This week we had the pleasure of talking with the creators of the podcast and writing workshop, Endless Beautiful, Carolyn Decker and Lucas Pralle! Together, they have created a unique exercise that encourages people to write (or draw) as they listen to and are inspired by a series of audio clips. We love to see this kind of inventiveness at Literative, since we are always looking for new ways to challenge ourselves and others. That’s why we were thrilled when they decided to have us on their show and partner with us on our September writing contest! We hope you check out our interview with them, subscribe to their podcast, and take the Endless Beautiful challenge to see just where these sounds can take you.
What inspired you to get together and start Endless Beautiful?
I met Carolyn in a writing workshop in Suzhou, China. She was a poet travelling through on a Watson Fellowship, and I was teaching English there. Carolyn brought a poem about a country cemetery in Australia. I brought a chapter about a guy wanking it in the bathroom stall of a Secret Soviet Psychotechnology Lab. I made Carolyn laugh, and she agreed to an interview on the podcast that I was working on in China at the time, Worm Island.
Fast forward a year, and I moved to Rhode Island to be with Carolyn. We decided that we wanted to be more disciplined with our writing, so we came up with a special writing exercise for ourselves. I had recorded some sounds while I was in China – things like coins being dropped into a box and a busy intersection. We took the recorder out with us in Rhode Island and recorded things like pumping gas and going to the beach.
We then combined the sound effects into a 15 minute audio session. Carolyn and I tried it out, listening while writing to a 15 minute audio session, and we were like, “Holy crap. This works really well, and it feels great.” It’s hard to believe, but the original workshop that we developed for ourselves in the very beginning is almost exactly the same as the core of our method today. You can listen to our very first session, Beaches, that features our first stab at the Endless Beautiful method on our website.
Sure, our writing capabilities and my podcasting background helped us have the equipment and knowhow to start Endless Beautiful, but the formation of the method itself, the website, and the podcast was created in about a week! It was like it just fell from the sky, and after we tried it, we knew immediately that we had to do something big with it.
Did you find that there seems to be a need for more of these types of writing workshops?
Absolutely. There are a few levels to this. First off, humans need creative exercise. Just like it’s good to take a walk and to not eat bags of sugar all day, it’s good to engage your mind with creative activities and not just fill it with junk that you find on the internet. It’s important to create, and not just consume. Everyone has that creative potential.
We can also talk about living deliberately, if only for those 15 minutes, the importance of keeping your mental registries cultivated, and appreciating the creative capacity of those around you. That’s all there, and it’s undeniable.
The next level comes into pushing creativity and podcasting into unexplored areas. Endless Beautiful is not the kind of podcast you listen to passively. Sure, you can do that, but you’re not doing it right if you are. We want you to be using the method at home and sharing your results.
You can take what you need from Endless Beautiful. Going back to the exercise parallel: you can go into a gym and walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes. That’s fine. A bodybuilder can also walk into that same gym and bench press 300 lbs. The same goes for Endless Beautiful. You can do a session because you want to have a little fun, or you can go at it because you want to hone your craft and write the best possible story you can in 15 minutes. The Endless Beautiful method is a tool. Use it for what you need it for. It works no matter your level of experience as a creative person.
Sound is lightweight. It takes up significantly less mental resources than visuals. You can duck in and out of an Endless Beautiful session and grab onto sounds when you need to push your creativity along. You would probably have a seizure if we tried the same thing with visuals.
We use specific types of sound clips too. We’re trying to open the door for the listener’s creativity, and leave as much space as possible for them to make magic. We want multi-layered audio clips. For instance, I don’t want just a recording of dripping water. I also want a mother scolding her child in the background for being careless in a rainy street. We want dogs barking off to the side. That way you can take what you need, drawing inspiration from various elements of the recording.
How do you collect your sounds?
We use Zoom recorders. We have a Zoom H5, with a super-sensitive shotgun microphone attachment. We also use a Zoom H1, which is a much smaller, less intrusive looking device. Carolyn and I have the recorders on us when we go out collecting on the weekends. Collecting audio samples for Endless Beautiful sessions is one of my favorite things to do in the world. It makes us pay attention to our surroundings in a really special way.
Do you ever use music?
No. Not purely music anyway. Things like music or a conversation can take up too much mental space. They tend to have too much influence during a session and draw too much of our concentration away from the creative process. There are exceptions to this, but any recording that we use is in service of the audio session and ultimately the piece of art that is created.
