10 Things Podcasts Taught Me About Creativity, Careers and Comedy

When you work nine to five, the daily commute quickly becomes another mundane routine. For me it had become more of an extension of the sleep I’d pulled myself out of than a stimulating walk. So I decided to start making better use of my time. Instead of staring sleepily into space and getting lost in my own thoughts, I started listening to podcasts. And they have proved to be more than just an effective distraction.

Since starting my near-daily listenings to By The Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin and Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin I’ve learned a lot about creativity, careers and comedy, while also quieting the noise in my head.

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‘Yada Yada Yada’ Illustration by Sarah Gooding.

Many people have slow starts… even the creator of Mad Men

Before he became a writer for The Sopranos and created Mad Men, Matthew Weiner was unemployed and “bumming out”. So he chased cash and cachet as a contestant on the quiz show Jeopardy!

“I had been out of work… and hadn’t earned a dollar since I got married,” he told Jeff Garlin. “I remember thinking ‘I am so far from where I want to go’… My wife was supporting me and I was writing — I was one of the only people I knew who was actually writing. I became a better writer over that time, and actually, one of the screenplays I didn’t finish ended up being the skeleton for Mad Men… But that was really a low point. I just remember thinking ‘I will never give up.’”

Bridesmaids writer and actress Kristen Wiig also had a rough start, starting her life in Los Angeles as a salesperson and merchandiser at Anthropologie. She also worked as a caterer and a waiter, gave out peach samples at a farmer’s market and answered phones at a law firm. But despite finding success in film and TV, she told Alec Baldwin she still isn’t sure what she’s doing. “I don’t think I’m ever going to figure it out. I mean, do you ever?”

It’s good to remember that a swift rise to fame isn’t a prerequisite for long-term success. It’s also surreal, yet reassuring, when you can relate to such brilliant creative people as these two.

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‘Comedians on Couches’ Illustration by Sarah Gooding

Comedy writers and actors aren’t stand-up comedians

Actor and stand-up comedian are two very different roles, and it seems comedians don’t appreciate confusion between the two. When Jeff Garlin made a trademark interjection in conversation with writer and actor Larry David, this topic came under the spotlight.

“Do you like to do stand-up here?” Jeff asked Larry about Largo, the venue where his podcast was recorded. Perplexed, Larry responded, “If I had an act, it seems like it would be good. I don’t have an act.” He admitted he’d been “trying to write some material”. “I have it in notebooks, but the idea of putting the whole thing together and coming out fills me with dread.”

Likewise, stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld, when asked whether he calls himself an actor, told Alec Baldwin, “No, I’m not an actor.” When pressed on whether he would do “anything dramatic”, he questioned “To what end? I’m a stand-up comedian, that’s what I call myself. I can act; I just don’t see the need for it. I don’t think the world needs me to do that. We have Paul Rudd; what do you need me for? We’ve got a guy for that.”

A comedian’s job is to ease the pain

Jeff Garlin defined the power of his profession when he declared, “My job, as a comedian, is to to ease people’s pain. Life is hard; it’s a struggle working, getting through the day emotionally and spiritually. I like being able to offer — through the podcast, The Goldbergs, Curb Your Enthusiasm and my stand-up — a way that people’s pain is eased, for whatever period that is.”

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‘What Is This?!’ Illustration by Sarah Gooding

Success doesn’t always lead to life experience

You would think that with all of the opportunities fame and fortune has afforded him, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David would have found himself with a camera in his hands. But he told Jeff Garlin defiantly: “I’ve never owned a camera in my life. I’ve never taken a picture!”

After going on to say that his father also didn’t own a camera, and that any picture he has of himself is “just luck”, Larry found himself in one of Jeff’s impromptu on-stage photo shoots — as much a hallmark of the show as Jeff’s booming laugh and rambling recorded advertisements for sponsors. And Larry, with all of his charming limitations, couldn’t help himself.

“What do people do with all these pictures? How much can you look at? What is there to see?” he shrieked. I often ask myself the same thing, Larry.

Creative careers depend on drive

You could have all the talent in the world, but you need unbridled ambition to get it out there. Jerry Seinfeld reminded me of this when he asked Alec Baldwin, “You know who’s in show business? Who wants to be. More than anyone else. Those are the people that are in it. The people that go, ‘I want to be in it, I’m going to be in it. Do I have the skill set? Do I have the talent? Do I have something to offer?’ Most of the people we see in the arts are there not because they have the most to offer, but because they wanted to be there the most.”

Take what you do seriously; don’t take yourself seriously

Just as important as it is to have drive, it’s also important to be humble. We can only guess the perils of publicity Jeff Garlin has seen in fame-hungry Hollywood, but he’s risen through the ranks with his ego in check.

Ironically, he said this during an “interview” with himself, for which listeners submitted questions via Twitter. Nonetheless, he shared a personal anecdote that can be taken as a life lesson: “I take what I do seriously; I don’t take myself seriously.”

