5 Unexpected Things I Learned about Creativity from Starting a Podcast
Starting a podcast has been one of the best learning experiences of my life so far, for reasons I could never have predicted. And most of the things I learned had nothing to do with podcasting itself.
I first set the intention to start last year during a conversation with a good friend, who eventually became the first guest on the show.
We were sitting on a bench on a sunny day in central London discussing some of the best podcast series we both enjoyed listening to when I piped up “There’s no reason I can’t do that at least as well, if not better than these guys.”
The fact that almost a year has passed between me uttering those fateful words and launching my first episode shows that there was a lot more involved than I thought initially.
Podcasting is hard - it’s technical and there are a lot of moving parts involved for someone with no previous experience of the process. But that’s not the part I had the most trouble with.
While there are plenty of excellent tutorials out there that I’ve used myself for the technical details – what equipment to buy, how to record and edit interviews, what software and hosting services to use and so on - I found almost none dealt with the emotional, psychological and behavioural aspects of the process.
In fact the main things I’ve learned from the experience are all on this higher level. This post is my way of helping you to take action and get moving if you're on the cusp of starting any new project, not just a podcast.
It’s also a way of preparing you for the journey ahead, giving you the knowledge and awareness to find your own route up the mountain.
Launching a podcast involves putting yourself out into the world, so it’s going to feel uncomfortable at times.
I can almost guarantee you won’t like the sound of your own voice when you first hear it on a recording (see here why this often the case) and that you’ll want to change everything that you said in a conversation.
There will be times when it seems like you have so many things to do that you’ll wonder how anyone has ever done this before – you’ll feel overwhelmed and unsure where to turn next. You’ll also find yourself fiddling around with the tiniest details that will make no difference to how your podcast is received.
This is all fine. The key is to be prepared for difficulty rather than expecting it all to be plain sailing and giving up at the first hurdle.
What you need to know is that all of the things I’ve just described are simply a form of resistance - resistance to sharing a less than perfect version of yourself with the world and to becoming a creator, rather than a passive consumer.
As Stephen Pressfield notes in The War of Art, resistance is the enemy of all creativity but we need to recognise it and define it in order to defeat it. Otherwise, we’ll be running around chasing our own shadows and will never be able to tackle the cause of our inaction.
By preparing for resistance, we’re not taking a pessimistic outlook on things – we’re planning for roadblocks that we may face so that when they inevitably arise we can find a way around or through them. This is true of any form of creative production or art, whether it’s writing, painting or podcasting.
Podcasting is a skill that contains a whole range of subskills and you definitely won’t fully realise this until you start. Before actually recording and editing my first interview earlier this year I’d read articles and blog posts on podcasting, watched Youtube videos and even paid for an online course on the subject, from which I took extensive notes.
The truth is that none of those resources gave me a fraction of what that the process of recording and editing a single interview did. The same is true of the promotion process – I read plenty of guides on how to launch successfully but could never have predicted some of the challenges I faced.
It’s very easy to keep consuming “How To” resources but the best instruction manual is the one you create for yourself. Use these resources while you’re taking action, not before.
That means starting now so that you can learn by doing and refer to guides as references for problems you’re actually experiencing when you need them rather than falling into the trap of paralysis by analysis. 95% of research is procrastination in disguise – so if you want to start a podcast, stop reading and start doing.
I couldn’t stand the editing process when I started – it felt slow and laborious and I felt like a fish out of water for the first few interviews. On some days, I even started to actively avoid the process of editing because it felt like such a chore.
Then one day, something clicked. I realised that I was doing everything more quickly, often without thinking about it. I actually started listening properly to the conversations again, rather than just looking for the parts I wanted to edit out, and amazingly I actually started to enjoy a process that I’d hated just a few days before.
The process of editing on a daily basis and continually showing up meant that I’d put in the time needed to reach a basic level of competency in the skill. This was the critical mass of persistent, deliberate practice that we all need to reach a decent level in anything.
Even more interestingly, the act of going over the conversations after recording them meant that I understood them on a much deeper level. I found myself pausing the track and wanting to take action on something one of my guests had said that I hadn’t picked up on before.
Insights and “aha” moments started to pop up at regular intervals, because I was coming at the conversation from a different angle – repeating the same thing from a different perspective.
