How long did it take you to write the first episode/ how long does it take you to write a typical episode now that you're in full swing?
It’s hard to recall the timing on Episode 1, but I can certainly tell you how long it takes nowadays. The first step is finding a few good reference books (or other materials) and perusing them. The time needed for that can vary pretty widely. After I’ve reviewed the materials, the next (and main) step involves around 8 – 12 hours of solid writing. Then I usually let the draft episode “sit” for a few days, then come back to it once or twice more to fine-tune things a bit. When you add in researching pronunciations, etc., I’d say 12 – 16 hours of work per episode is pretty ballpark, and 20 isn’t unusual. Which is why I decided to go with a 2-week schedule. Since I have a “regular job,” this is all evenings and weekends for me.
How do you sort out contradictory accounts? I want to get my facts straight, but I'm beginning to realize there are always going to be 10 people with 11 different versions of the story.
Even using primary sources, this can be a tough one. I do my best to cross-check important (or dubious!) facts across multiple accounts; then you can have some reassurance you’re relating the most solid version of the story. Where differing accounts can’t be reconciled, I try to relate what’s considered the most plausible, well-documented and/or commonly accepted version, but also mention that there are other possible versions. I recall doing this with, for example, both the death of Croesus and with Cyrus’ capture of Babylon.
How forgiving, on a scale from 1 to Assyrian (1 being very forgiving and Assyrian being "display my skin at a dinner party") are the listeners about mistakes?
Since I’ve rarely been called out on any mistakes, and I’m pretty sure I must’ve made a few along the way, I can only assume TAW listeners are VERY forgiving! Oh, except they do get annoyed when you don’t pronounce the K in “Knossos.”
What did your outlines/drafts look like for each episode? Was there a general formula?
In my experience, six single-spaced pages comes out to around 30 minutes of podcast, which is typically around the length I’m shooting for. My usual approach is to intentionally over-write a bit, then come back and edit out the less important chunks (“trim the fat”) and still end up at around 30 minutes. Other than that, the only “formula” I had for the original series was trying to discuss around three different civilizations per episode. But formulas can also be a double-edged sword. I’d mainly concentrate on finding your own voice, and letting your genuine passion for the material shine through.
Is there anything technical that you didn't know going in that would be useful for me?
I try to keep my logistics as simple as possible since, although I AM and engineer, I am NOT a technophile. I use Audacity to record my audio files (using a Yeti Blue USB microphone) and convert them to MP3’s, then use FileZilla to transfer them to my file hosting website. I’ve only had one major technical issue I can think of (knock on wood!): If you use Google Feedburner to burn your podcast feeds, by default it only keeps the most recent 25 posts active. That means, for example, that when I posted my 26th blog post, Episode 1 was no longer appearing in iTunes (my 27th post knocked out Episode 2, etc.). Luckily, a listener told me how to change the number of active posts in Feedburner from the default 25 to any number (mine’s currently set for 99), which fixed the problem. Oh, and in an unrelated (but still technical) vein, investing some time in learning how to edit your audio files will reduce your stress when you keep “blowing that one line” in your podcast script. Take it from me - good editing can cover a multitude of sins.
Hope this information is useful. Now go make history!