October 07, 2015

10 writing Questions with Brianna Wiest

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I first stumbled across Brianna Wiest’s work a few years ago via Thought Catalog, I think. I’d become really into the Thought Catalog (in it’s fresher, earlier days), following my favourite writer’s new pieces religiously, mainly Brianna, Jamie Varon and Ryan O’Connell. Finding new writers that you immediately connect with is one of the best things of the Internet in my opinion. It’s such a great feeling when you find a backlog of work of someone new that you can read over a cup of tea.

I found Brianna’s writing when I was going through a bit of a “meh” spell where I was finding so much comfort from reading people’s personal essays. I guess I was also still working out the stuff I wanted to write myself, so I’d read and read and read. I’d get lost in lots of writer’s books, articles and most importantly, their honesty. So I Googled Brianna and found her book on Amazon The Truth About Everything and I remember scribbling on it and covering it with post-it notes. I only do that to books I love. 

So here’s some questions about book-writing, keeping motivated and doing your own thing:

1. Do you ever get “writer’s block” and if so, how do you overcome it.

I don’t think writer’s block is what people think it is. When I feel “stuck” or apathetic about what I’m working on, it almost always means I shouldn’t be doing it. The problem is either that I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to say, or I’m trying to write it in a way that is too far removed from how I would naturally speak or think.

That said – everybody feels unmotivated sometimes, even when they love what they do. The most important work advice I could offer is: do not wait for motivation or inspiration to act. Learn to fuel yourself with something else, something you don’t have to wait for. Passion is the spark that lights the fire, purpose is the kindling that keeps it burning all night. (I have said this so many times, but it’s important, because we’re essentially taught the opposite.

2. How did it feel the first time you saw your book on the shelf/Amazon?

The first time I held the print copy of my first book, it was… weird. I was at my parent’s house, and they were over the moon, but I wasn’t as much. I was happy, but not ecstatic. I feel like this is something you never hear writers say: that what others would consider a “milestone” was a bit lackluster, but I think it’s important, because I know I’m not the only one who felt it was more surreal than exciting. They are two different feelings.

3. Do you ever read your books again after they are published?

I had to re-read my second book to do the audio recording, but other than that – nah. I think it feels like more of a social faux pas than anything – imagine someone walking into your apartment, seeing you on the couch reading your own book! 🙂 

4. Do you read Amazon or have Google Alerts to check out reviews of your work? Or do you tend to not read too many of your book reviews?

I have read the Amazon reviews, and I usually read comments, though I do not – and have never (will never!) – engage with them in any way. I do this because I think if you can get past a bruised ego, you can tap into the most crucial growing tool, which is simply: of the not-so-nice comments, what hurts and what doesn’t? (The stuff that hurts is the stuff you gotta go into, it means somewhere deep down, you know you didn’t do your best, or they could have a point.) You may come out on the other end of that self-exploration deciding that you ultimately disagree, but the point is that you evaluate how you feel about your work, and you do it by going into the emotions that you’d otherwise avoid.

5. Any advice for people looking for literary agents? What do you think is the most important thing about that relationship?

Research the agencies of the writers you admire. This information is usually available online. Don’t settle for the first person or agency who agrees to work with you because you assume nobody else will. Most importantly: it’s not the right fit until the person or group you’re working with ‘gets you’ and ‘gets’ what you want to say. In an ideal scenario, the people who bring your work into the world believe in it as much as you do, and you believe in their ability to do it justice. (This isn’t impossible to find… in fact, far from it. Have faith in how passionate publishers, editors and agents can be.)

6. How involved are you in choosing your book covers?

My books were done with a pretty small publisher, so very, though I can’t say this is the case for everyone.

7. Do you ever write in your phone notes, or in any strange places other than your computer?

Ha! Everywhere! Eventually I got smart about it, because I had all these ideas and starts of stories scattered in notes and Word and Google docs., so I created a mastersheet, and it’s divided into ideas, half-written articles, backup pitches if I’m ever at a loss, and whatever else I come up with. I write ideas down on post-its or notes in my phone – email them to myself – and add them to the sheet. It’s so important to have an idea bank. (Just remember to back the file up. Don’t even ask why I had to add that comment in. Don’t. even. ask.)

8. Do you let any of your family/friends read your material before it’s sent off?

I have never done that. So far, I’ve just been on such quick deadlines I wouldn’t have the time to wait for them to read it and get back to me, but if it were a bigger project, maybe. Though I would be very selective about it. Some people can (unintentionally, I think) err toward unproductively criticizing more than helpfully critiquing, and it’s really important that you go to people who understand your vision and know what the goal is. It’s also important to quell the anxiety of feeling the need to change your ideas to appease other people’s opinions. You know?

9. Favourite thing you’ve ever written?

I couldn’t choose, but a few that come to mind are: experiences we don’t have words for yet, signs you’re doing better than you think, things emotionally intelligent people do not do, why we’re the generation of everything but meaning, and the best covers of Justin Bieber songs.

10. Current project you’re working on?

Soul Anatomy! It began as a passion project (it still is a passion project) but I’ve recently shifted into an official editor position – and brought on some lovely people to work alongside me – and it’s starting to blossom in ways I didn’t expect, which is exciting. It’s still in its infancy, but I’m so proud of what we publish. I’m excited to see what happens next.

You can follow Brianna on Twitter here.

My Book

“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”

– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE

"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"

– The Debrief

“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic