Interview: Sami Main on Writing, Detective Work, and Creative Prompts

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Image Credit: Rafi Letzer

My interview today is with the lovely Sami Main, a writer and digital media reporter over at Adweek. In the past she's written for Buzzfeed, Hello Giggles, The Gloss, and other awesome online publications, and right now she has two amazing newsletters that I think you really need to sign up to. The first is 'Pep Talk', a daily quotation and adorable gif, and the second is 'Bouncy Castle' which she writes with a number of other wonderful folk, commenting on bright and happy things that they've found on the internet recently. We had a little chat about her introduction to writing, a love of Nancy Drew, and why falling asleep whilst scrolling through social media probably isn't a good thing. I hope you find Sami's insights as exciting as I did, and you really should follow her on Twitter for funny anecdotes and intelligent commentary on current affairs and the mad world we live in.

Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Sami! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you are today?

Sami Main:
I graduated from the University of Florida in 2013 and immediately U-Haul'd myself up to New York to work for BuzzFeed. While there, I was an Animals intern, an edit assistant, and a creative coordinator (which meant I helped people keep up with brainstorms and experiment with content creation formats). I'm currently a digital media reporter for Adweek, where I get to write about all the things I'm talking about anyway, like podcasts, original entertainment programming from places like Netflix and Hulu, and new media publishers like Vice, BuzzFeed, etc.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into writing generally? Was there something that drove you to write? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?

Sami Main:
I almost went to an arts-focused high school for creative writing, actually. I think I loved writing so much because I love books so much. Books were my friends growing up, since I wasn't really an outdoors kid. (I still had friends, of course! But I liked my books and my daytime TV.) I didn't end up going to that high school, though; in college, my major was journalism which felt like a cool combo of writing and detective work. Nancy Drew was, clearly, one of my role models.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first start writing for publications (online and otherwise) and did you have to overcome any self-confidence barriers in order to get to that place where you could share your words?

Sami Main:
In college, I started writing for our newspaper, The Alligator; I was mostly the Opinions editor, as opposed to our reporting staff. Also in college, I started contributing to online news blogs before joining BuzzFeed's Community, where anyone can create an account and start posting. There were PLENTY of self-confidence issues, for sure, but a lot of my opportunities came from simply emailing people just to see what would happen. There's no harm in asking! And a lot of the time, it helps people see that you're interested. No need to hound them and flood their inbox, of course, but sending an email or two never hurts at all.


Image Credit: Rafi Letzer
Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying or non-binary artists and their work. Which writers and bloggers, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Sami Main:
As far as influences go, I mentioned Nancy Drew earlier, and that totally counts. I think her positive attitude in any situation really rubbed off on me. This sounds like a joke, but I promise! As far as real people writers/bloggers, I've found inspiration from Anne Lamott, whose book Bird by Bird is all about writing and dealing with that process. I definitely look back at it if I need a little spark. Growing up, I read books by Meg Cabot and other YA authors, even Agatha Christie!, because the stories were so good and somewhat relatable or just downright entertaining. (But outside of real people: Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon are fantastic female role models for the most part, even though they are comedic characters.)

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Sami Main:
I wish I had a better process! If I'm writing articles at work, I'm pretty much tied to my desk, as we don't have any fun couches to run off to. I try to play one album of music at a time if I need to hunker down and really focus; sometimes that's something by St. Vincent, but it can totally range. Something with a beat is usually helpful. When I'm working on side projects at home, I like to have something playing on TV that I can usually tune out of – sometimes it's Chef's Table on Netflix, but lately I started rewatching VEEP. (Not helpful at all, I get so distracted by how funny it is.)

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively? Are there any books on writing and creativity you would recommend to others?

Sami Main:
Definitely turn to Bird by Bird if you need to get out of a rut. Sometimes, if I'm working on creative writing rather than non-fiction, it helps to find writing prompts or exercises to just get you going. Remembering that what you write doesn't have to be shown to the whole world is key. Drafts are just drafts, even if you hate them!


Image Credit: Rafi Letzer
Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in a medium other than writing? Is this something you would consider in the future?

Sami Main:
I definitely have a fondness for podcasts, even though that's a whole other artform. I love the stories people get to tell with it (S-Town!) or the conversations we get to overhear (Uhh Yeah Dude! Or My Brother My Brother And Me!). I've also studied and performed improv for the last eight years, and that's such a fun creative outlet. You get to play pretend with friends for a couple hours, and nothing is better than that. Period.

Magic & Musings:
How would you describe your relationship with social media?

Sami Main:
My relationship with social media is terrible and lovely. I try to maintain a positive energy on my Twitter, but I am also constantly checking it to stay up to date with news/friends, etc. I literally check Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter AS I FALL ASLEEP which is a horrible habit. It's kind of like how people fall asleep to TV, though. (Or at least that's what I tell myself.) Social media can be so fun, but it's important to keep some boundaries for yourself so you don't get sucked in or too anxious.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out writing?

Sami Main:
I wish someone had told me there was no one way to be a writer. I always thought I'd be some kind of novelist, I guess? That I'd write a series of awesome fiction novels that were probably about witches or something. And it's okay that I'm not doing that right now, it doesn't mean it can't happen later. Mostly, careers have phases, and it's fine to be in one, it's fine to be out of one.

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Sami Main:
I just finished Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology this week and it's SO fun. It's hearing myths through his voice, and it's a great match.

I just saw the new Beauty and the Beast remake – AND LOVED IT. It was my favorite movie as a kid (we had to make a "no singing at the dinner table" rule because of it), so anyone who had a problem with this one should've had the same problems with the original version. My only note is that the last line of dialogue is so bad, but if I ignore that, it's a lovely movie.

As I'm writing this, the new Kendrick Lamar album dropped and I've been jamming to it all dang day. It's funky, it's important, and he's one of the best musicians of this time. Ugh, so good.

If Kendrick isn't really your style, I've also been re-listening to The XX which is also dark and wonderful.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? What’s on the horizon for you in the next few months?

Sami Main:
People can find me on Twitter @samimain or visit my website: thathipchick.com to see some of my previous writings and other things I'm working on. I'll have a really cool announcement some time in June about a secret project I've been working on for almost a year, so stay tuned!

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