I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I tend to give solid recommendations for the best podcasts. I’m a huge podcast person—I could’ve dedicated an entire Substack to it. Maybe I should… Podcast Junkie Wannabe Author?
In listening and sifting through various podcasts about writing and authorship, I realized that topics are mostly about marketing your book, finding an agent, self-publishing—stuff like that. While it was helpful to understand what I needed to do after my book was done, a part of me felt like I was putting the cart before the horse.
I wanted to find podcasts that focused on the craft of writing—the nuts and bolts of what really makes for a compelling story. Lo and behold. After months of listening and going through some good and mediocre podcasts, these are three that truly stand out from the pack.
You don’t even have to be a writer or working on a book to enjoy these. These are for anyone who is fascinated by how to tell a great story.
1. Writing Class Radio
- Reminds me of: Modern Love’s podcast
- Length: 30 minutes
- Best thing about it: The hosts—they’re outspoken, they cuss, and just tell it like it is.
I found Writing Class Radio’s podcast on Stitcher and was instantly drawn to the format. The first part of the podcast is the narrator (the writer) reading a personal essay. The latter is Andrea and Allison (the hosts) with a breakdown of the essay. I also appreciate the various types of personal essays, from controversial to tender and light-hearted.
The hosts’ insight includes what engaged them most, including meaty prose and delightful descriptions, as well as parts of the story that flowed nicely and why. While their breakdowns are mostly praise, they’re also honest about the parts that didn’t resonate and what the narrator could’ve done to make it better.
It’s an informal conversation that uncovers the building blocks that make personal essays compelling and satisfying for a reader.
2. Sound School Podcast
- Reminds me of: Anything on Radiolab (I’m a huge fan of Radiolab’s creator Jad Abumrad!)
- Length: 25-30 minutes
- Best thing about it: They pick the best shows (mostly focused on investigative journalism) and dismantle their inner workings.
Sound School Podcast is about making a podcast. I don’t know why, but a podcast about making podcasts kind of floored me. It’s so… metta. I discovered it through Radiolab—I love it when podcasts cross-promote other podcasts.
The brilliant host and audio story teacher, Rob Rosenthal, interviews journalists and reporters to detail a specific show they produced. I basically binged Sound School because I’m so curious about the behind-the-scenes creation of these popular podcasts and episodes. Each of Sound School’s podcasts has a specific theme, such as “how do you make a podcast about silence?” 🧐
Even though I’m not planning on creating a podcast (not yet anyway), I listen to this one religiously because the show focuses on… bingo, the story.
I hang on to every single strategy and method a journalist used to tell the story better. Whether it’s about prepping questions to interview a dying patient in the hospital or what parts of a story they painstakingly had to cut down so they could fit it in a 20-minute episode.
Sound School also highlights the scriptwriting that goes into making a podcast. It’s taught me to fine-tune my ear to listen for thoughtful prose in any scripted podcast.
- Reminds me of: Fresh Air
- Length: 30 minutes
- Best thing about it: The insightful interview questions from the hosts. No vanilla or cliche questions, ever.
This is an interview-style podcast where hosts Brooke Warner (who has her own publishing house, She Writes) and Grant Faulkner (director of NaNoWriMo) talk to big-name authors and New York Times bestsellers. It’s where I first learned about Stephanie Foo’s memoir, “What My Bones Know.”
What I like most is how thought-provoking their questions are. I’ve listened to so many podcasts where the interviews fall short because the interviewer can’t think on their toes to continue moving the conversation in the right direction.
I’m so impressed by both Brooke and Grant’s ability to ask really good, off-the-cuff questions. They’re both extremely well-spoken. The show revolves around what it takes to create an engaging story while highlighting an author’s background. They do it in a way that keeps me interested for the entire podcast.
Because She Writes focuses on women authors, I’m also constantly learning about new memoirs to add to my list.
In listening to this podcast, I decided to sign up for Brooke’s memoir writing class. It’s a 6-month class and I’m only one class in, but I will definitely write another newsletter about it in the future.
Last, quick recommendations
My favorite podcast app is Stitcher, which is an app that aggregates and plays podcasts. It’s how I’ve been able to discover some of my favorites. I find it more user-friendly than the one from Apple or Spotify.
Here are more great podcasts about the craft of story.
- Helping Writers Become Authors: Focuses on fiction writing but still easily translates to nonfiction.
- Qwerty: Focuses on memoirs and is an interview-style podcast.
- The Creative Penn Podcast: Focuses on self-publishing and the business of being an author. It’s an interview-style podcast.
If you’re not a podcast listener, you’re missing out on some truly great content. Sure, there are podcasts that are basically junk food for your ears, but there are so many that help you learn. Podcasts are a fantastic tool for knowledge gain in just about any topic—travel, earning a side hustle, and of course, writing.