Why I’m Walking Away From Audio Drama (Sort Of): A Case Study For Artists In Exhaustion and Disenfra
Hot summer days are miserable.
But they’re not as bad as the unbearable cold of a long winter.
Those days can be exhausting.
And the thing about exhaustion is the insufferable cold, the unrelenting nature of inundation. Where, no matter how hard you try, you can’t warm, cannot recover. I rarely get exhausted.
But I am now.
And I have audio drama to thank (blame).
It’s (Not) So Hard To Say Goodbye
Whatever name(s) you use to describe it, like an unexpected phone call in the middle of the night, an estranged family member of friend ringing your doorbell, or the “we need to talk” talk; it’s that feeling you get that taunts you with a promise of pain.
In 2019 (actually since the latter part of 2018), that’s the state of my creative self.
And that’s why I’m disappearing from audio drama. I need to pull away to consider the path that lays before me. For me and for the sake of my art.
All so my art has a future to consider.
Audio drama has grown tremendously since 2015, when I threw my hat into the ring and joined an exciting collection of independents. It was a fun, exhilarating time. Audio drama has been around for eons, but the explosion in these past few years has been impressive and I was thrilled to be at the front of that new wave. My podcasts benefited from being in the game early; all sustaining high monthly downloads and consistent Apple Podcast Chart rankings.
So why walk away from it?
In my how-to book for authors, Novel Idea to Podcast: How to Sell More Books Through Podcasting, I shared a wealth of information about the wonderful field of podcasting. I discuss the need to analyze what you want to create to achieve the success metrics you established for yourself. So how does the author of that book come out a half year later and announce that he’s not going to be part of audio drama any longer (at least for the foreseeable future)?
Better yet; what can you glean from my experience that may help you.
Too Much, Too Soon
The ugly truth is, I did too much, too soon. Audio drama was a path back into writing fiction for me. When I launched Atheist Apocalypse, I did all the writing except for a few, short segments. All told, about 85% of each script was written and edited by me. I wrote, edited, managed further rounds of editing, did all the re-writing, the show running, and administered the podhosting and social media. As soon as the writing was done for one season, I began on the next season while actors and the producer did their thing. We ran three straight seasons before I stopped to launch two more audio drama podcasts.
I’d been bitten by the bug that usually finds anyone venturing into this medium.
Those new podcasts refreshed my creative soul. Whereas I had to immerse myself in the toxic world of nightly news and the dark corners of the internet to find material for the satirical comedy of Atheist Apocalypse, both Subject: Found and Diary of a Madman afforded me the opportunity to simply play in fiction.
I was having an affair and I loved it.
Therein lies the problem. As I stated in the book and as thousands can attest, once you’ve been bitten by the podcasting bug, no anecdote completely removes its delicious poison. Essentially, from the spring of 2015 until the writing of the blog, I’ve been immersed in fiction podcasting.
Underneath the excitement of releasing new episodes, starting new seasons, or hearing from a fan, a rot took hold. If it weren’t for some distasteful things happening in audio drama circles in the latter part of 2018, I might have ever noticed. But the incessant discriminatory and ugly behavior of a clique of newly-empowered audio dramatists left me desiring a place I could exist without the ugliness of selfish humans. Upon deeper reflection, I realized I needed to be in healthy spaces, and audio drama has become too politicized and polarized to be considered healthy any longer. I realized I wanted an avenue out, and had one I could now clearly see.
And who said toxic people can’t be good for you?
Creating Highs and the Nature of Give, Give, Give
Though I would never discourage anyone from exploring, especially with their art, I would be remiss if I didn’t educate those who have never experienced it of the dangers of audio drama, dangers which directly contributed to my exhaustion.
Writing novels is fun. A lot of fun.
But there is something unique about hearing your words brought to life by talented actors and sound designers. It’s one of those part-of-something-larger-than-yourself things. I still listen to those two seasons of Subject: Found and the one-shot series, Who Killed Julie?, with a proud tear in my eye. As great as writing a novel is, and it is, there’s something uniquely transcendent about being the creator of audio drama.
And that’s why you need to be careful if you’re looking at fiction podcasting, regardless of your motives (such as getting back into fiction and raising your brand awareness).
