Sarah Rhea Werner is both a writer who has a podcast and a podcaster who talks about writing. Her podcast Write Now, which is also a blog, is an inspirational, binge-listening journey into what happens in a writer’s mind. Her podcast seeks to find a healthy balance between an author’s work, life and writing process. As a listener commented, Sarah “relates to the writer’s heart”. Sarah is definitely a great mentor, and as a contributor on Forbes, you can also read some of her very helpful advice on how to podcast. That’s why we decided to interview her!
You’re a content creator, a writer, blogger, and podcaster. How do you prepare yourself before beginning writing or recording your podcast? Is there a common thread in how you start your creation process for these different media?
I am by nature not a planner—when I go on vacation, I don’t want to be limited by a schedule and know that I have to be at a certain place at a certain time. I just want to be free to do what I want, when I want. I’m like this with writing, too—I’m what’s called a “pantser”, which is someone who writes by the seat of their pants and doesn’t outline beforehand.
So when I started podcasting, I tried the same approach. I sat down and began speaking into the microphone without doing any planning. But (if you’re a podcaster, you’re probably laughing at me right now) this resulted in a really scattered-feeling podcast that required hours of time-consuming reconstructive editing. After a while, I got fed up with all of that editing, and decided to start creating a loose outline prior to recording.
I wrote the outline by hand, and it consisted of a title, a thesis, three or four bullet points, and a conclusion. It turned out that this five-minute planning exercise saved me hours of editing, and I loved it so much that I started doing it for my writing as well. In that way, podcasting has actually changed the way that I write.
Writers and podcasters also have their rituals. With both, I sit down at my desk and make sure I have everything I need—for podcasting, that’s a glass of water, a hot cup of coffee, a notepad, my headphones, my Chapstick, my mic, and my computer—and for writing, that’s… everything but the mic (and maybe some snacks).
But with both of these mediums, even after I’m all set up, there’s a little bit of hesitation. There’s this temptation when you sit down to get right back up and flee the room, or to sit there forever staring at the blank screen and not creating anything—because what if the thing you create turns out to be less than perfect?
Process-wise, I get over this hurdle by pressing the tip of my pencil to paper and either beginning to write longhand for my novel or starting my episode outline.
Why did you decide to start podcasting about writing? Is there another reason aside from the fact that, as you already said, you simply like talking? In which way do you think podcasting and writing are tied together?
Fun fact: the Write Now podcast originally started as a blog called The Writing Season. I knew that as a writer, I had to blog, and yet the prospect of one more writing chore every day seemed daunting. But at first I did it—or I tried—until I realized that I was putting all this extra time into writing post after post and just not seeing any results.
I had Google Analytics running on the blog, and it was really frustrating to put hours of tedious work into something and have just one visitor read it… especially when that visitor was usually me.
My friend Peder is a veteran podcaster, and when I vented my frustrations to him, he responded, “Sarah, why aren’t you doing a podcast?” This was back in 2013 or 2014— podcasts hadn’t exploded yet and there weren’t a lot of women podcasters, or podcasters talking about creative writing. So I gave it a try and found that my podcast got a lot more traction than my blog ever could have.
As to why creative writing? I believe that everyone has creative energy—even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, you are a creative person. You might not start off with a lot of creative energy, but creativity begets creativity, so the more you use it, the stronger it will get —just like exercising a muscle.
I wanted people to start using those creative muscles, because I think that the things we create make the world a better, more beautiful place. They solve problems and they get people thinking differently. Creativity is good for us, and I wanted to encourage and inspire people to find the time, energy, and courage they needed to create on a regular basis.
I didn’t realize exactly how related podcasting and writing were at first. I thought I was going to be a really awkward and self-conscious podcaster since I’m an introvert, but it turns out that the two disciplines have really complimented each other. I think I’m a better and more conversational writer now—and I’m definitely a better podcaster and public speaker because of the years I spent writing. They’re definitely tied together.
You also write about podcasting as a contributor for Forbes and your articles are always very interesting. How did this collaboration start? How is it important for the podcast media to have a space within big media companies?
Well, thank you! I’m a member of a number of different podcasting forums online, and I love to share my podcasting knowledge. I got a lot of help from different people when I was first starting out, and I really want to make sure that I pay that forward.
It turns out in one of these forums, there was an editor from Forbes who saw that I was really invested in helping this community of podcasters, and she reached out to me and said, “Hey, you have this podcast about writing, and you obviously know both very well—how would you like to write about podcasting for Forbes?” And I was like, “Heck yes.”
I like that Forbes cares about podcasting—it’s definitely frustrating that podcasting gets ignored by so many other big media companies. There are so many podcasts that are doing very well and making four, five, even six-figure incomes from ad revenue on their podcasts. But the fact that they’re being ignored is kind of troubling.
I think it stems from the fact that TV is easy. You have a TV in your house, you push a button on the remote control, and it goes. It’s present in your life and in the lives of your friends and family members. So even if you’re not a big TV person, you’re still acutely aware of what it is and how it works.
The same thing is true with radio—your car has a radio, and it’s very easy to get into your car and push a button and have the radio come on. It’s very passive.
The tricky thing about podcasting is that it’s not easy or passive. There’s not one big button that you push and it goes. It takes a little bit of intentionality from the would-be listener. You can’t be a passive consumer—you have to be active.
It’s very easy for me to sit in the living room and absently push the power button on the TV remote control and say, “Oh, I guess I’m watching TV now. Cool.” It’s a lot harder to pick up my phone, navigate to a podcasting app, and find and play a podcast episode absently or by accident. You have to be more intentional when seeking out and consuming podcasts.
Something like 45% of Americans don’t know about podcasts, and if you don’t know about them, you’re obviously not going to be intentional about seeking them out. And if you don’t know about podcasting, you don’t know the value of podcasting—if you don’t know what you can get out of a podcast (entertainment, education, etc.), you’re not going to be motivated to search out and try a podcast. In this way (and really, in a lot of ways), podcasts are not incredibly accessible. It takes manipulation of several different senses and technologies to even navigate to and activate one.
Maybe podcasts will become more easily consumed when our living rooms come with a dedicated podcast listening device with a big red “ON” button. But right now, podcasts aren’t passive or mainstream—they’re in more of a word-of-mouth space. Regardless, I think it’s important for big media companies to get a beat on podcasting, because even if the medium doesn’t continue to grow by leaps and bounds, it’s not going away. And if you want to be a part of a meaningful and well-informed conversation that encompasses all different types of modern media, you need to be covering podcasting.
On your podcast, and on your website too, you often mention your listener’s comments and requests. How is important for you to get in touch with your audience? Is there anything you can suggest to other podcasters in terms of staying connected with their listeners?
I always think that the more engaged an audience is, the more loyal it will be. And engagement isn’t just a one-way street. It’s not a monologue—it’s a dialogue. There are a lot of different ways to have this dialogue and form personal relationships with your audience. If you can form a 1:1 connection with a listener, chances are they’ll stick with your podcast longer—and tell their friends and family about it.
So I like to engage with my listeners by connecting with them on a 1:1 level—by answering their questions, chatting about their current work-in-progress, or even getting to know each other personally—via email, Skype, and social media. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it.
A shortened version of this interview appeared in The Podcasting Newsletter, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring all the latest news from the podcasting industry. If you’re interested in receiving it, just subscribe here.