Brendan Leonard on Becoming a Writer and Doing What You Love
Becoming a writer, a filmmaker, or a photographer is hard. But there is good news. Most people who consistently work hard tend to make it. Yet let’s not work hard at the wrong things.
I decided to reach out to people who have accomplished something unique, interesting, and inspiring in order to glean wisdom. I want to learn from those who have done it in order to help me accomplish my own goals. My intent is that their answers can help others who are working in a creative field.
Brendan Leonard is an author, filmmaker, climber, and outdoor adventure guy. He recently released his second book, Sixty Meters to Anywhere. The book is truly wonderful. I highly recommend picking up a copy.
I asked Brendan four questions about the path he has taken in his creative pursuits.
– What was the most important thing (such as a trait, habit, or action) that helped you reach some sort of tipping point towards positive things, or “success,” in your life?
“I think putting my writing online on my website at Semi-Rad.com and making a genuine effort to write something high-quality every single week (even though I wasn’t getting paid for it) did more for my writing and creative career than anything else I’ve done. It was/is an unfiltered representation of the things I like to create the most—stories I think are funny, and other stories I think are as thoughtful as I can be. I started putting a few original blog posts up in early 2011, and it wasn’t more than a few months before several people who really helped my career found it and reached out to me, including Steve Casimiro (founder of Adventure Journal) and Dan Patitucci (adventure photographer PatitucciPhoto). Those two people are just a couple of examples, but have both become a couple of my closest friends and collaborators.”
– What was the thought process, attitude, or action that most held you back in life?
“The idea that I had to have a job—meaning that what I did for a living had to be listed as a position at a company somewhere. I grew up in a very sensible place, small-town Iowa, and I always thought you had to get a job—until I met some people who weren’t doing a quote-unquote job. Especially Fitz Cahall, who probably did more to inspire me by example than anyone. He was a guy who was a writer, but magazines weren’t publishing the stories he wanted to write, so he bought a recorder, sat in his closet in Seattle, and read stories into it, and made a low-budget podcast out of it. That became The Dirtbag Diaries, and Fitz now owns a full-fledged creative agency. When I finally got up the courage to quit my day job and pursue adventure writing full-time, I had some vicarious confidence because I could look at Fitz’s example. But it took me a while to get there.”
– What is part of your life today this still feels risky, or that makes you nervous?
“Financially, the whole thing usually feels like it’s just paper clips and duct tape, to be honest. I always hope my blog sponsors (shout out to Outdoor Research, Vasque, and REI) will continue to love what I’m doing enough to keep supporting it, but I know things can always change. I evolve what I’m doing every year (hell, or every month), and I’m terrible at accounting, so I don’t really have a business plan. I just try to say yes to things I think will make me happy and pay me what I believe I’m worth, which probably isn’t the best long-term strategy. So the whole enterprise makes me a little nervous, but I suppose that’s part of the fun.”
– What is the most “valuable” thing, such as an experience, a project or a life-changing trip, that you have ever been a part of? (value not necessarily related to money)
“Moving to Montana in 2002. I have a pretty detailed explanation of why that changed my life in my book, Sixty Meters to Anywhere, but basically I owe everything to the fact that I moved West to the mountains when I was 23. Also I would say it’s the most valuable because I chose to pay out-of-state tuition for a master’s degree in a field that isn’t exactly known for high-paying jobs (journalism), and I’m still paying off my student loans from my time at the University of Montana. But it was worth every penny (and all the interest).”
*a note from Eric
If you don’t know Brendan, watch this short film. Brendan wrote the script and performed the voice-over. It embodies the lifestyle he ascribes to. It’s ridiculously good.