Running Out of Podcast Ideas? Here's How to Find More
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It happens to every podcast creator eventually. You have an off week. The ideas aren’t flowing like they usually do. You’re thinking about what to make your next podcast episode about, and you’re drawing a blank. You’re out of podcast ideas! So what should you do?
Today we’re going to recommend a strategy that may seem unorthodox: steal ideas from other places. In the latest in our “Thoughts from Third Coast” series, we’re talking about how you can generate new ideas for your podcast through the art of (ethical) stealing. In talking about how stealing ideas can improve your development of new podcast ideas, we’ll be drawing upon a Third Coast session by This American Life producer Chana Joffe-Walt.
Consume lots of content across many different mediums
Joffe-Walt’s biggest story for This American Life in 2018 was “Five Women,” an hour-long story that focused on a group of five women, all of whom dated the same man, an editor recently implicated in a #MeToo sexual harassment scandal. In the episode, each of the five women describe their relationship with the man, as well as their own lives before and after meeting him.
In her Third Coast session “Stealing: A Deconstruction of Five Women,” Chana Joffe-Walt made the point that her unusual format for Five Women wasn’t actually an original idea. Like many creatives, she “stole” the idea for the story’s structure from a TV show she’d been watching: the Amazon Prime TV series “I Love Dick.” Joffe-Walt said that when she gets stuck in her own work, she tries to consume stories from radio as well as other mediums to gather ideas.
With that in mind, here are some places you should look if you feel you’re running low on ideas:
Radio (especially narrative shows like This American Life, which has an archive of over 600 episodes you can listen to here, searchable by topic)
Other podcasts (take a look at the Top Podcasts in the Apple Podcasts store, or dive into specific content categories to see what other podcasts are doing)
Books (if you’re looking for specific topics, Goodreads is a great social media site for finding book recommendations)
TV shows (especially shows on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime)
News articles, in particular longform journalism (check out the archive at Longform.org, as well as other magazine-type outlets like The Atlantic, HuffPost’s Highline, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and New York Magazine)
Online content from: YouTube (especially vloggers or fictional video series), Reddit (try for niche subreddits under 1 million subscribers), or other industry-specific forum sites.
Social media like Twitter and Instagram. Check for hashtags relevant to your show using TweetDeck to see what people are talking about and who experts are in a particular field.
In the case of “Five Women,” Joffe-Walt says she drew upon a specific episode of that Amazon TV series, as well as elements from ESPN’s “OJ: Made in America,” a This American Life episode by Nancy Updike called “24 Hours at the Golden Apple,” and an NPR story by Alix Spiegel about preschool discipline. She also mentioned reading a variety of books unrelated to the story she was writing, all of which she found helpful as examples of different kinds of structure, tone, voice, and characterization she could consider using in her radio work.
“Stealing ideas” means understanding what story elements you can use in your work
Joffe-Walt made clear that it isn’t enough simply to “steal” from other creative works. Instead, she tries to analyze what elements she likes about each creative work she’s consuming and make note of those elements. As she said during the session, stealing ideas is all about noticing what someone did in a story, and then trying to use that in one’s own story down the line. The “why” behind what made a story interesting might be how the author laid out a story’s structure (like in “Five Women”), or how a creator chooses to introduce a character. It’s up to the podcast creator to figure out what spoke to them in a particular story.
Here are some story elements you might want to analyze when consuming other media:
The story structure: is it chronological, character-based, or focused around specific ideas?
How does the creator introduce different characters and highlight their specific traits?
What idea does the creator leave listeners with? Is it a specific thought or conclusion, a feeling, or a quote from a particular character?
How does the medium’s strengths and limitations lend to how the story was told? And as a podcast creator, how can you replicate or amend that style in your own story?
For narrative stories, what kind of environmental sounds has the creator added to give a sense of place or a certain mood?
For interview based podcasts, what did hosts ask of their guests, how did they relate to their interviewee, and what was the structure of their interview questions?
The creative process of “stealing”
While we never advocate taking ideas whole-cloth from other creators, ethically “stealing” story elements can be a helpful process to develop new ideas for your podcast. Whether your thinking of new narrative stories or trying to find the next great interview guest, looking to what others have done is a great way to jump start your idea list for your own podcast. Taking elements from other creative works is especially important for early-career creators who are still developing their own voice. These creators should lean on their taste to find stories they find compelling, do the hard work of breaking down what elements they liked about it, and then figure out how they can use those building blocks in their own work.
For more from our visit to Third Coast 2018, check out these posts about five things new podcast creators should know and how solid organization can make the difference in your podcast production.
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