Sometimes the muse fails us. Sometimes we're just not feeling it. Sometimes the thought of getting behind a microphone, facing a blinking cursor (do cursors blink anymore?), or dealing with any other production-level aspect of your podcasting process is just simply too much to ask.
Because you and your podcasting efforts are stuck.
I've been stuck. All podcasters get stuck. If you've not experienced being stuck; You must be new. Because on a long enough timescale, all podcasters get stuck.
Creatives from many disciplines have learned that sometimes the trick to getting unstuck is by doing the opposite. I know it sounds odd, but it works. Music creatives often lose the groove or the feeling of a tune. Rather than (or perhaps after they) power through, they’ll do the exact opposite of what they’re trying to do, which sometimes leads them to a new take on the song they hadn’t seen before.
This trick is not just for pure creatives. I employed this technique many times during my career when digital ad and marketing creatives at my agencies we're stuck on a concept or idea that just wouldn’t move. There’s a clear path that should work, but it’s not. So we do the exact opposite, and almost always a path forward opens up.
Different Is Different Than Opposite
When I say “the opposite”, I don’t mean different. Sure, taking a different approach is often a good idea and very well might work to get you over the hump. In fact, podcasters should be trying different things all the time, especially because we humans tend to be are creatures of habit. Different breaks us out of ruts.
But the advice of “try something different” leaves you with too many choices. “Try doing the opposite” is almost singular. Identify where you are stuck, and then the exact opposite (or as close as you can get to the opposite) of what you’d normally do. Or what you were doing when you got stuck.
Podcasting The Opposite Way
Every podcasting setup and process is different. That’s one of the great things about podcasting. But it also makes it hard to say “just do this”, as we all have our unique way. Below, I’ll present some common situations many podcasters face where this opposite trick can be deployed. You should be able to see yourself in many of them. Ideally, you’ll find some nuggets to try out the next time you get stuck.
Play The Opposite Role
If you podcast as a team, you and the other co-host(s) have likely fallen into predictable roles. If you’re the person who normally engineers the show but leaves the setup and planning to someone else, take on their role and give them yours for an episode. Or if everyone on the team is also feeling stuck, including the behind-the-scenes folks, scramble all the roles.
Even if (perhaps especially if) you’re the only person who can do one job, teach someone else your job. I guarantee you that the process of teaching someone how to do your job will teach you about your job. And crack open your own creativity. Especially if your “student” has lots of questions. Because good students always have lots of good questions.
Reverse Your Process
Are you the kind of podcaster who plans out their episode on paper first, then records and produces the audio of the episode, and then writes the article at the end? Me too. Try mixing that up.
Try writing the article first. You’ll probably still need to make notes and plan the article. But those notes are for a completely different experience - reading vs listening. Once the article is fully written, grab some highlights from your polished piece and then figure out what you’d say in audio to support the article, adding the unique color and commentary allowed by the audio medium.
If that’s too big, just mix up the planning part. My process to make this show is to start with the title of an episode, then suss out the angle I want to bring, jot down some notes to keep my going in the right direction, and then record.
But I can mix that up (which I did for this episode)! Today, I started with my notes first, figuring out some examples I wanted to provide. I knew the topic, but I hadn’t identified the angle yet. Yes, that felt really strange to let the notes I typed out lead me to an angle. From there, I came up with a title and then started recording. And it worked!
Un-automate Your Podcast Marketing
Podcasting done well, you know or will soon discover, requires a lot of effort and time. Smart podcasters rely on automation, often on the marketing end. We’ll use the automated social posting service provided by our media hosting company. Or we’ll use social management tools like Buffer to schedule an entire week’s worth of promotional posts about our latest episode.
That can get really, really boring. And automation is sort of the opposite of creativity, right?
So do the opposite and handle all of your social posts manually for the week. Yikes! “That’s more work, Evo!”, I can hear you crying. Correct. But this is supposed to be uncomfortable. Make notes on your calendar, set timers, do whatever you need to do. But publish all of your social posts manually for a week and see if that doesn’t reinvigorate your brain.
Ditch The DAW
If you’re like me, you’re quite proficient and efficient using your DAW - digital audio workstation - of choice to build your episodes. Switching to a different DAW probably won’t unlock your creativity. But giving up your DAW might.
I've talked previously about no-waveform audio editing tools that are quite the opposite of editing within a true DAW. The entire paradigm is foreign! And while I don’t suggest jumping ship to Descript when you’re staring down a publishing deadline (that way lies madness), I do recommend carving out some time to experiment. Try it for a segment of your show if that’s easier. Just like teaching a new concept, learning a brand new way of doing things is often enough to unlock your trapped creativity.
Take A Joke, Leave A Joke
Some podcasters (hi!) are always looking for the joke or funny bit in an episode or conversation. For some of you (us?), it’s almost become a job. Well… give up that job for an episode or two. Even if your podcast is a comedy podcast, the funny doesn’t have to come from you, does it? Are there other ways the funny can be delivered that don’t require you to bring it?
Or maybe the opposite (what a concept) works if you’re always super-serious on your show. Humor doesn’t have to equate to flippancy. There are ways to use humor even on serious topics. Of course, forcing humor is rarely enjoyable. But this is about being uncomfortable so perhaps target just a segment where you try to inject some humor. (And if you fail miserably, that segment doesn’t have to go live, right?)
Tight Show, Loose Segment
Are you committed to a tightly edited show, where you pour out your creativity in artfully crafting every second of your show? Some of the most popular podcast networks produce very tight shows. The entire podcast fiction genre is reliant on tight editing. Investigative shows, documentaries… there are many shows that require tight, detailed editing.
If that’s what your audience expects, it would be foolish of you to do the opposite and free-form an episode. However, you could drop in a looser segment (either at the end or as a bonus) that features more casual conversations with some of the normal imperfections left in intentionally. That might help you get unstuck. (Though I highly recommend giving your audience a heads up lest they think you’ve abandoned your commitment to quality!)
Diamonds, Not Opposites, Are Forever
I’m suggesting you do the opposite in a surgical way to serve a single purpose: Getting you unstuck. If your experience is similar to the myriad experiences I’ve encountered when deploying this technique in various settings, you’ll not find lasting changes to your process. That’s not the point.
The idea is simply to get you unstuck so that you can get to the next step. Though if you take a shine to your own experimentation with the opposite, be open to the idea of replacing your routine with a new one. Maybe your routine was the source of the trouble with all along.
I see lots of “I’m stuck” lamentations in the various podcasting groups and forums, so this is an established and well-documented problem. Perhaps you’d consider offering up a link to this write-up and episode where appropriate if you frequent those places? If you send a personal note along with the link, it’ll make an even bigger impact.
And if you like the ideas I provide to you every day here on Podcast Pontifications, please visit BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and toss a couple of shekels into the virtual coffee slush fund.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.