“It’s Hard to Be a Person”: A Conversation with Brett Newski
Hello dear readers!
I love discovering great new books. And just this past week, I found this one: It’s Hard to Be a Person: Defeating Anxiety, Surviving the World, and Having More Fun. Written by musician, illustrator, and podcaster Brett Newski, it is an illustrated tour through his experience of anxiety and how he learned to shape it into something useful.
I adored this book. It is so funny and it has lots of heart and empathy that ring through it. It’s full of ingenious ideas for handling anxiety and improving your mental health. It feels like spending an hour or two with your coolest, most insightful friend. Chiefly, it makes people who deal with anxiety (like me!) feel much less alone, and much more able to cope with it in a world that can be very befuddling and unkind at times.
I asked Newski about how the book came to be, what readers will find there, the soundtrack he wrote to go with it, and his current tour, which is stopping right here in my town, Cincinnati , next week, on 11/10. If you’re a local reader of this blog, you will surely want to check his show out! If you're a reader from anywhere in the world, you will absolutely want to read the book and listen to Newski's music.
Ericka McIntyre: You’re a musician, podcaster, and a visual artist, and now you’ve written a book. Tell us how It’s Hard to Be a Person came about.
Brett Newski: The book started as free therapy for me to make fun of my own anxieties. Depression comedy. After posting a few drawings, people kept encouraging me to make more and the drawings snowballed into a book.
EM: You perform onstage a lot—I am sure people wonder how someone like you can actually struggle with anxiety, when you make things look easy (I struggle mightily with anxiety even though I present as a cranked-to-11 extrovert)—how do creativity and anxiety go hand in hand for you? How did you learn to turn anxiety to your advantage/manage it into something less harmful?
BN: Anxiety is creative fuel. Anyone can mine their anxiety for productivity and positivity. If I didn’t have anxiety, I wouldn’t get much done.
EM: What do you most hope people take away from the book?
BN: Anxiety can actually be very useful once we figure out how to channel it.
EM: What was the most surprising thing to you about publishing a book? The most difficult? The most fun?
BN: Book distribution is a real demon to figure out. After the overlords of distribution realized they couldn’t make 4 million dollars on me, we set up our own distribution channel. It’s been a ton of work but it pays off to do it yourself.
EM: You wrote a soundtrack to go with the book, so it truly is a multimedia project. (I love it, by the way—“Life Underwater” is my new favorite song and I have had it on repeat for two days now.) How is writing prose different from songwriting? The same? Harder? Easier? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
BN: Thanks! Songwriting was always my first therapy. I could say stuff in song that I couldn’t say face-to-face. Bottling stuff up inside is terrible for mental health. So songs were my first outlet, before I knew how to have hard conversations with other humans.
EM: You’re on tour now; do you write while on the road? How do you stay creative in the midst of that grind?
BN: The road is a creative soul crusher. It's so fun to share the work, but being in transit for too long can crush equilibrium. The best way to be creative is to make your house cozy with good lighting, a nice rug, maybe candles, then throw the TV out the window.
EM: What advice do you have for someone who is an aspiring writer or musician or artist of any kind?
BN: It’s a long burn. The key is to just keep going even if it feels like progress is minimal. Tiny victories add up substantially over time.
And there you have it, dear readers: “Just keep going”—reminds me of what I always say to you here—keep writing!
Until next time,