Wild Measures: Taylor Bruce of WILDSAM Field Guides
A few weeks back we shared about the WILDSAM Field Guides and their exciting contest where they are giving away a trip to one of their Field Guide cities. In an attempt to learn more about WILDSAM’s story, today we wanted to dig deeper and open the doors to discovering how and why Taylor Bruce, the creator and editor of WildSam, set out on this adventure. Taylor’s story involves winding roads while driving the southern states to expose new content and stories for a top southern publication. What he discovered during that time, was a passion for the backstory that in his mind should really be the headline. Personally, as creatives we resonate with Taylor’s desire to open the doors to seeing a city, its people, and the stories that made it what it is. We find inspiration in these truths when we travel. Thus, we love that Taylor has decided not only to chase this passion, but to share it with the world even if for now he has set his big dreams of writing a novel one day on a side table. We have a feeling this adventure he is on could be a major piece of his journey of writing that novel one day. Read on to hear Taylor’s story and how he has gone from being just a writer, to finding himself with the titles of entrepreneur and storyteller. Thank you Taylor for sharing with us today!
Describe your business?
WILDSAM spotlights the soulfulness of place. Right now, we do that with a series of American field guides that open up the heritage and culture of cities. Inside each, we tell stories in the form of personal essays, interviews, maps, and an almanac. Kind of a memoir meets guidebook meets quarterly – with a pretty kickass soundtrack. But really, our end goal is to help people find meaningful connections – to places they travel, to the place they call home, and to the people they meet out in the world.
Tell us how your business began and how it got to where it is today?
I spent about ten years working in the magazine world. Writing mostly with a short stint as a travel editor at a southern lifestyle magazine. Those three years put me out on the road at least two weeks a month. Backroads, big cities, and everywhere in between. It was an incredible opportunity to learn and to listen to people’s stories. I left in 2010 to do a Masters in Writing at Brooklyn College. That’s where the seed of WILDSAM began to break ground. I began to read about the great American writers – Steinbeck and Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Joan Didion – and how they all published these gorgeous works of travel journalism for magazines like Esquire, Holiday, LIFE and The Saturday Evening Post. And how back in the 30s and 40s, the WPA commissioned a series of city and state guidebooks that put writers to work documenting the American story. A young Ralph Ellison got his start that way. And it led to one of our northstars, the pivotal work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. That’s a long, long way of saying this: We think great storytelling has the power to transform. Everything we do aims in this direction.
When did the dream of building your business happen?
Honestly, I never once considered starting a business. I think of myself first as a writer. The one thing I dream more than anything is writing a big whopping heartbender of a novel. WILDSAM sort of happened in a moment when that dream needed to cool off for a bit. And the field guides just found a groove and we’ve been having so much fun with them. We definitely built the business part mid-stream.
What risks did you have to take along the way that were hard?
Putting the novel away feels risky, like I’ll get swept into the entrepreneurial stream and drift far from that aspiration. I’d say the other risk is, like so many things, that people will reject you. That you’ll put your heart and soul into something and people will just walk on by. How musicians get up on stage every night is beyond me.
What along the way do you see now as being major pieces to the bigger story?
I’d say my three-year stretch at Southern Living magazine was a big piece to the story. Less for the editorial experience than for the time out on the road. I was 25 and had the freedom of a schedule of my own. They were incredibly generous to me. And what I remember most are the people I met that never made the inside of the magazine. The everyday folks, men and women ordinary at first glance but extraordinary when you really leaned in and learned about their lives. Every trip I’d find someone like this. That made my heart swell. Usually older people, often from different backgrounds. My greatest joy is that moment of real connection.
During this process of growing and dreaming up your business did you feel any reservation? If so, what made you question your decision?
I never questioned launching the first field guide. I think the essays made me most confident. Tony Earley’s piece belongs in The New Yorker. It’s that good. He called me a couple weeks before we went to print – it was like 10pm – and he said, “Can I read you something?” It was over 5,000 words. And he gave it to me for nothing.
Now that you are in the process of making this dream become a reality each day, what do you see that wasn’t worth the worry?
That saying – Great is the enemy of good – I can see the merit in it. Getting better is invigorating. Getting perfect is stressful.
For other people who are dreaming of taking a similar leap to chase their dream, what would you recommend to them?
Don’t do it alone. Better said, chase the dream with good people around you. Not only will you get there faster, you’ll enjoy the journey more.
What lesson have you learned in the process that you wish you knew before you began?
It may sound crazy, but to not be afraid of setting goals and tracking progress. I’ve come to realize that knowing the numbers is liberating as an entrepreneur. As an artist, the fear is that numbers will feel like handcuffs. That they’ll drain the life out of your work. But I’ve come to find the knowledge to be freeing.
What are the next big dreams for your business?
Right now, more cities and more field guides. We’re two years in and five cities deep. Beyond that, the world of print is such an exciting place to be. There’s a fearlessness and surge of creative mojo out there. We’re stoked to find new ways to continue spotlighting the soul and heritage of place.
Taylor: Brad and Jen Butcher, three women pic: Kate LeSueur, Nashville posters: Tec Petaja, Tile floor: Kate LeSueur, Ambassador bridge: Hayden Stinebaugh, SF houses: Brad and Jen Butcher, coffee shop: Brad and Jen Butcher, Detroit skyline: Hayden Stinebaugh