All writers carry the weight of their stories

Whether they’re working in TV, journalism or books, writers inevitably invest a lot of themselves in their work. And their lives not only inform their work, but can also become all about the work. In conversation with Jeff Garlin, Matthew Weiner illuminated the level of creative and emotional investment he made as a writer of The Sopranos.

“The weight of the show was so huge. And you’re living with it in the shower, and in the bathroom, and when you’re with your friends…” The show’s creator, David Chase, was naturally even more involved. “He was so obsessed — and I’m in that job now [with Mad Men]. You don’t really exist, on some level.” But, as for any writer who puts their all into their work, he says there’s a pay-off. “You’re not going to go home and regret that you hadn’t done something.”

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‘A Show About Something’ Illustration by Sarah Gooding.

The idea of a cultural hierarchy of movies over TV is pointless

The fanfare of films doesn’t make them culturally superior to TV. Movies may get their titles in lights above theatres and be shown on bigger screens, but that doesn’t mean they’re more important. They’re just “different forms”, said Matthew Weiner. “I don’t look at it as a hierarchy.” Citing The Sopranos, he added, “What movie in that era was even close?”

Today’s TV is regularly referred to as “The Golden Age”, and Jeff Garlin, in conversation with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, appears to agree. “I think that television has replaced film as the go-to medium for great work.”

Artistic input should be based on skills, as well as interest

Jerry Seinfeld mentioned that he doesn’t necessitate his contribution as an actor because “we have Paul Rudd” for that. This lays the foundation for the idea that, as a creative person, you should stake your place based on the value you can offer, not simply what you want to offer. It’s important to consider both, but it ultimately comes down to supply and demand.

We’re all full of fear — don’t let that stop you

Jeff Garlin summed up the plight of every creative person when he sat down with Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad. “Most people live their lives filled with fear. The secret is everyone is filled with fear, but successful people don’t let fear paralyse them. Walter White, up until that point, let fear paralyse him for whatever his dreams were. And I think most people are like that.” It’s up to you how you deal with it.

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Drowning in Data: When News is Noise

It’s hard enough to read online, let alone write online. So how do you cultivate creativity when you’re facing a flood of information?

'Drowning, not browsing' illustration by Sarah Gooding

It’s never been easier to be productive, but it’s also never been harder. With technology and a flood of information at my fingertips every time I turn on an Internet-connected device, my resolve crumbles. I reflexively click on headlines and tab upon tab opens with tantalising news. This is why Woody Allen never bought a computer (sticking instead with his trusty typewriter) and still churns out a feature-length film every year.

But not all of us are fortunate to have assistants to digitise our scripts. Given the patience and time required, I’m sure we could all transcribe ourselves. But it makes sense to take what is supposed to be the easy route. However, it’s not digital devices that cause problems – it’s what they enable you to do once you log on. And herein lies my dilemma.

The Internet is a black hole of information, sucking me in with its digital distractions. It’s not just me – Internet inactivity is such an epidemic that there is now the notion of a Slow Web – a direct response to the glut of information thrust at us.

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'Slow Web' illustration by Sarah Gooding

Sure, you can disable your connection or retreat to a cabin in the woods. But who wants to do that? As a writer with an Internet connection, I find my ultimate challenge is to reign in my Google trigger finger, and ramp up my writing. I can have it all; I just have to have self-control.

Easier said than done.

Writers need to keep up with the times. For fear of falling behind and finding myself faking cultural literacy, I spend hours opening and bookmarking browser pages of news, blogs, studies, reviews, essays… Then there’s tweets, posts, grams, pins… It becomes like a game – how fast can I speed-read? And then how quickly and convincingly can I disseminate these articles and my opinions on them through social media?

The rush of speed-reading in an attempt to get through it all gives way to fatigue. Did I conquer that newsfeed, or did it conquer me? Explaining pieces I’ve skim-read to others can be difficult. How much can one retain when reading so urgently?

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'Totally buggin” illustration by Sarah Gooding

In these times of feeling intellectually bloated, I’ve realised I need to reclaim control of my reading and writing online. Technology and creativity aren’t intrinsically linked, but one can certainly help the other. But some technology hinders the ability to read and retain information. With infinite scroll, that sense of accomplishment from reaching the end of something is rare. You can find yourself becoming fixated on getting to the end of a feed instead of focusing on the content you’re consuming.

Kane Bennett argues that “when there is always something new to read, or something new to know, our appetite for information can never be left unsatisfied”. Yet it can also never be satisfied, because you never get to the end. But there are tactics you can try when tackling the rising tide.

Consume content thoughtfully
Focus on value, not volume. Approach reading logically, with an aim to consciously learn about topics instead of absentmindedly flicking between them. Treat it like a course, but set your own curriculum. On that note…

Employ the experts
Utilise the experts in your fields of interest by following them on social media and reading their blogs or columns. Subscribe to top quality news aggregating e-newsletters such as Nieman Lab or MediaREDEF, if journalism’s your jam. Seek out a trusted few to follow – the rest is noise.

