I've been following Brianna Wiest's work for years. In fact, she is one of the few people who inspired me to start sharing my own words. Why? Because she is humble and entirely herself. Because not only does she admit she's still figuring it out, but she takes us, her readers, along with her, one beautifully-penned piece at a time. Because everything, from her emails to her tweets, radiates the kind of light that few do. Because she is a truly great talent and kind soul.
That's why I'm honoured to share the ridiculously exciting news of her new poetry book, Salt Water, right here on BiancaBass.com. In this conversation we discuss her relationship with writing, commercialising your creative work and, of course, Salt Water. Enjoy. Brianna is a dream.
Hi Brianna! Thank you so much for your time. Let me firstly start by saying how much I admire you and all that you do. For the few of my readers who *haven't* come across your words (yet!), can you share a little about yourself? What originally drove you to start writing, and is that it same thing that drives you today?
Thank you. I'm a writer and editor, and I cover everything from entertainment to local lifestyle, though I think I am best known for writing on emotional intelligence.
My writing genesis story began in college. I submitted an article to Thought Catalog with the intent of just having something – anything – published. I thought it would look good on my résumé while looking for jobs. I wanted to be an editor, and actually did get hired by Thought Catalog to do just that, but it was clear pretty quickly that writing was my greater strength, and it blossomed from there. It was not actually what I preferred to do at the time, I was really self-conscious. I have a degree in Professional Writing but I actually never took a creative writing class, because I was too embarrassed to share my work with a whole class of peers. Funny, right?
Over time, though, I have fallen in love with it. I not only feel fulfilled and happy with what I do each day, but I like the life that comes with it. I work for a few hours each morning, get to write about what I love almost always, and get to travel and live where I want.
I know I'm going to sound cheesy but I really do feel that this is my purpose. When I was 19, I meditated and kind of asked the Universe how I would best be of service to others, and the answer that came to me was writing, which was weird at the time because I didn't do it and didn't like it very much. A year later I was working full-time as a writer and publishing a book. So, what drives me is that I feel it's a calling to give something to others, and it gives me the life I want in the process. Who could ask for more than that?
You've built an impressive online readership and even founded your own online magazine, Soul Anatomy. What's the biggest lesson you've learned when it comes to building your audience, and what advice would you give to anyone starting out now?
Thank you. I have only one piece of advice: write what you need to read. Doing so gives other people answers to questions they don't even realize they're asking yet.
The only way to strike a chord is to ask yourself: "What do I really, really need to hear right now?" I have found that the more I do this, the more popular the piece becomes.
Of course, you do have to learn to package it in a way that is marketable, too. One that comes to mind, "20 Signs You're Doing Better Than You Think You Are," which I think has like, maybe 7 or 8 million reads/shares right now, I wrote in 10 minutes just because I wanted to remind myself that sometimes it's okay not to supersede your highest expectations, and just to recognize that you're taking care of yourself, and that's all you really need.
As for advice when you're just starting out?
Don't be afraid to give up. Don't be afraid to look at something and realize it's not working. There's no such thing as failure, there are only redirects.
There is a higher calling on your life, and "failure" is your cue that you're not where you need to be. I have had to give up on so many things but I no longer ascribe some kind of moral failing to my character because of it, that's all ego anyway. I can look back on these times now and realize I was being opened to something else – something better, something greater, something more important. If it's not working, who cares? That's not the path. You're now receiving the most incredible opportunity to find what is. Say thank you.
How has your relationship with writing changed and evolved over the years?
It's easier now. I don't need to wait to feel inspired or feel anxiety over how much I am or am not creating. When you tie your identity too deeply into it, you hold yourself back. I have been writing multiple articles each day, every day, alongside books and other projects, for about 4 years now.
What I realize is that I don't need to think about whether or not I feel "ready" to write. I wake up in the morning and it's the first thing I do. If I can do it when I feel like doing it, I can do it when I don't feel like doing it. "Not feeling like it" doesn't actually hinder my ability.
Also, over time, I have become desensitized to people's reactions. It just becomes white noise. I don't even look at comments anymore, I have no idea what people are saying about me. I don't entertain it for a second, and I don't draw any attention to it. In that, I maintain the freedom to experiment and keep creating without fear.
What are the books, voices, things and places that have shaped who you are today? What does inspiration look like for you?
As for books, a few notable favorites are Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed. It taught me how to think like a healthy adult. The Obstacle Is The Way, by Ryan Holiday. It taught me to see problems as opportunities, and that was life-changing. Resilience, by Eric Greitens, one of the most powerful books for recognizing your inner power.
As for places, Italy. Rome is my spiritual home, I've been there twice in the last 10 months. Rome leaves me with a lightness, it taught me how to truly enjoy life, not just get through it. I cry my eyes out when I have to leave.
But mostly what made me who I am today is realizing how much control I have over my life. I spent my young adulthood externalizing my power, praying for things to happen or to find strength instead of going out and making them happen and realizing that strength was within me the whole time. I learned how to think about things, and realized that doing so is the key that unlocks your infinite potential
I don't try to find inspiration, I generate it. I create it. That's what it's all about: realizing that all these external things trigger the inspiration that is, and always is, inside you at all times. You simply have to learn to tap into it.
I admire the fact you have a donations page on Soul Anatomy. I'm curious about your thoughts on the commercialisation of creativity (as, let's face it, we all need to eat!). How does that feel for you? What's the biggest lesson generating an income from your work has taught you?
I am not shy about advocating for the importance of monetizing your work. If you create something people appreciate and want to consume, you should be compensated. I am also not shy about the fact that doing so often requires warping your stream of creativity so that it is consumable to others.
There's nothing wrong with this, but I really think it's important to have an outlet where you can do what you want without thinking: "Will this do well?"
Hence Soul Anatomy. It is not, and has never been, my sole source of income, nor had I intended it to be. I always want to maintain a creative freedom there. However, I do want to be able to pay more freelance writers. I do not solicit original work I cannot pay them for, I do not think it's ethical. Syndicating, of course, is different.
I want to add, for transparency, I write for different publications totaling around 60-150 articles each month, sometimes more. This, on top of selling books and what not. That is where the money comes from. I say this to illustrate not only what it takes to be a professional writer on this kind of platform, but also that the donations page is more for people to express their gratitude. My friend Jamie Varon – who has written some immensely popular things – has a "tip jar," and I appreciate that a lot. The reality is that sometimes you can be writing something that affects so, so many people, and they want to express their thanks for it monetarily. I think that's fair and I appreciate it.
There's a fine line between creativity and commerce, and intersecting the two is something that each person can navigate for themselves.
You're not morally corrupt if you write for a living, and expect to also be paid well for it.
There is a pretense that things that are morally "good" should not be paid well. If you're doing service work, teaching, aiding others, or giving them creative work, your reward is your sense of purpose. I think that's bullshit. It should also be a paycheck. We should value these people more.
You've done so much and contributed so much. What's next? What are you most excited about right now?
Thanks, that's really comforting to hear because I feel like I am so far from where I want to be, there is so much more to be done.
I have a new poetry book coming out this fall, being published by TC Books. It's called Salt Water. I am probably more surprised than anybody that this is happening. I have never even published a poem before! It was truly a passion project and I hope that people enjoy it. I've shared a few poems from it on Twitter.
The final manuscript is due in two weeks so I am working on that, but also just my usual grind: writing for new places, establishing my voice at others, taking on stories that are out of my comfort zone, always imagining what's next.