; but that’s not vital. Each episode is totally stand-alone, and which you prefer will depend on your own interests and obsessions (both established and soon-to-be-discovered…)