Booknotes: Favorite Writing How-to Books Part 5

In this month’s installment, let’s look at podcasts related to writing. I am a huge fan of literary podcasts (especially the ones from BBC Radio 3 and 4 and, of course, NPR) because I get to listen to conversations with favorite writers from the comfort of my home, at my convenience, and while I’m multi-tasking.

That said, there are so many podcasts related to writing out there and, if you google, several good lists compiled by various websites/blogs too. Every so often, I do check out a new podcast series because it has been recommended somewhere or by someone. Often, if I am hankering to hear more about or by a particular writer, I will simply search for him/her in my podcast app and bookmark a few old ones to listen to as time allows.

The podcasts I am listing below, however, are ones I have stuck with for more than three years or so. I do not listen to every single episode but I do subscribe to their feeds.

One thing I will say upfront about these is that they are not as diverse as I would like them to be. To be clear, I do not mean only in terms of racial or ethnic diversity, though that is also a gap, but diversity in terms of gender identity, class, caste, sexuality, disability, etc. I do hope this will improve over time.

1/ 10-minute Writer’s Workshop

This is run by NPR’s local New Hampshire station. Hosted by Virginia Prescott, it aims for the following: “A peek into how great writers conjure and craft their work. From creative rituals to guilty distractions, writers reveal what it really takes to get pen to paper.”

What I like about this one is that it is below 15-minute duration, so it gets straight to the key points about craft, writing rituals, tips, inspiration, latest publications, etc.

The best episode I listened to recently was with Celeste Ng where she talked about how images help her storytelling and, of course, much more.

2/ First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing

Mitzi Rapkin hosts this on Aspen Public Radio. Here’s the pitch: “In writing, a first draft is where creativity flows, a story takes root and the voice of a writer emerges. On Aspen Public Radio First Draft highlights the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. This weekly show hosted by Mitzi Rapkin will primarily feature fiction and non-fiction authors along with occasional poets, screenplay writers, playwrights, and songwriters. First Draft is a celebration of the writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in. In addition to interviews with authors, First Draft will feature readings, literary news, and other special features.”

I enjoy that this one dives deeper where the writer reads something from his/her own work and talks about it; then also reads something by another writer that they love and discuss that too.

More diverse writers are needed here, though.

The last episode I enjoyed the most was the one with Leila Aboulela. She talked, among other things, about creating complex Muslim characters in today’s climate. Well worth a listen.

3/ Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips

This is a gem of a podcast and you will find it on almost every writing podcast list out there.

Mignon Fogarty runs this one and it is what it says it is: “Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules. Whether English is your first language or second language, Grammar Girl’s punctuation, style, and business tips will make you a better and more successful writer.”

Fogarty makes even the most boring topics fun to learn about. Her website is filled with additional material as well. Each podcast has an article/post that shows how well-researched her work is with meanings, origins, uses, etc.

I do not have a particular recent favorite here though I do find myself revisiting certain podcasts to refresh my memory.

BONUS: The New Yorker Fiction

This may not seem like a writing how-to because it involves a writer reading a favorite story by another writer. What makes it a bit of a masterclass in writing for me is the conversation that Deborah Treisman, the host, has with her guest writer about why they picked that particular story. Often, the discussion goes deeper into the writing craft, specific techniques used in the story, philosophical musings about the themes, and more. As a short story writer myself, I love all of it.

The most recent one that stuck with me was Colm Tóibín reading and discussing a Mary Lavin story. He’s such a raconteur and he went off into so many interesting tangents about Lavin as a writer, the Irish writers’ community overall, their traditions, and so much more.

Of course, this podcast is seriously lacking in diversity too. The fact that the guest writers are picking stories from The New Yorker’s archives, which have certainly been very un-diverse over the decades, does not help. Still, I wish Treisman would pick from the many exciting younger writers of today from across the world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know, for example, what stories from this magazine might have inspired Mia Alvar or Teju Cole or Kamila Shamsie or Hisham Matar?

Anyway, that’s all for this month. If you have favorite writing-related podcasts, please do share in the comments as I am always looking for new ones to sample.

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