The Writer and the Storyteller with Brianna Blacet (1/2)

Welcome to episode 121 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of our interview with Brianna Blacet in which Brianna shares her experience being a writer, moving into Science and Technology, and what it really takes to write a book.

Original Recording Date: 04-21-2021

Topics – College Years, Science and Technology, Writing Books

2:20 – Meet Brianna Blacet

  • Brianna Blacet is an Innovation Storyteller at VMware, which she says is the best title in the entire company.
  • The title has become chic in the last few years, and depending on where you are, might just mean you are a writer. There could be much more media as part of it.
    • There is a difference between writing a datasheet compared to telling a story.
    • Stories move people. In Brianna’s job, she tells stories of innovation within VMware’s Office of the CTO.

4:22 – College Years

  • Brianna was one of those kids who started reading super early. She used to immerse herself in books to feel safe and to let her imagination wander.
  • Sometimes being a writer chooses you. Brianna doesn’t think she ever wanted to be anything else but did not feel it would be something she could do as a career.
    • Both of her parents are physicists.
    • She went to UC Santa Cruz and studied Environmental Studies to make her parents think she was studying Science.
    • Page Stegner was one of her professors during her senior year, and he taught a class on Environmental Writing that Brianna ended up taking.
      • To be in the class, you had to take a 10-day river rafting trip in Arizona. He wanted his students to immerse themselves in nature.
      • There is a big difference between reading about the Grand Canyon and floating on a raft through a canyon. It changes you.
      • This reminds Nick of reading about the way Pixar would have the folks making a film immerse themselves in the details of the story, often times visiting a specific place to do research and ensuring every small detail was correct.
      • How can you write a story until you let yourself feel those emotions and see those images? That is what separates writing from a story according to Brianna.
      • Brianna found something special here. She found that being a writer was not what her parents believed it to be. This professor changed something in Brianna forever, and she believed she could do it.
  • Before graduating, she talked herself into a job writing about water politics at a paper (a reporter).

11:38 – Science and Technology

  • She then decided to go to Graduate School as was part of a Science and Technology Journalist program.
    • She had learned that being a general reporter pays very low and had taken a Science writing course that same year in school, which is not what her parents thought it was.
    • It’s not looking through a microscope all day.
    • Brianna is great with general concepts but does not go deep.
    • She referenced The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.
      • This is a book about curious stories of medicine. There are a number of stories about people in the Scientific field.
    • As part of the program, she wrote about all kinds of things. They had to study graduate level Chemistry, Physics, Genetics, etc.
    • They might write a news story about things happening in the news like new discoveries in Genetic Sequencing, for example, and it could have been newspaper style or magazine style (very different).
    • One of her professors was a medical reporter at the New York Times, and Brianna mentioned one of the most well known writers currently writing about COVID came from this same program.
      • The stories of COVID are real people, and the people who solve these problems are real heroes. It’s human science with a lot of deep, dramatic stories.
  • Was there a fear of being a specialist?
    • No! When Brianna worked at the newspaper, she had to report on things in all areas, and she hated it.
    • She learned that when you are a generalist, you are competing with a lot more people.
    • When you become a writer, you have some options. You can be really poor, you can have 3 jobs, or you can pick a specialty that is profitable.
    • Picking Science and Technology narrowed the competition significantly and increased the pay.
    • Nick admits to enjoying writing documentation, but technical writing is not for everyone
  • Challenges from being a woman?
    • Brianna hadn’t been asked this question. Her mother is a PhD Physicist who got the degree in the 1960s.
      • She never saw these barriers as a kid. Her parents never placed limits on what she could be.
      • Unfortunately, what Brianna did find was a lot of sexual harassment in the workplace.
        • She is grateful to the Metoo movement and others that are helping to fight against this today.
    • In the writing field, people don’t care who you are. They care about whether you can write.
      • Getting the first few articles or books published and showing that off may not even reveal whether you are a woman.
    • Brianna thinks she may not have been promoted at times in her career because of being a woman.
    • Being a woman in a newsroom environment can be tough. She wrote medical news for a while, and it was brutal.
      • She was called names people only call women, and it was a lot of pressure. Listen to her story of assigned news stories sitting on her desk when she arrived at the office.
  • If you want to be a writer, 80% of your career is writing about stuff you don’t want to write about under very tight deadline pressure.
    • Brianna gives the example of really wanting to write for American Health Magazine and having to take some trivial assignments before being given a big assignment.
      • This was to pay dues and show what you can do.
      • Writer’s block is the luxury of the non-writer.
      • Being a writer is the least glamorous job. If you really like it, hang with it.

23:21 – Writing Books

  • Nick mentioned many people in the tech industry have written books.
  • Writing books is hard. Brianna questions everyone who wants to write a book.
    • Her husband is a fiction writer.
    • Books are long, slow, slogs. People came to Brianna asking her to write a book because they had seen her work displayed in magazines.
    • If it is Science or Technology and takes you a year you are a really fast writer.
    • Everything you write, whether 500 words or 50,000 words it is made up of components.
    • The best thing to do to write a book is writing a list of chapters, breaking the book down into tiny pieces. You must have structure.
      • Start with a table of contents and a summary.
      • If you cannot concisely explain what your book is about in one paragraph, you don’t have your idea fleshed out.
      • If you can’t write a list of the chapters, you have not thought it through enough. It must be that crystal clear in your mind.
    • Abstracts for conferences are a good example of a type of pitch. A pitch to a publisher is like pitching an ad that must encapsulate all the drama of the story.
    • This discussion reminded Nick of reading George Lucas: A Life and hearing about the process of writing treatments for Star Wars.
    • You don’t write a book. You write a draft of a book.
    • If you want to write fiction, you have to find an agent. Publishers want to hear from agents they trust. Once you find an agent, you work with your agent so they can make the pitch.
    • With nonfiction, it may depend on the publishing company and the type of book.
    • You can get a book gig by being a good writer or by being a subject matter expert. It’s less likely that both of these qualities are within the same human, but if they are, kudos to you!
    • Brianna learned to write what she knows as the best way to write. You have to know what you are writing about.
    • "Writing isn’t about writing. It’s about content. Writing is a user interface for ideas. Words are an artifice that we humans use to convey information to each other." – Brianna Blacet
    • You can be the best writer in the world, but if the story you are telling isn’t good, no one cares. Wordsmithing is not writing.
  • At work right now, Brianna helps subject matter experts tell their stories.
    • Context is part of telling the right story.
    • People might come to Brianna and say they want to write a story for the blog. She then helps them determine the audience for their story.
      • Is it for a specific audience, is it for a group of peers, etc.? Listen to her example of helping someone in machine learning write a high level overview of it.
      • Context is important, and the best way to know is to ask.
      • Unless you can tell a story in a way it has never been told, beware that someone may have already written that story.

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