Don’t get me wrong, I listen to music when I’m working on creative projects all the time, but the Endless Beautiful method is trying to maximize possibilities, and help you explore hidden creative potential in unexpected ways. I listen to music that I like because it makes me feel comfortable.
Endless Beautiful sessions are not about making you feel comfortable. You might hate a portion and love another spot. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a song. It’s an interface that allows you to access the creative spirit.
Have you ever expanded on what you’ve written in a session to create a full-length, finished work?
We wrote a story that we performed for a fundraising event at a local nonprofit. Carolyn and I set parameters where she would play a 6 minute section of a random Endless Beautiful session while I wrote. I then handed it off and she repeated the process except with a 5 minute session and so on. We then took it and polished it up into a damn good story that could not have been created in any other way. The story is called “The Transmission”, and the only people that have heard it were at that fundraiser.
I’ll be honest, my definition of a “finished” work has changed drastically after running Endless Beautiful for about a year now. To me, the podcast episodes, which include what was written and the resulting conversations are stand-alone pieces of art. Every episode of the podcast is a new entry into the gallery. Endless Beautiful is never finished.
A friend recently sent a picture of a painting that she had created while listening to a few of the podcast episodes. She said the conversation fueled the creative process just as much as the sounds, and that it felt like Carolyn and I had created the art with her. We specifically seek to blur the boundaries of where art begins and ends.
Do you ever use other types of writing prompts to help you get started? Photos, written prompts, etc.
We focus on audio, but that doesn’t mean that other influences are excluded. So maybe we saw a music video, or read a story, or saw a photo that inspired us prior to doing a session. The Endless Beautiful method allows us examine those things and unleash our creative potential.
Lucas, you’re also working on a serialized audiobook called, Inner Harsh and two other podcasts (Red Eye Report and Worm Island) on top of Endless Beautiful. You seem to be drawn to the world of audio storytelling. Can you tell us a how you would approach an audio project differently from how you would a written one?
Inner Harsh is where I really got into the power of audio storytelling and using multimedia to push the limits of fiction. All of the music in Inner Harsh is original custom music that I wrote and recorded to help me tell the story. I really fell in love with the process of producing something like that and the enormous expressive potential of it. Using sounds lets me add more layers of meaning and employ techniques that are not possible with the written word alone.
I’m also a big believer in oral storytelling. I need to read every sentence that I write aloud. If it doesn’t sound right, then it isn’t right. I think the rhythm and cadence of writing is extremely important.
It was also a trip hearing the narrator’s interpretation of the reading. Larry read Inner Harsh in his own way, and sometimes that wasn’t how I would have read it, but it was fascinating to hear how it came out. I think that opened my mind to the power of collaboration, even with something as private as the written word.
Carolyn, you are a wetland biologist! That’s got to be a fascinating field. I imagine you have seen, studied, and heard all types of interesting life forms. Do you find that your field of study has actually helped inspire your creative works?
It absolutely does! The days I spend outdoors among the plants, wildlife, and landscapes of New England constantly filter into my writing. I studied and work in the environmental sciences because understanding the natural world around me makes me a more keenly observant poet. It helps me express my ideas and feelings in the context of a place, with the reality that other things also occupy that place. I love science, and I especially love blending the worlds of science and creative writing. Nature always inspires. It teaches me to look both inward and outward.
You guys have graciously allowed us to be on your podcast to do an interview and a sound session, which we will then use as our prompt for our monthly writing contest in Sept. Do you have any tips for our readers on how to approach a sound prompt?
We loved having you on the show! As you experienced, Endless Beautiful is catching creative lightning in a bottle. If you try to hold onto what you created too tight and begin to doubt yourself, you are going to lose that spark. So what I’m saying is, don’t think about it too much! Do the session and submit what you came up with!
Check out the full interview here:
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Inner Harsh and a few more stories can be found on www.innerharsh.com. I promise the new season will come someday! You can hear that first silly interview with Carolyn on www.wormisland.com and meet the ridiculous cast of that deserted wasteland. There’s also www.theredeyereport.com. Do not listen to this show. (Just kidding. It’s a lot of fun, just don’t listen if you get easily offended.)
We would like to thank Lucas and Carolyn from Endless Beautiful for allowing us to be on their show and giving our readers a fantastic opportunity to participate in their unique creative writing sessions! We hope you all check out their site, listen to our session, and create something of your own to share with us on our contest page! Remember, 1st place winner will win a 30 dollar Amazon gift card and have their work featured on our blog! Second place winners will receive 15 dollars! You can listen to our full interview by click the link above, or if you just can’t wait to start writing, click below for just the sound prompt!