After about a year of listening to podcasts in the car to and from work, I think it’s about time to make an updated list of my favourite podcasts. You can find my first list over here. You will see that most of them have stayed the same but there are a few interesting additions and alterations.
What changed my mind
Writing my doctoral thesis gave me an incredible amount of satisfaction. I’m not so much talking about finishing it but rather about the process itself. I liked the satisfaction of writing something and feeling the progress of the project. I liked the satisfaction of looking at the work in progress and seeing something grow out of nothing. I liked the satisfaction of proof-reading a chapter and feeling like the text was well-written, well-structured and overall not so bad. I want to feel these things again while working on a project that I care more about than my doctoral dissertation. Something tells me writing more books would be a rewarding activity.
When I started looking around the internet to figure out how best to tackle these kind of projects I found some very useful tools and methods that gave me the confidence that I can break this incredibly daunting task into manageable bits.
It starts with mind-mapping your novel which allows you to brainstorm about the different aspects of your story without getting lost in your head and forgetting those brilliant ideas that you had. I broke up the novel into four main categories (characters, plot, settings, timeline) and started fleshing out the details of the book. I managed to capture the shadows of my ideas and write them down in a way that will allow me to tackle the writing in a structured way.
It wasn’t the first time that I mind-mapped a novel but the first attempt was a disaster. I got stuck mind-mapping and never created any structure. In the end the idea for that first novel grew so immense that it could never be written. This time around, I found a more concise plot that allowed me to work on structure much quicker and break it up into chapters. For the first time I saw an actual story-arc that could make sense. I understood much better how to divide things over the timeline and how to make things come full-circle. Even though a lot of the creativity is still ahead of me, at least I’ve created a framework. I know where every chapter begins and ends and I know how much the story needs to progress over a chapter. I’ve created manageable pieces of writing.
I’ve also better understood how to take my writing more seriously. It is important to create a certain habit, to create a fixed timeslot where I sit down and focus on writing this novel. I can spend a lot of time thinking about how I want to write things, researching the necessary details to make a specific scene more plausible and working out the evolution I want my characters to go through… but at fixed times in the week I need to sit down without any distraction and write. I’m not sure yet whether to put a fixed timeslot on those writing sessions or whether to place a fixed word-count on the sessions but from my first session I’ve learned that it’s not always easy to get to a word-count. Probably not putting the bar too high early-on is a good idea. I might just get discouraged otherwise.
Since the girlfriend will be spending parts of her Saturdays taking cooking classes with her friends, I should be able to spend at least an equal amount of time behind my laptop writing. That way we both feel like we’re able to spend our weekends doing what we love even when we’re away from the one we love most.
But most of all I understood the dangerous effect of consuming media rather than creating it. From January onwards I will have a 45-60 minute drive to work every morning. My idea was to listen to podcasts during that time in order to spend those lost hours doing something useful. I think that the better use of my time would however be to think about my story, think about my characters and the way I want to write my novel.
I may occasionally update you on the progress I make in this project. I may occasionally still write a blog post when I want some instant gratification. But hopefully, I will focus my energy on writing a longer piece of fiction in 2013…
What stopped me until now?
Short stories or blog posts are a good way to practice writing, a good way to develop a style and a good way to get some visibility and feedback. But they generally don’t require any planning or commitment, any intricate structuring or a consistency of style for more than a few pages. Every new story or post can be a new experiment, a new idea or approach, a new character or persona. Starting a project like a book means sticking with a character, a style and a narrator for a couple hundred pages and that idea scares me. Hell, I have trouble sticking to a language for more than a few blog posts. I’m worried that I am not consistent enough in what I do, that I lose interest, that I change my mind too often.
Character creation and dialogue are two vital aspects of writing a novel. Both aspects are intertwined in fact. Through the years I found that the things I’ve written that I like most myself, generally don’t thrive on the quality of the dialogue or the character creation. In my earlier work I generally only like a particularly fun way I phrase something. In my later work I find that I do a better job of creating an arc or a structure that brings a smile to your face at the end. Rarely though have I taken the time to really work out a character or taken the time to find the right balance between explaining a character and making the character come alive through dialogue. I am still afraid that I have much to learn in that respect.
