Podcasting is hard, and I don't say that to whine or complain, but it is just hard. When I first came up with the idea for History of the Great War I figured I would just spend a few hours a week, and bam episodes would appear. I have read a lot about the First World War in the last decade so really I could just jump into a topic and talk for 20 minutes no problem, right? Right! Wrong! Keeping the show going has been far more difficult than I first imagined and it has taught me some very valuable lessons. At the end of 1914 the soldiers and leaders of Europe were reeling from the setbacks of 5 months of war, trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. As I move out of 2014 and into 2015, I thought I would do the same. Below is a list of 6 lessons that I have learned over the first 18 episodes of the podcast, in no real order.
I Know Nothing
I've read some books, a lot of books, on the First World War and it has been my primary area of historical non-fiction reading over the years. This led me to assume that I had a pretty good set of foundational knowledge and all I had to do was top it off with a few numbers, dates, and names and I would be good to go. Completely incorrect. The problem with all of my previous reading was that I wasn't reading it from the right mindset, I was reading it to for the story. This is still valuable in the podcast, getting those high level themes and narratives, but I wasn't absorbing the real meat of the information. The biggest problem is that I didn't figure this out until I was about 3 episodes deep into the podcast, right in the thick of maybe the most difficult topic of the first 2 years of the war, the July Crisis. There have been entire books, many of them, written on the July Crisis of 1914 and there I was the amateur historian trying to distill it out into a few episodes of a podcast. I found my previous knowledge practically useless, it was too high level and half the time was just flat wrong. When I listen to the episodes now I fear I did not do justice to the complex series of political maneuverings and one-upmanship.
Good Quality Research Takes a Long Time
This ties back into the amateur historian piece of the puzzle. I have never attempted anything even remotely close to this, about the only thing that came close was that 12 page paper I wrote in college on Operation Market Garden in my one semester as a history major. My preconceived notions about the time it would take to do the necessary research proved to be very low, very very low. This ties into the point above as well, I assumed I had a greater percentage of the required knowledge than I had. This meant not only did I expect to do less research than I had to, I also expected it to go faster. This resulted in two things I was unhappy with. I didn't feel like I was doing the material justice in some cases, I just wasn't putting in the time to get enough of the information and I didn't have any more time to put in. I don't believe that I ever misrepresented information, simply that there were interesting stories and fun tidbits that I couldn't get to. With my goal of shipping the podcast once a week, once that episode train got rolling I was determined not to stop it.
This brings me to my absence for a few weeks in October, and my ultimate decision to stop episodes until December. All of those weeks had episodes in the plan, but I was at a point where I just couldn't keep going on them. By early October I had been going on a week-to-week basis for about 2 months, weeks that generally involved 5 nights of nothing but podcast work. Not only was I exhausted from doing it, I wasn't happy with what was coming out the other side. I do think that the break has allowed me to really prepare, with the knowledge of how much preparation is needed, for the next set of episodes. This fact makes me even more excited to continue the episodes into the future.
Sometimes, Recording is Real Tough
I have a new found respect for anybody who does any form of public speaking day in and day out. There are times when I have problems speaking well, or I am just tired of talking, not to mention any time I am hit with any kind of sickness. There have been multiple times when I spend hours trying to record an episode because I simply lose the ability to properly enunciate and pronounce words. This really rose to the absolute peak during Episode 16 when I kept trying to say the phrase "German ships shelled" for probably a solid 20 minutes, just doing the paragraph over and over again. Yes, I am aware that I could have changed my phrasing, but I wasn't going to let those words get the best of me! My pride was at stake!
The Technical Side Bogged Me Down
I am a developer by trade, so I like doing websites and doing that technical stuff like XML editing and server configuration fiddling. Constantly playing with my site, my feed, and other technical aspects really stole time from the episode content. There would be afternoons I would spent just futzing with one small little piece of the site which doesn't matter, instead of working on the next episode. There was also that one time I completely took down the site for a few days because I wanted to move my image storage location to a different folder, I try not to talk about that too much.
Things Will Not Go As Planned
I had the perfect plan for each episode, every episode had precise pieces that would fit in the date range for the week and for the topic to be discussed. I was even in the habit of announcing what was on the next podcast far before I had even begun working on the outline. What I learned very quickly is that what I thought would take 20 minutes took 5 and what I thought would be half an episode would be a tiny piece. It was always kind of a sinking feeling when I thought I had this amazing topic that I thought I could go on about forever, and it was done in 2 sentences. I would sit and stare at the page trying to find some new angle or interesting fact, something, anything to make this topic be as awesome as I expected. There would also be times when I would plan on writing several minutes worth of episode on a topic, get it written out, and realize it was either boring or completely pointless information. The 10 minutes worth of content I wrote on the history of naval warfare at the beginning of episode 15 was cut for just this reason. Was it all good information? Sure. Did it really tie into the topic at hand? Nope.
Listeners are Awesome
In general I'm not a huge creative person. Art isn't generally my thing and I certainly can't play any musical instruments. So I have never really experienced the feeling of creating something and then releasing it out into the world for other people to experience and give you feedback on. I may have been more nervous after hitting publish on that first episode than I was on my first date. What I have experienced since then is just awesome. Being able to discuss these topics with like-minded people has been a ton of fun. I can't thank everybody enough for all of the encouragement and kind words that have been sent my way. I have to suppress a squeal every time I get a new like on Facebook, a new follower on Twitter, or a new review on iTunes. Especially if you stuck with me through this entire article, you are awesome.
While looking back at past episodes for this article I found the original page that had my entire idea for this podcast from back in May, so small a thing, into so many hours of work:
World War I in real time. Every week have a podcast that discusses the events of the preceding week. Has to start by June 28 to coincide with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.