Go easy on the infinite scroll
Don’t shimmy down the page so fast that you can’t grasp the subject matter. You’ll find yourself at the end of a feature wondering what you just read. You’ll also probably have even less chance of retaining any information you did absorb.

Keep tabs on your activity
Don’t have too many tabs open at once. This is probably easier said than done and also such a basic suggestion. But if you’re anything like me, it’s a necessary reminder.

We don’t have to drown in data; it’s a matter of balance. As Mikael Cho writes, you need to integrate “doses of mindful consumption” in your creative process. Keyword: mindful. I’m going to keep quietly cultivating creativity online while reading as much as possible. Reading is fuel for writing – as long as one activity doesn’t absorb the other.

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It Happened To Me: I Lived In A Commune-Style Share House – xoJane, 2013

This article on my former flat (or share house, as they’re known outside of Australia and New Zealand) was a lot of fun to write. Another personal story for xoJane, it describes my time living in New Zealand’s biggest share house. I really enjoy writing stories with personal angles, such as this. I find it equally as challenging and interesting to produce them as it is to read them. I hope to do more writing for xoJane in the future.

So, for an entertaining account of my three-and-a-half years of communual living on a grand scale, my brush with scabies and many, many hippies, click the images below. They’ll take you to the website where you can read the article and leave a comment (there’s over 200!).

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Online style / fashion article: Black & White trend – Missy Confidential, 2013

Here’s a fun article I wrote on the black and white fashion trend that I observed in the Spring/Summer 2013 ready-to-wear collections in New York Fashion Week.

I really enjoy watching trends evolve with the times, and for this article I showed how easy it is to take this high impact look from the runway to the streets with designs from Australia and around the world. Click the screenshots below to read the article on their website.

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Online cafe profile: Platform Espresso – Broadsheet, 2013

I’m excited to be writing for Broadsheet, a quarterly newspaper and website dedicated to the best new things happening in Melbourne and Sydney.

My first piece published on their website is a profile of a cosy new cafe in Melbourne’s Glen Iris, called Platform Espresso. Check it out, try the smashed avocado! And click on the screenshots below to read the piece on their website.

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Online travel feature story: South Central Los Angeles – NZ Herald, 2013

I met some of the most interesting people of our whole three-month trip across the United States of America last year during our first few days in the country, in South Central Los Angeles. Catching four buses for two and a half hours from Inglewood to Santa Monica Beach may have seemed like a dodgy idea initially, but the people we encountered along the way made for a wonderful – if a bit wild – ride, and changed my impressions of the city.

I’m excited to have been able to share my story with the New Zealand Herald! Click on the screenshots below to read the article on their website.

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It Happened To Me: I Can’t Drive – xoJane, 2013

Jane Pratt’s website xoJane has been a daily read for me for the past six months, its riveting combination of intimate blog-style writing and real, relatable stories on everything from BDSM to beauty products has inspired a cult-like following, including myself and many, many others. So naturally I was excited when I became aware of the opportunity to make use of my obsession and push myself with my writing.

I submitted this story to their “It Happened To Me” section, which comprises raw, real-life stories from people all over the world. It was the most challenging story I’ve ever written, and very personal. But I found it so rewarding to share it with a publication I am so excited by and respect so much, and I think ultimately it will help me grow as a writer. I have submitted another story to xoJane which has yet to be published, and hope to do more for them in the the future.

Click on the screenshots below to read the article on their website.

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Magazine travel feature story: Baltimore – New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 2012

Last year I travelled across the United States of America for three months from LA to NYC, visiting 16 cities and other small places along the way. My boyfriend and I travelled by train, bus and occasionally plane, encountering (among other things) a naked hippy cult with a shaman in Oakland, an elderly African man who hadn’t a clue where New Zealand was (and didn’t realise the South Pole existed) in South Central LA, radical punks and moneyed matriarchs in New York City and a lot of mind-blowing vegetarian and vegan food. It was so much fun and I can’t wait to share more of my adventures! But for now here’s a travel story I wrote on Baltimore for New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. It was published in their December 24 issue!

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Online style / fashion article: Backpacks Are Back! – Missy Confidential, 2012

Since August I have been writing trend-related fashion articles for Missy Confidential, an Australian fashion website. I am also currently developing a series of articles on fashion and styling solutions for them, which will start to run in late January. But for now, here’s my first article, titled ‘Backpacks Are Back!’ Click on the screenshot below to read the article on their website.

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Online lifestyle news article: Facebook couples’ pages – Essential Groom, 2012

I wrote a number of pieces for Australian website Essential Groom in late 2012. Along with informative articles for men getting married, I wrote news-based pieces. Here’s one I wrote about the new Facebook couples’ pages. Click on the screenshot below to read the article on their website.

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