Mia Brabham is a wearer of many hats; she’s a writer, speaker, digital television host and content creator, but the common thread is that, above all else, she’s a storyteller. She’s also about to release her debut book, Note to Self: Little Reminders About Life, Love, People and That Tiny Voice Inside, tomorrow (June 20th), so we got caught up over the phone to talk about how a collection of phone notes ended up being transformed into 117 bound pages of universally relevant personal quips. The short answer? It was a process! But a rewarding one, she assures me, especially since royalties earned during the first week of publication will be donated to Girls For A Change, and an additional $500+ was raised for Campaign Zero during the book’s promotional campaign process.
Check out our full conversation below to find out more about Brabham, the book and more, and be sure to grab a copy of Note to Self.
So was it quarantine that finally motivated you to get this book out?
Yes, I really started going in on the process because of the pandemic. I decided I wanted to put together a book two years ago, though; I wanted to foray into becoming an author, and I had a lot of ideas for books, but this was what kind of presented itself to me. I thought, “This is what I want to do,” especially during a time when there’s not a lot of hope; I thought this could be a good way to brighten up people’s lives, and I also wanted a way to give back, using this as a vessel to raise money for charity. I decided to focus on something local, and I found Girls For A Change, which is located in Central Virginia; they lift up young Black girls and young girls of color, so I decided that that was the place I wanted to choose. So yes, it’s been a whirlwind, but I did start getting everything together at the start of the pandemic.
And how long have you been collecting these quotes on your phone?
Right, I guess it started back in college; I used to have a blog where I wrote a lesson every day for a year, and I really think that changed the way I think about life, just in the way I practice gratitude and truth in my own life. So I just started writing down these quotes thinking they might inspire a writing prompt or a lesson or even an essay collection, but I ended up just having all these notes spread out across my phone. Finally I thought, “Okay, this is too crazy, I need to organize and condense it,” so I put everything in one note called Note To Self. Every time I’d have an idea, I’d add it as a line. I’m actually kind of sad, because for a lot of the quotes I remember very specifically what they’re about, where I was when I was thinking it, but then there are others that, because they all lived in one place after I organized, I can’t remember the specifics. But it’s also kind of cool, because life is so perennial.
Right! And so with some of the more specific ones, were there any that you decided not to include in the book because they felt too personal? Like, “Somebody is definitely going to know that I was referring to this one thing…”
Oh my gosh, that’s such a good question! Honestly, it’s funny, because I can’t think of one specific quote (or any) where I thought, “I’m not putting this in, it’s too personal,” mostly because when I was writing them down, I think it’s always important to kind of zoom out in that situation. Like, if someone did something that hurt me, I didn’t write down, “This specific person did this specific thing to me,” but instead was like, “There was a person, and people do this.” I have a journal where I can completely go in on what I need to go in on, but for these one-liners, I tried to make them universal truths. That was where my mind was at when I was writing them, but I’ve always been an open book I think.
Totally. Now, you’re a storyteller across multiple media formats; obviously most of what you create is word-based in some way, but that could play out on a page or on a screen. Do you have a preference for one way over the other? Has written word on the page always been the go-to?
That’s a good question. I think right now I enjoy the written word on a page more than anything. And it’s interesting to think back, because when I was little I loved writing, and my mom would have to tear books away from me. Then that kind of changed for me in middle school, which is when YouTube came out and I started doing that; it was a medium where I could put my words onto a bigger platform, because it was visual storytelling. That was an interesting experience, and in college I studied Media Arts and Design, Digital Video and Cinema, so I was really focused on digital for a long period of time. When I moved to LA, I realized that visuals are important, so valuable, but I also felt like if I was going to be on camera, I didn’t want to have to change anything about myself or look a certain way. So I started delving back into one of the purest forms of storytelling; before the visuals, before anything, you need to have the writing. That’s foundational. And so I really found myself getting back into that. It’s funny how life loops back around.
Do you find it’s helpful for you to have multiple forms of expression in terms of preventing feeling creatively stuck? Just being able to move back and forth if you were to experience writer’s block or vice versa?
