He opens up about depression, anxiety, self-love, and more.
Connor Franta might have millions of followers across his various social media accounts, but he’s still anxious about his sophomore book Note to Self finally getting into the hands of his fans. Following the success of his New York Times bestselling memoir A Work in Progress while still balancing his lifestyle brand Common Culture and various other projects including his coffee line, Connor was prepared to open up about parts of himself that don’t always make it to his uber-popular YouTube videos: depression, self-love, and other dark spots on the back of his otherwise effervescent mind (which is aptly the title of one of his book’s pieces).
The 23-year-old had been working on Note to Self for about 18 months, however, it wasn’t initially a book. They started off literally as notes to himself, the kinds that any person keeps in their phone’s Notes app or Twitter drafts. He had penned poetry, essays, little quotes, and messages to himself for cathartic reasons and after about six months of doing that, he realized he had quite a large assortment — enough to put together a second book.
Connor describes the amalgamation as a “chaotic collection” of his mind in a way, an inside peek at a period of his life that was a total rollercoaster. And every aspect of the book has Connor’s touch; he took all the stunning photos in conjunction with the notes he was writing, meticulously selected all the book’s fonts, the colors, and even the spacings. The supreme attention to detail is obvious throughout all of Note to Self.
Teen Vogue got a chance to sit down with Connor before his national book tour, to chat more about his latest achievement and all the details about Note to Self. He talked about his fears regarding opening up, channeling his growth as a gay man, why there are still too few conversations about mental health, and more.
Teen Vogue: Since your first book was a memoir and this one is a bit different creatively, what were you scared of and excited about?
Connor Franta: They’re so polar opposites. The first book was all based upon memory and the photos didn’t necessarily correlate with the writing as well as this one. This one, all the photos completely correlate with the writing. They were all taken as I was writing them or they’re exactly about the setting or the experience in some sort of metaphorical way. And then down to even the design of both books, the first one was kind of semi-cookie-cutter. This one was like I picked the font; I picked the alignment on the page. The paper weight, the cover, everything was all my art direction. So, it’s very much a 360 encapsulation of my past 16 months.
But as for content-wise, the first one was definitely a deeper dive past the YouTube wall of five-minute video clips every single week. It definitely got a little bit personal, but this one is me bearing it all, in a weird way. I went through a breakup. I went through a depressive period. And I just kind of showed the real sides of those, I guess. I definitely don’t hold back on how sh*tty it is to go through both of those.
TV: So was it cathartic writing?
CF: Yeah, it’s real, and I think sometimes any type of celebrity or entertainer, or I guess just anyone writing a book based upon their life, holds back and tries to find the beauty in everything. And in this book, I definitely, in situations, don’t find the beauty in it. I’m just like, “This is just a sh*tty thing you have to go through, and that’s kind of … If you can find beauty in that, that’s awesome, but that’s just life. Sometimes things are bad, and they’re not at all going to be good, no matter how you look at it.”
TV: You start the book off with this quote, “They say the truth will set you free, but what they neglect to mention is what happens when the truth isn’t what you want to hear.” Could you speak to that a bit?
CF: Sometimes you’re faced with situations. You’re faced with kind of parts of your life that you wish you could find a way around or you wish wasn’t the matter-of-fact, but it is, and you have to figure out a way to deal with it. And whatever way you’re going to deal with it may not necessarily make it better, but it will get you through it.
TV: Who are some other writers you found yourself influenced by?
CF: It’s interesting, because I definitely, for the first book, I love the way Ellen DeGeneres communicates humor in her writing. My no means am I even a sliver as funny as Ellen. But that’s what I kind of did for the last one. But this one was more like Rupi Kaur from Milk and Honey. I was totally influenced by her, and then just old-school writers and poets. I just found myself writing tons of poetry.
TV: How did you decide on the order of stories in the book?
CF: Originally it was like a diary or journal, that it was chronological. But we started just kind of playing with it so that it continued to be … I guess so that things could have a slight flow to them, because originally they were so all over the place that chronologically going through what I went through, it really was like every day was different. Some days were north and some were south. So, I don’t know. You just kind of … You just figure out a flow with it, because even though there’s a slight flow to it it’s still like you can open up any chapter and you won’t need to know what happened in the chapter before, which was the goal of it, in a way. You can figure out your best ones, highlight them, and go back to them if you need to.
TV: I’ve read in past profiles of you that you consider yourself a kind of private person. Was there a moment where you were just like “I think I need to get it all out” or something?
