Coming Up Short

Coming Up Short

While I’ve been struggling to get feedback on my podcast-to-radio show I’ve been hard at work writing the 65 scripts I’ll need for the show’s first 13 weeks.

The hours behind the keyboard remind me of two words I learned when I began writing radio commercials 20 years ago: discipline and discipline.

First, there was the discipline involved in writing the commercials.

One of my favorite humorists, Dorothy Parker, once quipped, “I don’t like writing. I enjoy having written.”

I’m with her.

Discipline Doesn’t Come Easy

Unfortunately, I had to go through the writing to get to the having written. There were days, many days, when writing held the same appeal as a colonoscopy. So, I found a way to get the job done.

I sat down and wrote.

You’ve heard that before, I’m sure. It’s the “unique” trademark of every writing guru I’ve ever encountered. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Which means you have to have the discipline to write, which means you have to find your personal motivation for writing.

Some writers I know write for the money they get. Some write for the money they will get. I write because I find pleasure in the process.
All I can guarantee is that while your mileage will vary, you will find a way to get there.

Once you develop the discipline for writing, you’ll have to develop discipline in your writing.

Did I Mention Discipline Doesn’t Come Easy?

Every commercial I wrote had to be exactly 30 or 60 seconds long. Every radio script I write for my show has to run exactly a minute.

Radio stations depend on the clock for their revenue and their programming continuity. While stations trade seconds for advertising dollars, the syndicated programs they broadcast start precisely to the minute and contain commercial breaks whose lengths are timed precisely to the second.

Station content that’s running too long or too short can result in unpleasant on-the-air experiences for everyone concerned.

Now, it’s true that 30 and 60 seconds, as well as starting shows at the top of the hour, are arbitrary artifacts of early radio.

One of the great advantages of podcasting is that these old—and I admit, rigid—rules no longer make practical sense.

It’s also one of podcasting’s greatest weaknesses.

Just a Minute…Minute…Minute

Because a podcast episode can run any length you want, there’s less motivation to tell your story in the most compact and compelling way. You no longer need to search for a precise verb or adjective. You can always throw in a clarifying sentence or two, instead.

A few extra minutes doesn’t mean all that much when there’s no network news waiting at the top of the hour. Right?

Well, yes, if we’re talking about a FEW minutes. But that’s rarely true.
Without discipline, those few minutes add up. Way up.

And the data show that listenership drops off sharply the longer your podcast. In fact, the drop off rate is approximately the same as it is for—wait for it—radio.

Let’s Hang On to What We’ve Got

Those who write commercials for radio, script audio documentaries, and host live talk shows know that every extra word contributes to listener tune-out, an action that can wreak havoc with a station’s ratings. Think about that the next time you write, or edit, your podcast.

Do you have 60 great minutes of content, or 30 undisciplined ones that have doubled in size?

For your next epsidode, pretend you’re writing for radio and set an uncomfortable time goal then hit it within a few seconds either way.

You might find there’s nothing like a little discipline to make you sit down and write less.


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