8 Podcasts That Will Make You a Better Writer

From a sex advice column to a murder mystery, learn how to improve your craft by listening to these live storytelling episodes

Photo by Ryan Quintal on Unsplash

I am a big fan of listening in order to write better. Long before I published my first novel, I supplemented the MFA that I don’t have with a DIY MFA that saw me going to one reading series for every night that I was in New York City during a short-term job contract I had there. It was thanks to my over attendance at these reading series that I was able to identify the narrative shortcomings that were keeping me from getting work published in the magazines that I admired. At a sticky table with an IPA in hand, I’d listen as a writer went on a tangent just when you wanted to linger in a scene; when a memoirist belabored a point in a way that felt needlessly self-effacing; I’d cringe when a sex scene depicted a form of robotic, uncomplicated sex that didn’t sound like any of the sex that humans actually have.

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Hearing (and watching) people lose their audience at the microphone made it much easier for me to address the faults in my own manuscripts—revision no longer felt like a slog towards another form rejection letter, it felt like a way to save my ego at the mic. I think it’s for this reason that I keep turning to live storytelling when I need to improve my writing (or my mood about my writing), now. Not that I don’t believe in books about writing—I just wrote one!—but there is something so affirming about listening to a story, and I do believe that we can find both joy and education from our entertainment choices. For me, that current choice is podcasts. I have a stand-up group of favorites that I listen to religiously because they make me laugh, they make me re-consider preconceived notions that I have, and in some cases, they make me cringe. Here are the podcasts I currently listen to which inform the way I write and revise. May they bring happiness to your heart…and pen!

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Minorities in Publishing by Jennifer Baker

An interview-format podcast hosted by writer, editor and activist Jenn Baker in which she invites professionals throughout the publishing community—many of them underrepresented—to discuss the lack of diversity in book publishing. With guests like author Morgan Jerkins, the founder of FOLD (the Festival of Literary Diversity) Jael Richardson, and agent (and former editor) Anjali Singh, this podcast encourages listeners to be more attuned to the impact of not just what they read and write at present, but also, what they don’t.

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My Dad Wrote a Porno by Jamie Morton, James Cooper, and Alice Levine

Aside from being hysterical to listen to, this show (that features a son reading his father’s pornographic novels to his two best friends) will help writers understand write enticing sex scenes, how to avoid tangents, and avoid extraneous set up by hearing these narrative mistakes be made fun of time and time again.

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Between the Covers by David Naimon

The benchmark for interview-based shows with writers, host David Naimon gets deep into the process of America’s most exciting writers in 90-minute segments that you’ll wish would never end. Given the show’s length, there is a lot of airtime devoted to problem-solving which will inspire—and hopefully, help—writers who are feeling stuck, themselves, and Naimon’s proclivity for the independently published and translated is a great way to discover what you should read next.

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Savage Lovecast by Dan Savage

If you’re working on a creative writing project that involves human beings, it’s good to know how they are having sex. The iconic columnist Dan Savage gives sex and romance advice to the vanilla, to the kinky, and to every uncategorizable concern in between. An entertaining reminder that real life can be more interesting than fiction, and thus, should probably inform it.

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You’re Wrong About by Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes

For writers of non-fiction especially, this intelligent and darkly funny podcast by Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes about pop culture stories that America got wrong will inspire writers to research, analyze, and fact-check before they consider something “done.” Fiction writers will enjoy the underdog tales that the show favors, as will adepts of everything 1990s.

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Family Secrets by Dani Shapiro

This podcast by the bestselling writer Dani Shapiro is as intimate as they come. Her guests—Kiese Laymon, T Kira Madden, Joanna Rakoff, most recently—are master storytellers who walk listeners through the stages of courage it took to get their stories right. Especially useful for writers working on memoirs with revelations or information that could damage their relationships—you’re sure to find an aspirational mentor in this podcast.

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Serial by Sarah Koenig

There is a reason that Serial was the first podcast to go viral—it’s incredibly well-paced. For those of you who have already listened to this investigative podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig and its riveting follow up, give it another listen to note the narrative deployment: how were characters introduced and developed? What information was released when? What information was held on to? How was the story built?

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Where Should We Begin? by Esther Perel

Vulnerability is crucial in creative writing. It’s not enough to say something, it’s better to believe what you say, and better still is to be vulnerable when you say it. Therapist Esther Perel’s groundbreaking show lets you hear the behind-the-scene counseling sessions of actual couples, and gives writers a beautiful way to understand the resentments and hopes that we all harbor.

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