Because you could end up like me.
The peculiar things about creativity is that it is bottomless. Anyone who writes knows there isn’t enough time in life to write a story for every idea they have. Yet, if we don’t give ourselves a break, if we don’t carefully manage our efforts and energy, we can exhaust the well before it has a chance to replenish.
In the first month of 2019, that’s where I find myself.
The exciting, untouched ideas demanding to be written are no longer calling out to me.
The burning desire to create new audio drama has waned.
The 8-year old me who dreamt of publishing dozens of books (at least), is in the corner, pouting and casting angry glances in my direction.
The adult me is slouched at the kitchen table, precariously leaning in the chair. The only thing preventing an embarrassing faceplant is the decision to walk away.
Art Uber Alles
If you’re an artist, you have to protect you above all. You are the artist. You are the creator and the visionary. If you don’t take care of you, it will show, and your art will suffer.
When offering advice about prioritizing projects, Joanna Penn, of The Creative Penn, told me during her interview on Horrible Writing, “you can’t be great at anything if you try to be good at everything.”
At the time, I knew she was correct, but another three months passed before I realized why she was right. One of my strengths is my boundless energy and passion for creating, but one of my weaknesses is my dogged determination. I just don’t let things go and follow through on my commitments. Me and “giving up” don’t exactly get along.
That mindset without commitment (agreeing with Joanna but not changing my behaviors to match) sucked away my energy. I kept writing through the dark days, through the loss of passion and drive.
Now, I was falling out of love.
My current book, a horror novel loosely based on Atheist Apocalypse’s world, was losing any of the bite I am so proud of in 12 Deaths of Christmas. It wasn’t difficult to analyze why that was. I was tired.
Stretched But Rebounding
Only the most abused elastic refuses to rebound. Fortunately for me, I was smart enough to stop stretching myself before I snapped.
Taking all the credit is insincere. In our darkest hours, we can tell who are real friends are. When I was ready to burn the bridge behind me, Sarah Rhea Werner of Girl In Space, had a 90 minute phone conversation with me, pulling me back from the creative edge. During that conversation, she said something profound. In response to my stress of everything I was trying to balance and consider, Sarah simply said, “What would it look like if you made ‘Paul’ a priority?”
Now, folks, that’s what they call a ‘lightbulb’ moment.
An idea I’d toyed with for months was suddenly converted into a decision made.
I was done with audio drama. It’s an exciting medium, being able to create and release and get nearly immediate feedback on your art. But it was that nature that drives many into the ground; each season of audio drama takes thousands of hours and dollars to do right. To continue to give content away for free in accordance with some fabricated timeline from an anonymous voice in the void isn’t sustainable--for the pocketbook or the creative well.
Each sacrifice was paid by my unpublished novels.
‘Paul’ hadn’t been a priority for a long, long time.
The flood gates opened.
And everything changed.
A wellspring of creative energy and motivation erupted through the scorched surface.
I punched through the final edits of my new horror book with vigor.
I began drafting an outline for an epic medieval fantasy, Crown of Thieves.
And I became encouraged in the knowledge that my Patrons will now get the best of me in the form of monthly fiction and two audio dramas (a supernatural thriller and a medieval fantasy).
There is a lot about audio drama podcasting that is wonderful. Much more so than what is wrong with the current environment. But therein lies the danger. It can suck you in.
You just want to enjoy it, like a perfectly warm and sunny summer day.
Never forget, though. Too much time in the sun isn’t good for you.
Grab the sunscreen. Apply liberally.
Take care of yourself so that your art (and you) continues to shine.
Paul Sating is an author and audio dramatist. You can find his drama, horror, thriller fiction at paulsating.com. Tune into the Horrible Writing podcast for writing advice and personal interviews with authors and audio drama writers. If you ever considered getting into podcasting, pick up his how-to book Novel Idea to Podcast: How to Sell More Books Through Podcasting. If you are a fan of Paul’s audio drama, he’s not going completely away; his new medieval fantasy will be released in 2019 for his Patrons and on sale on his website. Be sure to subscribe today to Paul’s new podcast project, a true community project, The Stories We Tell, a storytelling podcast for all voices … and, no, it’s not an audio drama.