Savannah Brown | Profile
Savannah Brown is an American poet and author, living in London. Best known for her self-published poetry collection Graffiti and recently released novel The Truth About Keeping Secrets, Savannah’s storytelling is celebrated for its mastery of topics that most shy away from. We sat down with Savannah, whilst she prepared for the release of her first novel, to talk about her journey from bookworm to accomplished author.
What creative skill got you started in the beginning?
I’ve been writing since I was really little. When I was 4 I made my own library out of folded sheets of paper and charged my family a nickel to buy them. When I went to school, I read relentlessly - my teachers called me bookworm. From there, my love of stories grew and grew into what it is today.
How did you discover your passion?
I was always passionate about writing, but the thing that made me think ‘Oh my gosh, maybe I can turn this into a career’ was when a spoken word poetry video I had made went viral on Youtube. It was called ‘What Guys Look For In Girls’. There was a stupid video on Youtube at the time by this boy who was saying that girls should shave their arm hair, so I wrote a poem about it not thinking anything would come from it. 3 days after I had posted it, it had 2 million views. I had no idea it would resonate with so many people. From there, I kept doing spoken word which was what, in turn, allowed me to publish ‘Graffiti’.
What is it about you that’s been able to turn this passion into a career?
I would say it’s a mixture of perseverance, hard work and pure luck. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s exclusively hard work, because a lot of people work very hard and don’t always see the return from it. You need to capitalise on the luck by putting yourself in the right place at the right time. It’s also a love of the craft; not doing it because you expect return from it, but because you know it’s what makes you happy and it’s what you’re meant to be doing.
What do you want to learn for the future that will help you grow the success you’ve already made?
What really helps you to learn and grow as a writer, is reading. I know that’s what everyone says, but exposing yourself to different perspectives, stories, genres and mediums helps you be more well-rounded when you to apply this to what you’re doing. Writing is writing, but what you learn from storytelling can be applied to everything you do.
I would love to learn a bit more about screenwriting because it’s so different from writing a novel. You wouldn’t expect it because the bones are the same, but adapting it from each medium is something I find really interesting. Writing a novel is very solitary; at the beginning it’s just you and a blank page, so I love the collaborative side of screenwriting with people with other visions.
Have you had any setbacks in your career so far?
I’m lucky in that I’m still really young and so grateful for everything I have that calling anything a setback seems a bit tone deaf. I think in every creative industry this happens, but I feel very susceptible to impostor syndrome and feeling like I either don’t deserve what I have, or deserve to be in the rooms that I’m in. When I read my own work, I can’t look at it objectively or understand what someone would think when they read this. I’m asked all the time how not to be afraid to show your work, but I can’t answer that because I’m still afraid. In this mindset, those thoughts are really prevalent. The though that I’m not good enough to be doing this is something I have to overcome every time I sit down to write. My will to write is stronger than my compulsion to hate myself. Every morning I think ‘I’ve got to do this because I don’t know what I’d be doing otherwise’.
Where do you get your inspiration to write?
It feels very random. Sometimes I get tonnes of ideas and don’t know if any are any good. I almost feel like I need to answer ‘how do you get your good ideas?’ because I get lots of bad ideas. I like philosophy and looking for the answers to big questions, which means I end up writing a lot about death and existential things in novels because there’s a lot of room to explore these topics. A lot the time, the idea will come from something I’ve watched or read. I think good art has an element of stealing; 100 people could write about the exact same topic and each piece would come out entirely different. By exposing myself to work that other people have done, taking that idea and shaping it to make your own is how a lot of my ideas come about.
How did you build your team that you work with now?
Off the back of my poetry book, ‘Graffiti’, which was published in 2016, an agent got in contact with me. Serendipitously, I was already working on a novel. It worked out that I was already writing it and he really liked it. He asked if I’d be interested in hiring representation for it. We submitted a sample to Penguin who also really liked it and they took me on board with what was an unfinished manuscript, which was crazy at the time. It all happened at once and I wasn’t even looking for it. I was planning on finishing the novel quietly, just posting updates to my audience, it wasn’t anything I was going to undergo a big campaign for. Penguin was our first choice, so it was amazing, an absolute dream come true. I feel so lucky about the ease in which it happened, it was perfect.
What does your day to day schedule look like?
It’s all over the place - it depends on what I’m doing. With the novel coming out soon, it’s been more up in the air with doing publicity. On a normal writing day, I get up around 8, relax and have breakfast for about an hour. I’ll normally write until noon then have lunch. Writing’s one of those weird things that’s quite hard to do in long doses, especially with novels. It’s almost like acting, putting yourself in that mindset. So, I like to take small breaks in between. I’ll work in chunks, setting a timer for 20 minutes and writing and then I’ll take a break for 10 minutes, do something else and start writing for another 20 minutes. In the afternoon, if I don’t have anything else to do, I’ll keep writing or do dome errands, it’s either emails or bits for my website or Youtube.
What advice would you have given yourself 3 years ago?
3 years ago, next week, was when the poetry book came out. So much of the experience has been plagued by anxiety. Even though it all went really well there’s still, for some reason, this sense of doom that accompanies everything. It’s the feeling that because everything’s going so well, it could be taken away so easily. So, especially now because I’m so nervous about the book coming out, I would say just enjoy the ride. Make sure you’re still putting the work and making things the best they can be, but enjoy yourself and enjoy the ride. I think sometimes the fun of it can get lost and that’s maybe where I was a few years ago. Finding the fun again was important to me then.
What’s next for you?
A couple of things. I have another novel coming in 2020, which is titled but I can’t say it yet. I’m also working on another poetry collection, which is hopefully also coming out next year. I’m currently writing a feature with Bertie [Gilbert], so that’s coming too, probably not next year but we’re working on it. That’s what my mind is preoccupied with at the moment.