“The Couch to 80k” Writing Boot Camp: Take a Free 8-Week Podcast Course to Start Writing Fiction, or Even Finish a Novel

Image by Book Mama via Flickr Commons

We've all read fiction, but how to go about writing it? Nobody has the definitive answer, and there, in the multiplicity of possible approaches, methods, and frames of mind, lies both the challenge and the fascination of the craft. The English writer Tim Clare, who before reaching forty years of age has published poetry, a memoir, and a novel as well as hosted a television series called How to Get a Book Deal, seems to know that full well. Hence the variety of challenges he'll put you through in "The Couch to 80k" (80,000 words being the industry-standard length of a novel), his free eight-week fiction-writing "boot camp" available for anyone to take free online.

Produced as a part of Clare's writing-advice podcast Death of 1000 Cuts, the mini-series consists of 48 episodes, each of which, he says, "teaches you new writing skills through a 10 minute exercise – it even times you while you do the exercise, so once the podcast finishes, you’re done for the day. No homework!"




You need only "something to listen to them on, and a pen and notebook or a laptop, so you can write. The whole idea is to give you something low commitment but intense, packing in everything you’d learn on a Fiction MA and more, so every day you’re doing focused exercises that build upon your previous work and rapidly build your imaginative muscles."

Clare's jokey, conversational tone makes the course entertaining even if you don't actually want to write fiction, though Clare himself, in the very first episode (above), cautions strongly against listening unless you're ready to put pen to paper — and ready to consign everything you've written on that paper, through all eight weeks, straight to the recycle bin. Some of the challenges Clare throws down may seem silly, but they do get you writing, and he undergirds the series with forays into more technical matters like the "mathsy business of sentence composition" as well. Reviewing his novel Honours, the Guardian's Sarah Perry called Clare "a storyteller who knows what his reader wants, and isn’t shy of giving plenty of it." As this boot camp reveals, he's also a teacher who knows what his students need.

Enter the "The Couch to 80k" bootcamp here. And if you follow it through to completion, "you’ll have the knowledge and the motivation to finish a novel."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Slow Burn: An Eight-Episode Podcast Miniseries on the Unfolding of the Watergate Scandal

A crime was committed during a presidential campaign. Then came a cover up and other skullduggery. Finally, there was a resignation. Nope, we're not talking about the trajectory of the Mueller investigation. We're talking about Watergate--the subject of Slow Burn, a new, eight-episode podcast miniseries from Slate.

Available on iTunes, the web, and other podcast players, Slow Burn zeroes in on the questions: "What did it feel like to live through the scandal that brought down a president? What was that strange, wild ride like?" Below, you can read the introductory words from the podcast's host, Leon Neyfakh. And then stream the first episode called "Martha," as in Martha Mitchell, wife of John Mitchell, the Attorney General of the United States under President Nixon.

One day at the end of April 1973, Richard Nixon stood on a porch at Camp David and told John Ehrlichman he wanted to die. Nixon had summoned Ehrlichman, his long-serving domestic policy adviser, to tell him he was being fired from the White House.

Nixon had been dreading the conversation, but he knew it had to be done. The Department of Justice had recently informed the president that Ehrlichman could be facing criminal charges. Nixon felt the walls closing in.

Later, Nixon would tell the journalist David Frost how he gave his old friend the news: “I said, ‘You know, John, when I went to bed last night … I hoped—I almost prayed—I wouldn’t wake up this morning.’ ” According to Ehrlichman, the president then began to sob. It would be 15 months before he resigned from office.

So, that’s how Richard Nixon felt as the Watergate story went from a curious burglary to a national obsession. What was it like for everyone else? That’s the animating question behind my new eight-episode podcast series for Slate, Slow Burn.

Episode 1: Martha

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Discover the Creative, New Philosophy Podcast Hi-Phi Nation: The First Story-Driven Show About Philosophy

Let me call your attention to a new and quite different philosophy podcast. Created by Barry Lam (Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College), Hi-Phi Nation is a philosophy podcast "that turns stories into ideas." Consider it "the first sound and story-driven show about philosophy, bringing together narrative storytelling, investigative journalism, and soundtracking."

Above you can watch a trailer that introduces Hi-Phi Nation, which is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud and this website. Below, hear Episode 9 of Season 1, called "The Ashes of Truth." Among other things, it features filmmaker Errol Morris.

The first season of Hi-Phi Nation has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the Humanities-Writ Large Fellowship, and other institutions. Learn more about the show by reading these write-ups by Vassar and Princeton.

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Alec Baldwin Has a Podcast: Hear His Intimate Interviews with Patti Smith, Thom Yorke, Jerry Seinfeld, Ira Glass, Amy Schumer & More

It somehow escaped me. Alec Baldwin has a podcast. With 133 episodes in its archive, Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin  (Web - iTunes - Feeds) features "intimate and honest conversations" with "artists, policy makers and performers – to hear their stories, what inspires their creations, what decisions changed their careers, and what relationships influenced their work." Below, we've embedded his recent conversation with Patti Smith. It's quite good. But there are so many others worth a mention. Let me rattle off a quick list: REM's Michael Stipe, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Pollan, Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow, William Friedkin, Paul Simon, Ira Glass, Jerry Seinfeld, David Simon, Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Lena Dunham, Peter Frampton, David Letterman, Carol BurnettKristen Wiig, SNL's Lorne Michaels, and Chris Rock.

Click the links to stream each interview, and don't miss Baldwin's new memoir, NeverthelessHe happens to narrate the audiobook version, which you can download for free if you sign up for Audible.com's 30-day free trial. We have info on that here.

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An Epic Retelling of the Great Chinese Novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms: 110 Free Episodes and Counting

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, and its literary influence in East Asia rivals that of Shakespeare in the English speaking world. "Written 600 years ago," writes the BBC, "it is an historical novel that tells the story of a tumultuous period in Chinese history, the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Partly historical and partly legend, it recounts the fighting and scheming of the feudal lords and the three states which came to power as the Han Dynasty collapsed."

And now the ancient meets the modern...

If you listen to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms podcast, you can hear John Zhu's attempt to retell this epic tale and make it accessible to a Western audience. The first 110 episodes are available on YouTube, the web, and iTunes--with at least another 10 to come. Quite a feat. Have a listen.

To learn more about Romance of the Three Kingdoms, listen to this episode of the BBC's In Our Time.

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S-Town: The Podcast That Will Help You Binge-Listen Your Way Through This Week

Last week, the folks behind Serial and This American Life, teamed up to release S-Town (short for Shittown), a seven-episode/seven-hour podcast which I devoured in three days flat. I don't want to give any spoilers. So let me give you just the text that promotes the podcast on iTunes, and then suggest you start listening:

John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who's allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man's life.

Find episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, RSS feed, Radio Public, or the web.

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Listen to Presidential, The Washington Post’s Podcast Exploring Each & Every U.S. President

A quick heads up on President's Day: The Washington Post presents Presidential, a podcast that explores how "each American president reached office, made decisions, handled crises and redefined the role of commander-in-chief." Naturally, it starts with George Washington. Hear that episode below.

Presidential is hosted by WashPo editor Lillian Cunningham and features Pulitzer Prize-winning historians like David McCullough and journalists like Bob Woodward. Right now you can get all 45 episodes (each about 30-50 minutes long) on iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher.

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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