The biggest delineation between success and failure for podcasters today is their ability to sit down and record on a consistent basis.
Those creators who can commit to the process and continue producing episodes once the “easy” episodes are past are the ones who will be in the game long enough to see results. As the great investor Charlie Munger has said, “the first rule of compounding is to never interrupt it unnecessarily.”
The same goes for content creation. You have to stay in the game long enough to succeed.
That’s easier said than done for most of us who love and use this intimate but taxing medium that is podcasting. To survive long term, we need to learn to push past the obstacles that arise and develop creative endurance that keeps us alive long enough to succeed.
Understanding Creative Blocks
So, what can you practically do when you’re stuck and have no idea of what to record?
We’ve all been in a mind numbing meeting or solo creative session when the ideas just aren’t flowing, yet we’re coming up on a publishing deadline for the next episode of the show.
Ignoring the bad process you followed to get to the point of needing such a quick turnaround, the first step is to realize that the block is just a mental hurdle you need to clear to move forward.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld did a Reddit AMA and was asked about writer’s block. Here is his response:
“Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.”
Firm, but fair. Your creative block, regardless of medium, is a misnomer. The more accurate statement is that you’ve run out of low-hanging ideas that you can crank out with minimal effort.
Now is when the real creative work begins.
Unfortunately, ideas won’t always just come to seek you out. Instead, you have to go out and find them.
Where to Find Ideas
The first place I point podcasters for new ideas is back to their own website. Whether you have actual FAQs listed out, or you have a running list in your head – you know what customers, teammates, and friends are asking you most regularly about your topic.
Use this! Find ways to generate episode topics out of the questions being asked, or simply do an entire episode answering the most common questions.
Segments like “mailbags” or “Ask Me Anything” can provide plenty of fodder for several episodes worth of content. Your challenge will be to extend the questions so they are broad enough for the entire audience, and to ensure you’ve prepared your answers in advance so you offer substantive responses.
If you don’t have an audience that engages that way, simply record individual episodes to respond to each question/problem you recognize your audience is facing.
A second method is to follow what many professional writers use to break through a slump or mental block: prompts. Think of this like a sports drill or musical repetition that will produce performance day results.
Writing prompts are a form of creative exercise that forces you to write down responses or executions in light of a particular question or “prompt.” The output may not always be exactly applicable to your show, but should loosen up your creative muscles and provide you with some channels to explore for future episodes.
ConvertKit, an email marketing and automation platform for authors and marketers, published this list of 40 writing prompts. They may not all apply, but go through the list and provide a response to as many as you can contextualize for your show.
Steal Like an Artist from Other Industries
In his New York Time bestselling book, “Steal Like an Artist” Austin Kleon offers this advice on how to look at the world like an artist, “First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing…Nothing is original.”
Kleon goes on to explain that every “new” idea is really just a mashup or remix of an idea that previously existed in some form or context in the universe. Our responsibility as creators is to make that idea our own in a fresh and new way that is applicable to our audience.
This is obviously a valid and important way to look at your podcast content, too.
Looking at what is working in entertainment, culture, sports, comedy, etc. and applying that to your organization’s context is a no brainer. Some of the best performing content that exists right now are clearly creative descendants to the traditional content powerhouses of old.
A useful exercise may be to go through your personal consumption habits. Identify the top performing or most impactful content you engage with personally and identify what themes, topics, segments, and styles make up that content. Then, find ways to put your lens or content filter on top of the executions that can be reasonably applied to your show.
Doing so may provide you inspiration similar to what one famous podcaster experienced after seeing the comedian Richard Pryor perform live.
Avoid Content Blocks Entirely
The best way to avoid creative blocks is to ensure you don’t miss a publishing date. Not even once.
Author Seth Godin had this to say about his habit of publishing a blog everyday for the past 18+ years: “you don’t write because you’re inspired, you get inspired because you’re writing. But first you decided to write. And then in order to make it easier, you find tools.”
Having the right tools in place to support ongoing creation is more important than we often give credit for. I suggest you think of your toolset in light of the various creative stages you use to make your show. Here’s the process that works for me:
- Idea Capture Tool: Apple Notes
- I have dedicated folders for work and documents filled with free flow ideation within them. Any and every idea that I observe or happen on during my life goes into these docs.
- Idea Organization Tool: Notion
- Once an idea is captured, I’ll organize the bunches that make sense into a notion page that bundles types of ideas by where they might be used. E.g.: podcast ideas, new business ideas, writing ideas, etc.
- Idea Formulation Tool: ClickUp
- The best ideas get pulled into Clickup (project management software). These are the ideas that will be fleshed into projects. Scheduling when the idea will publish allows me to ensure my calendar is chock full of content for the foreseeable future
- Idea Execution Tool: Heard App
- Once an idea has been scheduled will be created as a podcast or writing project, it gets moved into our proprietary production software. This will facilitate the collaboration and milestones required to publish on time
(note: we’re currently accepting some beta users to try the Heard App for production. If you’re interested in joining our test group – reach out to Heard@Heardpods.com with the subject “Heard App).
That’s my mix. Yours may look entirely different, but having a system and toolset that guides you through the creative process will allow you to find inspiration everywhere you go and ensure the well of ideas rarely (if ever) runs dry.
Creative blocks are a common struggle and one that every creator will experience at some point in their careers. Utilizing these strategies, tactics, and toolsets will alleviate some of the pressure and allow you to get back to what you’re best at: creation.
- Consistency is King
- Creative Blocks are an issue not inspiration
- Create systems for creativity by using the right tools