Interviewed by Nate Hendley
Journalist and writer Heather Grace Stewart is the author of two non-fiction books for young people and several collections of poetry. Her latest poetry collection, Carry On Dancing was recently released by Winter Goose Publishing (http://www.wintergoosepublishing.com).
What motivates you to write? Is it the promise of money, fame, power, recognition, self-fulfillment or something else?
What motivates me to write is primarily the ability to share my world with others. I’m inspired by people and events, and often, I can’t help but write about them. It’s a natural instinct for me. I’m not just talking about my poetry; this works with my journalism career too. I started my career as a newspaper reporter, and even when I’d had a long day and not enough coffee, what motivated me to get that story down was usually the challenge of writing the best possible lede or headline for an otherwise dull piece.
Today, I write a regular column for an international magazine. I believe that everybody has a story and a life lesson or insight to share, and whether I share it through my magazine writing or my fiction, it’s really rewarding to be able to pass those stories on to others.
Do you have any “tricks of the trade” that help you kick-start the creative process?
Writing every day is key for me. I set aside the early morning hours to write—usually 8 a.m. to noon, and then I do marketing and other business. Even if I don’t have a magazine deadline or a poetry collection in the works, I like to take photos to kick-start my creativity and I try to write in my journal every morning. [My journal writing] is often terrible. But I save all my writing and photography, and sometimes, when I go back days or weeks later to see what I’ve written, there’s a golden ticket in there.
What are your “de-motivators” (i.e. things that take away your drive to write or steer it to an unproductive place)? How do you cope with these de-motivators?
The internet is definitely my worst de-motivator. I’ve gone on there and later wondered what I’d actually done for the past two hours! I try to avoid it first thing in the morning. Sometimes I will quickly put out a ‘morning’ type message on my social networks, but I try to only log on there at noon, unless I’ve written a short poem or taken a photo during my morning writing time and want to blog it or post it to Facebook. In general, I limit social networking to certain times of day. I also don’t answer the phone (I have call display for emergencies) or check email until noon.
Do you have any role models who inspire you in your personal and professional life? What else inspires you?
I’m inspired by my young daughter, by nature, and by the people I love. As far as role models go, I’m in awe of poets Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver and I’m inspired by innovators like Steve Jobs and Dr. Seuss (whose work was rejected over 100 times by publishers) and many indie authors who have managed to get their work noticed despite the odds.
In your opinion, is talent overrated? Does society put too much emphasis on skill and not enough on will?
Is talent overrated? I don’t think so. I think if someone is motivated to work but churns out stuff that’s not their truth; if they aren’t writing what they know but instead trying to write what they think people will buy, then it doesn’t matter if they get up at 7 a.m. and write ‘til noon and never give up trying to find a publisher.
There is something to be said for that perfect balance of talent and heart and truth, and determination and motivation. I mean this for non-fiction writers too: if you aren’t doing it for yourself, to satisfy an innate curiosity or to try to make a small difference in the world, your reader won’t remember what you wrote five minutes after reading it. And that’s our goal, right? We want our words to stay with the readers for as long as possible.
(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)