CF: It’s so interesting, because, again, it was never written with an intent of being shared. So, I don’t know at what point in my mind I convinced myself to share it. It was never a, “This needs to be shared.” It was more that I think I convinced myself that it could help someone else going through it, because a lot of the times when I personally am going through something very dark and very deep and emotional, I single out myself from the world. I isolate myself and feel like I’m the only one who’s ever experienced this; I’m the only one who ever will understand what I’m feeling right now. But as I work through it in the book, I’m like, “Obviously, everyone else, they may not be experiencing exactly what I’m experiencing, but they’ve experienced something along the same lines.”
I say in the book, “One of our biggest connected truths, being human beings, is just emotion,” that I may be going through a sad experience and no one can relate to my sad experience, but they have all experienced sadness in some way and can empathize with that. So, it took me a while to learn that over the past 16 months, that I’m like, “Oh, you do need other people to get you through.” It’s okay to have other people hold your hand through the dark, in a way. So, that was kind of the reason for sharing it, was I was like, “This is hopefully a way, just, I guess, to relate to my audience better and hopefully can help them if any of them are going through a similar struggle, or one of the struggles.”
TV: In the entry “the dark spot on the back of my otherwise effervescent mind” you open up about depression. Conversations about mental health are still somewhat taboo — why do you think that?
CF: I think it’s so taboo because, for some weird reason, there’s so much shame associated with it, because no one can really see when you have an issue with mental health. It’s not something that you can see on your physical form, necessarily. So, I think for some weird reason there’s a stigma that it just isn’t real, or that it’s easy to get over because you’ll never understand it until you’re going through it … So, I think there’s just so many stigmas attached to it, and there’s so much that’s unknown about it because people don’t talk about it, frankly, that the world is just kind of getting its eyes opened to it, in a way.
It’s vital to open up about it, is because no one has talked about it. People feel like it doesn’t exist, and people also who are going through it that feel all of those stigmas, because no one talks about it. So, if no one talks about it, it’s not real. So, I think people need to open up about it to relate to other people who are going through it, but also to just show the world what it’s like to go through it.
TV: One of the last times you chatted with Teen Vogue, you opened up a bit about your first Pride. How did you channel that kind of energy into the notes in your book?
CF: There’s a chapter about, it’s “The other side of the closet,” where I just talk about experiences like that, like I talk about my first Pride experience and wearing makeup and wearing avant garde clothing and things like that. In that chapter, I just talk about how much I’ve grown as a gay man, and I guess just as a human in general, in the past three years that I’ve been out, by feeling comfortable going to Pride festivals and wearing all rainbow attire and dancing my ass off, or by wearing, again, makeup or dresses and interesting clothing, just by being a free spirit.
It’s not that necessarily any of those are associated with sexuality, but it’s more that after I opened up about my biggest secret I’ve ever kept, it’s when I fully became myself and became comfortable with being whoever I feel in the moment. So, it took, I guess, 23 years to do that. But today I feel like I can do kind of anything or wear anything or say anything.
TV: How did you feel writing about dating?
CF: That’s the scariest part of the book, for sure. I mean, even though I open up about it, I definitely don’t open up about dating, if that makes sense. I’ve talked about it more openly, like the dating process and being on Tinder and going on dates and all that stuff now. And yeah, I still like to keep that kind of stuff to myself. As much as I am okay talking about it now, it’s still kind of the aspect of my life, relationship-wise, platonic or romantic, is just kind of something I think that should be for myself … And I’m very much comfortable sharing little tidbits and little experiences here and there. But I’m like, “You don’t need to know if I’m dating someone in the moment.”
TV: What are you most excited for about Note to Self being released?
CF: I’m just excited for people to read it. I guess I can’t wait to get over that anxiety of … Because, like anything I release into the world, I never know if it’s good or I never know how people are going to receive it. So, I’m just anxious for people to read it and look at the photos and analyze the poetry and hopefully relate or emote feelings based upon whatever they read … . I guess my biggest hope is that it resonates with people. But I hope that it resonates with an audience that’s larger than mine. I hope it kind of holds a universal truth, in a way, that can be read and felt and experienced by people of all different ages.
TV: And what’s next for you?
CF: This has my full attention right now. It’s hard to look super far past it, just because I … Rarely do I do something that takes this much time. So, putting this much time into it, I kind of want to continue putting that time into it once it’s put out into the world. But as for afterward, I definitely want to figure out more ways to use the book in different ways. I guess use it as a catalyst to turn it into real-life experiences more so than words on a page.
You can purchase Note to Self in bookstores and here.