Ten years ago today, an audio drama podcast I co-wrote released its first episode
It was called "Everything to Everyone, Part 1," and the title was as much a reflection of the external pressures that the main character, Shauna, struggled with as it was about the script itself, which went through something like twenty-five substantial revisions.
From the start, Second Shift was much more than just a podcast (or "podplay" as we were calling it mid-2006, at the early dawn of podcasting)—it was a unit of measurement that defined a certain period of my life. It grew to occupy every spare moment of my time for more than three years, and encroached too upon time I hadn't given it. I just could not say "no." Second Shift moved into my home, recording its episodes in my basement for the majority of its first season. It was my other girlfriend, my second and third job, my passion, the albatross around my neck... I don't know about "everyone," but for a long long time, it was everything to me.
I wasn't a "writer" before Second Shift
Not really. I mean, I had a degree in creative writing. (I had two, actually, and a resulting pile of student loan debt as tall or taller than my ambitions.) I read a lot of books about writing: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Stephen King's On Writing, Annie Dillard's The Writing Life... if I couldn't bring myself to actually write, then surely reading these fine instruction manuals was almost as good?
...Even if I'd read them several times before?
Once Second Shift really got going, I discovered an inspiration that remains, to this day, my greatest strength and greater vice—an overreliance on impossible deadlines. Sometimes we'd release an episode and I hadn't even started writing the next one yet. Let me tell you—the best possible cure for writer's block is a cast, crew, and growing audience waiting, sometimes impatiently, for your next script.
I stopped thinking, finally, about whether or not I was a Writer. I just wrote.
Thirty episodes later, I learned some things
I learned how to work with a writing partner. I learned to stop being precious about my words. I learned that a bit of comedy helps the drama go down. I learned how weird and wonderful (weirdly wonderful?) it is for people to quote things that I wrote. I learned that my very favorite thing to write is characters over time—how they change, how they don't. I learned that I have surprisingly strong opinions about what makes a good episode title. I learned that having your characters bicker for an entire episode is fun for everyone except the audience.
I learned to listen to the characters (sometimes, for kicks, I also listened to the actors). I learned how to work with directors who were not me. I learned how to fight when something was important. I learned to choose just a few important things, lest I always be fighting. I learned how to write a series finale that, deep down, I wanted to be just a season finale.
It's been ten years, and I still haven't learned how to let go of Second Shift.
These days, the secret is definitely out about podcasts
You've almost certainly heard of them, and you may even have some favorites: Serial, Radiolab, This American Life, TED Radio Hour...
This wasn't the case in 2006–09, when we were actively releasing episodes of this "podcast" thing. Do you listen to it on a computer? (You could, but...) Do you need an iPod? (Nope.) Does it cost money? (No, but you could donate?) Why don't you charge for it? (Should we?) I didn't get it. (That's cool...)
So we had an uphill battle to fight: not only were people not used to listening to stories told in an audio-only format, but the new technology presented some obstacles for the technology adverse. I've found myself wondering these days if Second Shift wouldn't find a much bigger audience if it were being released today. Megahit audio drama podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and We're Alive give me hope that maybe we were really on to something, but we were just a little too early.
Season three of Second Shift will almost certainly never happen, so I won't get to find out. But what if I worked with old friends and new to develop an entirely new series?
What if we released the first episode by the end of this year, 2016?
Well, let's find out.
I am developing a new audio drama series called The Ordinary Epic
Fans of Second Shift will find a lot to love in The Ordinary Epic. I wanted to tell earnest yet funny stories about characters over time—how they change, how they don't—that use fantastic, epic elements to explore how we deal with the "ordinary" stuff of life: work, love, growing up, growing old, keeping friends, finding meaning.
It's the sort of thing I've always wanted to write but didn't quite know how. And had I never been a part of Second Shift, I don't think it ever would have occurred to me that this story needed to be a podcast (and it absolutely does).
Moreover, had I not learned what I did through Second Shift, I'm not sure I'd be writing anything at all.
Cha grendillo fai
Thank you Shauna, Katherine, Mike. Jareth, Arkahn, Fesmer. Zana. Thank you to the cast and crew, especially Nathan Davis for creating the show and Brad Smith for not letting it die. Thank you to my cowriters, John Tanzer and Myssi Cerebi. Thank you to everyone who listened, who discussed the show in our forums, who created magnificent fan art, who penned moving tributes that made me cry fat, manly tears.
Second Shift is still available on iTunes (4.5 stars!). We also have a new website that will, soon, feature new cast and crew commentary that we've been putting together this past year.
I've also made the recording scripts for every single episode available here, on my website.
As for my new show, stay tuned for updates about The Ordinary Epic's development process. If I can capture some of the magic that made Second Shift a time and place I never wanted to leave, then it'll be something pretty special.
Here's to the next ten years.