The Pit of Despair and Self-Doubt
Hello friends,

Have you ever had one of those stories?

You know the kind. The kind where everything goes wrong.

Your interview subjects bail. The story keeps changing. You find yourself on short deadline with way too much tape and no clue what you're trying to say.

Yeah, me too.
During times like these, it's good to have a best friend who gets you.
I'm big on preaching the power of prep, but I sometimes forget to acknowledge that it's not always possible to have a fully formed outline before asking your first interview question.

Sometimes, you just gotta wing it.

That was me, just last week. I was writing an episode for The Long Game. It was pegged to the start of the Qatar World Cup. So it had to get done. No excuses.

Plan A was nixed because of breaking news. Plan B went wrong when the people I was planning to interview stopped responding to my emails. (It happens.)

Plan C suggested I talk to someone else instead. Plan D was eager to talk, but ultimately couldn't find the time.

So that leaves us with Plan E.

Now I don't want to offend Plan E. I was really excited about Plan E. Three guests. Three great interviews.

But my original plan had been to produce a single narrative interview with lots of sound design and news clips. Something along the lines of The Daily.

Instead, I had three separate interviews. And I was gonna need narration to pull them all together.

I had not budgeted enough time to write narration.

A narrated story just takes longer to put together. You've gotta figure out how to introduce multiple characters. Balance differing viewpoints. Follow multiple timelines.

It's just more complicated.

Usually, I'd have a sense of it all ahead of time. I'd know that this person is going to be my main character, so I ask them for a bunch of character details.

I know this other person is going to give me context and analysis, so I focus their interview on that.

But this time around, I didn't know what I was going to get until I got it.

That's how I ended up on short deadline with absolutely no idea what story I was trying to tell.

Oh…and did I mention that I had to get the script to my editors by Wednesday night, so I could get up at 3:30am on Thursday morning, fly to NYC and moderate a panel for a UN conference on sports?


Big pressure.

So, in the interest of transparency and openness, I'm gonna tell you the exact steps I took to get myself out of this pickle.

Sunday: Spend a couple hours listening back to interviews #1 and #2. Identify selects — cuts I'd maybe like to use. Record interview #3.

Breathe a sigh of relief that at least I will have something.

Monday morning: Realize there's one more person I'd really love to talk to. Put in a request. Spend a little time wondering if I should wait to hear back before I start writing.

Hop on the first of 5 1/2 hours of Zoom calls I have scheduled for the day.

(None of them relate in any way to the episode I'm trying to write.)


Monday, between Zoom calls: Pull all selects into a single Google doc. Use headers to organize by story beat.

Check the word count and realize that I already have more than 9000 words -- just in selects -- for a piece that's only supposed to be 4500 words, including narration.


Text my best friend, who reassures me that the right answer is probably gonna come to me in my sleep.
Tuesday: Wake up. Realize that the answer did not come to me in my sleep.


Truly, I can't tell you what else happened on Tuesday. It's as if I entered a black hole. A pit of despair and self-doubt.

I know I spent almost the whole day on the piece. Pulling cuts and scouring the internet for additional sound bites. But by the end of the day, I was still only 1/3 of the way through. I still had 8000 words in my selects doc. And panic was setting in hard.

Tuesday night, after a couple glasses of wine: Sit down with pen and paper. List out the 10-12 story beats that are top of mind. The ones I can't imagine the story without.

Loosely arrange the bullet points in a shape that makes sense. Gain a tiny bit of confidence. Like, if I stick to this plan, I might actually have something.

Pray for a good night's sleep.

Wednesday morning: Go to PT. Hop on a mostly-social networking call with other women podcasters.

Forget that I'm supposed to be panicking.

Wednesday at noon: Get an email from my editor asking where the script is. Realize that I'm well and truly screwed. Promise my editor a script before morning, even if I have to stay up all night. (I can be dramatic sometimes.)

Send my best friend a bunch of panicked texts about how I'm never going to get done in time.
Wednesday at 1:30: Hop on what's supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour long planning session for another project. Beg off after an hour because I'm having trouble concentrating due to the impending sense of doom.

Spend the next few hours working, but accomplishing little.

Drink water. Pee. Repeat.

I have never been so well-hydrated.

Wednesday at 4:56: Send my best friend another string of semi-incoherent, panicked texts.
Receive the customary "You can do it!" response from the best friend, which — in this particular case — is probably code for, "Shut the F up and start writing already. You don't have time for all this nonsense."

Shortly thereafter: Find my end. Finish pulling cuts.

Write. Edit. Re-write.

Wednesday at 8:29pm: Send a finished script to my editors.


Fill my lungs fully with air for the first time in three and a half days.
And truly, despite all that drama, I really love how this piece turned out. It has tension. And heart. A little bit of debate. A ton of girl power.

Would the piece have been better if I had it all planned out from the start?


But maybe not.

Generally, this newsletter is filled with tips on how to make this job easier. How to move forward in a way that's efficient and systematic. How to avoid panic and dread.

But sometimes, you're still going to find yourself in the pit of despair and self-doubt. You haven't done anything wrong. It's not your fault.

And you can find your way out. I promise.

You can do it!
Are you subscribed to Narrative Beat yet? Click here to subscribe now!
One quick note before I let you go. I've decided to open this month's Narrative Beat chat to anyone who wants to attend. (It's usually only open to Community members.)

We'll be meeting on Monday, Nov. 28 at noon Eastern. If you'd like to join us, just reply to this email, and I'll send you the invite!

And I know that this newsletter has become super international and all, but Happy Thanksgiving to folks in the U.S. As always, my husband and I will be spending the day in our pajamas...eating nachos. Not exactly traditional, but a lovely way to spend the holiday nonetheless.