As one of YouTube’s biggest stars, Connor Franta has built his following on authenticity, opening up to his nearly 6 million subscribers on topics like sexuality, mental health, and relationships. But some stories just can’t be condensed into a five-minute video. Note to Self, Franta’s new book, is a personal, intimate solution to this conundrum.
This is the second book for the 24-year-old; his first, the more traditional memoir A Work in Progress, was a New York Times best seller. And while Franta isn’t afraid to be vulnerable with his audience on his channel (his 2014 coming out video has more than 11 million views), Note to Self, a stream-of-consciousness type of diary, takes a deeper look into the YouTuber’s life through poetry, original photography, essays, and — as the title suggests — notes to himself. “We don’t always mean what we say, and we don’t always say what we believe,” writes Franta in his book. “But I wanted to capture these moments nevertheless, without the polish of hindsight.”
MTV News caught up with the author-creator-entrepreneur (Franta is also the founder of Common Culture, a lifestyle brand involving clothing, coffee, and “undiscovered music talent”) to discuss how his second book is different from his first, how he stays true to himself in a social media–saturated world, and why he’s choosing to bare all.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
MTV News: Over the years, you’ve built an incredible following on your YouTube channel, where you speak candidly about a broad range of topics, some quite personal. How is your new book, Note to Self, different than what viewers might find on your channel, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Connor Franta: As much as I am an incredibly authentic person and my whole career thrives on authenticity, I’ve definitely held back on certain topics such as mental health and fully diving into my story of sexuality — even topics like dating and love. I’ve held back for personal reasons and I’ve held back out of fear of sharing things like that with the world. I’ve found myself over the past 18 months candidly writing notes to myself — poetry, thoughts, or essays about a lot of those topics as I was experiencing them in real time. It was a roller coaster of emotion and experiences. It hit really hard over the last 18 months. I realized there was sort of a universal truth I felt like I was finding. And I wanted to share it with the audience I feel knows me best.
In your book trailer, you mention that your first book, A Work in Progress, showed your “outsides,” but Note to Self shows your “insides.” What do you mean by that, and what are the biggest differences between the books?
Franta: My first book was very much a look back on my life, and it really just skimmed the surface. I really didn’t fully open up. And the thing about YouTube videos is, they’re only about five minutes long. Most people go online to find a safe, happy environment — it’s kind of hard to talk about topics that aren’t happy or uplifting. It’s pretty taboo and isolating. So I felt like it was the only way that I could additionally bring up topics like this, through very careful thinking and very careful reflection and deeper insight, more so than I could being filmed and critiqued.
Since writing A Work in Progress, in what ways has your life changed? How have you changed as a person?
Franta: Oh my god, it’s absolutely insane to look back on my life even just two years ago and to see how visually different I am, how my personality has developed. I was watching an interview for my first book and I just did one for my current book, two years apart. It’s interesting to flip between the two because you can see a transformation in a way. I feel like I float with a sense of confidence now that by no means is pretentious, but I think I’m really coming into myself over the past year. I feel like over the past three years since coming out, I’ve really come into myself. It’s really nice to see that evolution and progression.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book? What was the best part?
Franta: The most challenging part is just being open and vulnerable. It’s very difficult to tell the world something maybe they don’t want to hear, or to write down something you don’t want to hear yourself. A lot of times I feel like we know our truths in life, but we’re afraid to admit that they’re truths or to face them, and we’d rather live kind of in ignorance or silence instead of facing our realities. I definitely tried my hardest to do it as much as I could.
The most rewarding or best part was the same exact thing. It was releasing all of these emotions out into the world. I truly feel like tomorrow — in a weird way — is going to feel like a weight off my shoulders.
Your new book explores mental health in a really honest way. Why was it so important to share your personal experiences?
Franta: Everything I write about in the book was experienced in real time, and I was writing it half the time to get out of those mental slumps that I was in. I found myself having to write it down to get it off my mind. So a lot of it is very raw and real and written in the heat of the emotional climax. It seems a little extreme because it was written in extreme moments. It’s interesting to read the book in a sense that it really wasn’t edited a ton, [except] to polish it. It’s really very vulnerable and open. I felt like it was important for kids and for my audience, and frankly, just for people to hear that truth for things like mental health and sexuality — to see the ups and the downs. To see what it can do to someone mentally. Especially with mental [health], I’ve struggled silently because it’s so taboo. There’s so many stigmas attached with it that anyone who has issues with mental health doesn’t want to talk about it. Everyone seems to be shying away from it. But my whole brand is built upon authenticity and sharing stories and sharing my truths, so it felt really right to share this truth finally.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, how do you practice self-care?
Franta: Well, writing this truly made me feel a lot better. I still to this day write when I’m in a mental slump. I get out of my house. I go for a run. I go on walks. I’ll call family members — not even to talk about myself, but more to hear about them and be with other people. Or even just be with friends and just do nothing. As long as I’m surrounded by people, love, and fun — ’cause my friends are the silliest idiots in the world and I love them for that. They kind of make it easy for me to forget about the bad things in life very quickly without even trying.
You also talk about your desire to be true to your authentic self in a world that values shares and likes. As someone whose job is literally to be on the internet, how do you strike a balance between the two?
Franta: I find myself struggling with it more and more as I get older, purely because it feels like once you have a certain amount of validation, if you start to go below that, you really do feel the effects emotionally and even physically sometimes. I’m just trying to strike a balance where I post because I want to, not because I have to. Not because I’m seeking a certain amount of validation from other people. I try my best to be present when I’m with other humans and to put myself in a position with other people where I’m experiencing real life as much as possible — and not just diving into my computer and isolation like the introvert that I am. It’s really hard, though. I think it’s going to [get] progressively more difficult, and I don’t necessarily envy our future because it’s a little bit scary. But c’est la vie.
If you could go back in time and give your teenage self one piece of wisdom, what would it be?
Franta: It’s hard because I obviously don’t want to change the present. I’m very happy with the present. But if I could tell my very-younger self something, I would tell him to let loose more often. I think it all roots in sexuality, but because of that, I became so worried about everything — worried about what people thought. I was afraid to be creative and charismatic and eccentric. Just to do things to do things, like dancing. I was afraid of looking too flamboyant or something. I would tell myself to stop being so stressed about what other people are thinking. Stop being so afraid that something may not come off the right way.