The moment I heard about Jim Salestrom, I knew. Not only was this the story I wanted to do for the Transom Traveling Workshop, but I knew in my gut the story was also about me.
I came to the Transom Traveling Workshop with all sorts of notions as to what Good and Bad in audio storytelling means. I’ve been hanging out around these parts for quite a while now. My love affair with, and frankly my need for, this medium as a listener has also opened up something that has grown in me alongside: I want to make stories, too. And I want them to be good.
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I started to pay attention: Reading about the thing, talking about the thing, gathering equipment for the thing, trying my hand at the thing, taking $15 online classes in the thing, even going so far as to land a fantastic job in the thing…getting to work directly with people who actually DO the thing!
I applied for the Transom Traveling Workshop knowing it’s like the Ivy League School of audio storytelling training camp without actually being a school. Not only did I want to learn to make something, but to learn the proper way to make something: what the best equipment is and how to use it, writing, recording, editing, levels, what’s the perfect length. . . essentially The Rules. And of course I had lots of assumptions and beliefs as to what those rules are.
Rule #1: Real Journalists Make Serious Stuff (and keep themselves out of the story).
Reality: I worked myself up to the point of tears with my entire class admitting the truth of this story as it came to me, and that I was in it as a subject. To my amazement, no one had an issue with this — they even encouraged it!
Rule #2: Use The Right Gear. (Something like the TASCAM 1776, or the ZOOM H1N1…right??)
Reality: Doesn’t matter. Use your iPhone. Get something decent that you can afford and just start recording.
Rule #3: This one is more like an assumption: Collaborating on stories, and reading and editing each other’s scripts, will expose all of my weaknesses as a writer and my shallow ideas. It will be torture, it will be humiliating, but it will be good for me. Like broccoli.
Reality: The latter was true, the former was not. In fact, it actually made me feel better about my writing. Collaborating with a supportive peer group and leaders not only made the story better, it focused it and gave me ideas which I willingly used, and invested me deeply in other people’s stories and processes, and gave me a new community. I also happen to like broccoli.
Rule #4: The right length for this piece, for a “real” radio piece, is about 4.5 minutes.
Reality: I panicked when mine came in at 10+ minutes, only after brutal slashing (torture!) and rewriting. “They are going to send me packing!” You know what they said? The best story length is as long as the story needs to be. This story is 10+ minutes.
I also got some things right.
An enormous amount of work goes into making good audio stories. All of the writing and rewriting, collaborating, shaping, editing, leveling. . .it takes hours. Days.
All of that logging of tape and transcribing that I was really hoping to find out one doesn’t actually have to do? It was an essential resource as I tried to find the story I was trying to structure again and again.
There’s a method to the madness. It’s worth learning the process.
Most of what I’ve been assuming in this realm turns out to be true. Dang.
Amazingly, the piece I wound up making paralleled this exact journey. In its essence, the story is about just being who you are. Real Journalists DO make serious stuff, and they do keep themselves out of the story. I am enormously indebted to, and in awe of, the people who do this. The thing is. . . I’m not a journalist. I don’t need to try to pretend to be or try to be in order to make stuff. The stuff I want to make is the stuff that comes out me.
Whether it’s Good or not? I have no idea.
What I do know is that I mean it. That it’s honest. That I did it. That it was really hard. That I needed help and got help, and that I always will.
I walked away from my week at the Transom Traveling Workshop with not only permission, but determination, to let go of the rest. We’ll see how it goes.