It’s funny, now that you say that, it does feel like I have more freedom to hop between different mediums of storytelling. I think for me, being able to put something into visuals definitely helps with my writer’s block, but I only ever struggle with writer’s block when I’m trying to do something that either hasn’t been fully realized as an idea, or that I don’t feel passionately about. But honestly, I come up with so many ideas that I just have a backlog of them. I think if I’m ever struggling with the written word, putting it visually is really helpful. For example, I have a web series, and being able to bring it to life visually actually helped me finish some of the script. So it just really goes to show that writing is foundational, but yes, I do like having that freedom to go back and forth.
Yeah! And just with regards to writer’s block, that’s one of the things I like about the book; aside from offering some pick-me-ups and food for thought, I think there are some good potential writing prompts in there that people could use to get the pen moving. Who for you personally offers inspiration like that?
I love Cheryl Strayed. She’s my queen! She’s the best. My first creative writing class in college, I feel like my life genuinely shifted when we read…I think it was maybe the foreword to the 2018 Creative Nonfiction essays, those collections they do every year. She was like, “The invisible last line of everything (you ever read, watch, consume) should be ‘And nothing was ever the same again.’ Your world shifts just slightly.” I was like, “That’s the kind of writing I want to make. That’s the kind of content I want to make.” You don’t have to have the biggest impact, but if you can shift their world and their mindset and their perspective, or encourage them to reflect slightly, you’ve done your job as a creator. So she’s been a big inspiration for me, and I really relate to her voice. But there are also just so many inspiring women; I love Maya Angelou, I love Lucille Clifton’s poetry, Anne Lamott…Glennon Doyle is a recent person I love as well. I love people who are not only unapologetically themselves, but also unapologetically aren’t afraid to write about life and dissect it. When I meet people, a lot of the time they’ll say, “You’re so bubbly!” but some of these quotes in this book, even…I’m not afraid to say that life can be shitty, but life can also be amazing; I’m never just one or the other, and I think you have to have that balance. I really love writers that aren’t afraid to be honest about the fact that life isn’t perfect, in their own voice, in a way that people can receive.
Absolutely. And I think there is that level of fearlessness which is important to have when you’re a writer. And especially when you decide to put out a book, which is an undertaking! What have you learned from this experience of publishing your first book? I know it’s not a novel, but still an incredible amount of work.
Oh my god. Someone asked me what I wish I’d have known at the start of this process, and honestly…nothing. Nothing, nothing. If I would have known what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done this. Because I think it kind of seemed like a fun project at the beginning of quarantine, but then it was so much work.
And the thing is, like you said, a novel can definitely be more work; you have to think of these ideas and have a story, characters…it’s a whole process that takes time, but I really was like, “Oh, I already wrote all of this, now I just have to pull it all together.” And I fooled myself, because I sat down, and you have to think about the flow, you have to think about how it can’t just be a book of all these quotes, you need chapters. What are the different categories of topics? I had to switch everything around. And then you’re like, “Okay, that was a lot of work, now I just have to edit and I’m done!” But then there’s the marketing, and you have to design the cover, format the book to make sure it comes out right, become a store owner, essentially, and it’s never-ending. Maybe it’s just me; I’m an extra person, honestly, so I usually take on more than I should. But if you’re gonna go in, you gotta go hard. Why not make it the best experience and the most holistic experience ever? So I learned a lot, about publishing, about marketing, email lists…I feel like a businesswoman, which is weird to say since I’m a creative, but truly, it’s been a business process.
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned, just in reviewing all of my quotes, is that some things are better posed as a question and not as an answer. I think we so often try to have an answer for everything, and affirmations are good, commandments are good, statements are very important, but I think questions are gentle, and they can also be a rude awakening. And I love that combination, that feeling of the two within a really powerful question. I think if readers come in with an open mind (not just with this book, but with any piece of art) and you ask yourself a question, it can be a life-changing experience. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned.