Did you know that aspiring authors spend thousands of dollars just to get onto a creative writing program?
Frustrated by the lack of transparency in the process, Jared McCormack and Hana Skoblow found a way to help prospective students save money and make good choices.
They launched a podcast.
The MFA Writers podcast offers a window into what Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs around the USA offer. It also gives emerging authors a platform to be discovered for the first time, and the opportunity to hear the work of other budding writers.
To help spread the word, Hana and Jared set up a website. It is now home to the podcast alongside Jared’s own writing.
We caught up with Jared and Hana to discover the vision behind the podcast. We also heard how a scheme to surprise Jared with a new Zyro website for his birthday backfired.
Talk radio was always a part of our life
Jared: The idea for our own podcast started when I was applying for MFA programs and was searching for information. I thought at the time that there must be a podcast interviewing MFA students, so I looked and there wasn’t.
I ended up getting into the program here at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. One of the professors has his own successful podcast, called ‘Fiction/Non/Fiction’. This past spring he offered a podcasting class for the first time, which I took.
This podcast started in that class and I actually enjoyed it a lot, so afterward I decided to keep doing it.
I started out thinking this could be a good resource for applicants. I did a couple of episodes and my professor said: “It’s clear that you’re more interested in the craft and the story of the writers. You should lean more into that.”
Hana: I’m the real podcast listener.
Growing up in a family listening to NPR, talk radio was always a part of my life. When podcasts took off, it just became an easy way for me to keep up with all these stories that I really enjoy.
I found that the ones that are educational are the ones I enjoy the most. So, that naturally transitioned me to interview podcasts.
The podcast is an important resource for aspiring authors
Jared: There are enough podcasts where people interview authors who are well-known, and they say the same things on all the podcasts. But there are no podcasts with people who are just starting to become writers.
Ideally, the podcast will be a resource that, once it’s grown, students can use to really narrow down the number of schools they’re applying to.
Not only that, but the podcast has become a two-part thing: half of it’s a resource for applicants, and half of it’s a resource for current MFA students (or anyone who’s interested in writing) to hear about the craft and hear what it’s like to be an emerging writer.
We’ve been so lucky that our interviewees have all been amazing. That was one of the biggest surprises.
One question we had early on was: “How well are these interviews going to go with people who haven’t had experience doing interviews?”
But every single one of them has been amazing so far.
Hana: Only Jared does the interviews, so when I get the final cut and get to listen to it, my reaction is always, “well, this is the best one yet.”
I’ve said it every time. So, our most recent episode is my favorite, but ask me again in two weeks and that will have changed.
I wanted to know where I fit
Hana: Generally, we don’t ask anybody to read a specific thing when they come onto our podcast. Sometime we’ll reach out and say, “I found you because I read this piece that I really enjoyed.”
Most people bring things that they’re currently working on. They’re not finished, and it’s a chance for them to do their first reading.
Maybe it’s still in flux and they realize things while they’re reading that they want to change. But we leave it up to them.
Jared: Sometimes they’ll send us a longer piece which is going to be more than 5 minutes, and then we choose a segment of it for them to read.
That’s definitely one of my favorite parts.
One thing when I was applying to MFA programs that was that I didn’t know where I fit in among this population of emerging writers.
So when people listen to our podcast, they have a chance to say: “Ok, this is closer to where I am.” Or, if they’re already in a program, they get the chance to see what other people are writing across the country.
The best birthday gift – a website
Hana: I made Jared a website for his birthday. He had been talking about it for a while.
The website was finished, but a few days before his birthday he was talking about it again, and said, “I’m just going to see whether somebody bought this domain.”
Jared: I checked it out, and said, “Somebody bought jaredmccormack.com. Can you believe that?!”
I was getting really upset, so Hana said, “Ok, we’re just going to pretend it’s your birthday today. Look at my laptop!”
Hana: I went through a lot of different website building platforms. I had many different websites going at once, and had one on Wix, one on Weebly, and one on Squarespace.
I was looking at all of them together and they all had real pros and they were all very pretty. But there were affordability issues with some, and there were ease of use issues with others.
If I ever have an issue that I don’t know how to tackle myself, I just use the live chat and somebody gets back to me right away.
Sometimes I’ll say, “I still don’t know how to do that, can you do that for me?” and they’ll just do it for me.
Zyro allowed it to be really streamlined so that it looks professional.
All you need is a laptop, a closet, and a website
Jared: This is something that we want to continue doing. There are over 250 MFA programs in the United States, so we have a ton to cover if we continue releasing a new episode every two weeks.
And we’ll definitely continue; talking to emerging writers and giving them a way to get their work out there is something that we love doing.
We hope that the show is able to promote writers at the start of their careers and help them receive the attention they deserve.
Hana: The advice that I would give to people is this: while starting a podcast can feel like a really intimidating, big move, it’s all very possible.
You just need an idea, and you need content you can continue to produce for a long period of time. Add a laptop, a closet, and a website to the mix, and you’re there.