Image: Matthew Loffhagen
It’s all too easy for writers to burn out. Whether it’s writer’s block or just one of those days, sometimes you wish that your novel would just write itself, or that that plot research would just be done already.
If only there was an easier way. Instead of reading through the minutiae of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or trying to analyze what it is about that latest fantasy tome that you find so compelling, what if you could just sit back, relax, and watch some YouTube videos? Even better, what if there was some kind of writing podcast you could bring with you on the bus?
Well, I’ve got good news: there are dozens of YouTube channels and podcasts available that can play an important role in making you a better writer. Listening to accomplished people unveil the secrets of their various successes can be a great way to learn how to navigate certain nuances of writing and certain tropes of genre.Podcasts and YouTube can develop your craft while giving you a break.Click To Tweet
So, with that in mind, I’ve compiled a shortlist of YouTube series and podcasts that are sure to appeal to writers of all kinds. Next time you’re blocked, tune into one of these for some fresh ideas.
YouTube: Robert McKee
Robert McKee is a big deal, and not just on YouTube. The author of a wildly popular screenwriters’ bible called Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, McKee now runs story seminars in big cities all across the world. A professor and academic, McKee’s seminars tend to be theoretical, structural, and philosophical, and many focus on picking apart narrative templates and tropes to examine the implicit psychological mechanisms beneath.
McKee’s former students include hundreds of Academy Award winners, Emmy Award winners, and Writers Guild of America Award winners, and normally you’d have to pay a large fee and queue for hours to hear him speak. Thank heavens for the internet!
The talk might be sold out, but you can still hear it.Click To Tweet
McKee’s YouTube channel broadcasts recordings of his world-famous seminars for everyone to enjoy. Don’t let the screenwriting label put you off – no matter what form you’re trying to tell your story in, McKee’s wisdom will help you out. After all, a film is only as good as the story it tells. You can check out this series here.
YouTube: Write About Dragons
This one is for writers of sci-fi and fantasy. Write About Dragons is, sadly, no longer publishing new content, but it nonetheless stands as a proud collection of excellent lectures that have become quite the cult hit online. (You can watch here.)
The lecturer, Brian Sanderson, is a big name in American fantasy, and is known for the Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive series. He teaches at Brigham Young University, and these lectures are pretty much a way of getting a free seat in an MBA-level creative writing classroom.
This particular channel is a little less approachable and a little more academic. Kal Bashir is concerned with the structure of narratives, whether they be in fiction, film, theatre, or TV. His knowledge regarding story structures and narrative patterns is frankly a little intimidating, and his videos do tend to ruin any future films you watch or books you read – you’ll find yourself picking apart the plot structures and applying Kal’s theories. See if it’s for you, here.
Podcast: Writing Excuses
Writing Excuses is a series of fifteen-minute podcasts about writing. They’re ideal to listen to while you’re on the train or on your way to the shops, and are often both useful and entertaining. Brandon Sanderson emerges here again as a regular host, working alongside three other equally knowledgeable authorities: Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells. Try them for yourself via their site.Use travel time to increase your skill as a writer.Click To Tweet
They’re on their twelfth season at the moment, so there’s loads of content to get stuck into, and they discuss all the topics you’d expect in clear and enlightening ways. For example: cliché, the concept of character-killing, good beginnings, effective villains, characterization, genre, pacing, etc. (Oh look, so do we!) It’s a real treasure trove for any writer trying to improve their craft.
Podcast: The Dead Robots’ Society
The Dead Robots’ Society is a little less formal than Writing Excuses, but it’s valuable in its own right. Its host, Justin Macumber, and his coterie of co-hosts aren’t academics but are rather amateur writers. The podcast deals less in formalized discussions of particular tropes, themes, and elements as it does in shared personal stories about the writing life and the writer’s journey.
Of course, there’s a veritable catalog of writing tips in there too, along with literary interviews and publishing news, but it’s the bizarre and often hilarious anecdotes and tangents the hosts find themselves falling into mid-discussion that will keep you listening (which you can do here).
Podcast: A Way with Words
This one’s not about writing per se, but it’s sure to make you a better writer and should appeal to anyone with a love of language. Hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, the show examines the quirks of language through history, culture, and family, so you can expect discussions about weird idioms, etymology, slang, dialects, and how to speak and write well.
It’s not an academic show, and is relaxed and fun in its outlook. Barnette and Barrett are descriptivist linguists rather than prescriptivists – that is, they’re interested in how language is used, not in how it should be used. If you’ve ever wondered about why we talk about a ‘murder of crows’ or why ‘I could care less’ has endured in the US despite its actual meaning contradicting its intended meaning, A Way with Words is the podcast for you, and you can try it here.
An embarrassment of riches
There we have it. With these channels and podcasts at your disposal, you can make even breaks or moments of procrastination productive again. It’s all too easy as a writer to get stuck in a frustrating loop inside your own head, and podcasts and YouTube videos can be a great way to reconnect with the topics (and people!) you’re interested in.
Have you had good experiences with YouTube channels and podcasts? Did I miss out your favorites? Let me know in the comments. If you’d prefer to work a little harder for your insights, check out Five Experimental Novels That Will Inspire Any Writer and 40 Exercises And Resources Every Author Needs.