What they say is to write about what you know… but what I find is that every time I have an idea for a story it consists of things I don’t know much about. It’s situated in a country I am not familiar with, it deals with characters that I have a hard time empathizing with or is occurring in a culture I have trouble understanding. I get too focused on researching those things I don’t know enough about and I don’t get any actual writing done. But what I know doesn’t keep my attention long enough.
Feedback and self-confidence are very important aspects when trying to complete a longer project. I like the fact that blogging offers the potential for immediate feedback. Blogging is very different from writing a novel because when you blog, you don’t reread something a thousand times to check the pacing, the rhythm and the plausibility. You write it, you post it and you wait for feedback. You get it out there quick and if it sucks, you cover it up with the next post and move on. Writing a novel is different because you can’t publish anything until the whole thing is done. You can’t leak bits and pieces to get some feedback. You have to wait and get all of it done. I’ve tried writing and publishing a short story bit by bit before and it doesn’t work. You can’t publish the first part until you’ve finished the whole thing and are absolutely sure that nothing needs to be rewritten afterwards. Rewriting something is so important when you’re working on a novel. The amount of content that you need to check is so much larger that you can’t just put it out there and test the waters. If something seems to work early on you can’t be sure it will still work by the time you finish the novel and you’ve gotten to know your characters much better.
Perseverance is something else that you don’t necessarily need to write a short blog post. You might need it to maintain a blog in general but looking over my track-record over the years, it’s not something I would say I had with respect to writing in my spare time. It’s a different story altogether when I talk about writing my doctoral thesis since that’s something I did full-time. It’s something completely different when you can dedicate your entire energy to writing. But with this novel project, I will have to find the spare energy to write in the evenings after work or in the weekends. That’s something I don’t know I’m capable of doing for an extended period of time. I know myself well enough to know that this will be a difficult task. I’m lazy and my mind is weak in the evenings. I do so much prefer consuming rather than creating after a full day of work…
I love writing. I’ve been writing this blog for years now. I used to love writing creative short stories at school before starting the blog. I enjoyed writing my master thesis, I enjoyed writing my doctoral thesis. And yet all this time I’ve secretly dreamed about writing something bigger.
I talk about it on occasion, but not to everyone. Mostly out of fear that if I keep talking about it without ever actually doing it, people will peg me as a feckless dreamer. The urge to write a longer piece of fiction comes and goes however. Usually it changes as my life gets calmer or busier. It changes with the seasons. It changes with my mood.
And then suddenly another year has passed and I think back to my secret plans for 2012 and I realize I haven’t achieved any of them. For all my thinking and dreaming… I never set a real goal, I never look at it as a project that needs planning, deadlines and deliverables.
That has now changed.
And now Ze Frank will take over for me.
Since I finished my PhD, I will be starting a new job very soon. January 2nd, I will officially start working in a multinational. For this job, I will have to drive about 100 km’s a day to get to work and back. Compared to being able to walk to work for the last 4 years, that’s going to be quite the adjustment. The way I see it though, it offers me a possibility to do some things I didn’t do before. Driving to work isn’t quite the same as taking the train to work though, so it’s not like I’ll be able to read more books or get any writing done. But on the flipside, I’ll be able to spend two hours a day listening to podcasts.
I’ve been into the whole podcast experience for a while now and although for the most part it’s been podcasts about sports, there’s been time for the occasional science and technology podcast too. Since I only really follow the NBA in terms of sport, there aren’t really any podcasts that fill up two hours a day discussing the games from the previous night. So recently I’ve started the hunt for interesting podcasts to fill up the rest of my free time in the car. If anybody has any good suggestions, please leave them in the comments. I’m interested in a lot of topics so don’t hesitate to propose any podcast you find worth listening to!
I find that the best podcasts generally have at least two contributors. Even though one of the two normally dominates the discussion (almost to the point that it becomes a monologue), it’s important to have somebody to keep the conversation going sometimes. That second person is vital to keep a good dynamic flow of information going. He needs to ask some valid questions to challenge the main speaker, needs to keep him on topic sometimes and needs to keep track of the overall content that was meant to be covered in a podcast. Overall he serves the role of a moderator with only a minor contribution to the actual discussion. Any podcast that finds two people with the right kind of chemistry to generate an interesting discussion, is going to be succesfull.