Both improving the skill of editing and understanding the ideas in the interviews through repetition is of course consistent with the research on spaced repetition and it’s benefits for the learning process, but at times this felt almost magical – as though I’d accessed some sort of new portal into the conversations and ideas being discussed.
A couple of weeks before the launch I was introduced to a community of online business owners and podcasters and went along to a meeting. Seeing everyone else going through the same problems as me was extremely powerful and made me realise that I wasn’t the only one experiencing challenges in the podcasting process.
At the same time, it was inspiring to see people taking action towards their goals and several members of the group had just launched their own podcasts that week. This gave me the kick up the backside I needed to stop procrastinating and get the podcast out there. I already had my first set of interviews ready to go, so what was I waiting for?
If you’d asked me before I went to that community gathering whether I thought others were going through the same challenges I would have definitely said yes. And yet somehow, I didn’t really understand it fully until I saw and heard other people talking about these challenges with my own eyes and ears.
That’s because understanding something intellectually is simply one piece of the puzzle and very often it’s not enough to spark action. Why else do millions of people read so many books on self-help but fail to make any real change in their daily lives?
It's because while they may have understood the ideas intellectually, they haven’t digested them on a deeper level in a way that they can put into practice.
The same applies to any field of knowledge or skill - you won’t truly understand it until you experience it.
Joining a community allows you to become part of a group where taking action is a normal behaviour rather than the exception to the rule, which makes you much more likely to access that experience earlier.
It’s very easy to start taking yourself too seriously when you start a podcast. You identify as a creator now, someone who’s putting content into the world rather than just consuming it, which is definitely a good feeling - but it’s also a double edged sword.
You feel the need to make everything perfect and dive deeply into the nuts and bolts of podcasting because you start to worry about what others might think of something you produce that’s less than perfect.
The truth is that by overcomplicating things you make yourself far less likely to take action and could quite easily get lost in the detail rather than focusing on the big picture.
Keeping things fun and keeping them simple are inextricably linked, because at the start of learning anything when you know very little, the more complicated it gets the less fun it becomes. If you’re not careful the whole process starts to feel like a chore and more like a job than a passion project.
That’s where the element of play comes in. Virtually any activity can be made into work and most, if not all activities can be enjoyable depending on how you approach them.
Solving maths problems might be boring in a classroom but fun in sudoku puzzles on the back of a newspaper. In the same way the various elements of the podcasting process can become fun depending on how you frame them.
Nothing is truer than the interview process itself - the best conversations I had were the ones where I was most relaxed and framed the situation as a process of discovering more about the person and the ideas we were discussing rather than just another thing I had to get done to launch the podcast.
Even the editing process, which I’d found to be extremely dull in the beginning, became a game when I approached it differently.
I can now say with certainty that there are plenty of obstacles that can stop you from starting a podcast, just as there are many obstacles that can stop you from learning anything – if you let them.
I don’t say this to intimidate you, but to give you a realistic view of what to expect. If you commit to starting a podcast, commit to it fully and expect to experience some ups and downs along the way – otherwise you’ll drop it like a piece of hot coal the moment life gets in the way or things get a little difficult.
The feeling of elation I felt after launching last week and the responses I’ve received since then have been fantastic but as always, I’ve found that the greatest value has come from the learning process itself.
For those looking to start a podcast, follow these simple instructions below. These are the 3 things I’d tell myself to do when I was just starting out.
Call up someone you know who would be relevant for your field and record the conversation using call recording software on your computer. Plan some questions and themes to discuss beforehand and then just do it. The first step you take is often the hardest and this process will set you on the path to figuring things out.
Search through MeetUp to find a community of podcasters that meet on a regular basis and join a couple of Facebook Groups where you can find others who are taking action. This will inevitably make the process feel more manageable and make you much more likely to take action to get started.
Don’t invest in any materials or courses before you’ve recorded that first conversation - you’ll find that you learn a huge amount from the process and once you join a community you’ll be able to start getting information on recommended equipment, tools and workflows. After that use an online course or video tutorial that will serve as a point of reference rather than a substitute for actually doing the work.
I could provide a long list of resources but all you need to begin with is some simple call recording software a microphone and some free editing software.
You can worry about the rest once you've recorded that first conversation. Here's the equipment I've used to get started:
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