Rise & Shine Interview: Heather Grace Stewart about Perseverance

Heather Grace Stewart is sharing with us today about perseverance. I'm encouraged by what she has to say.  I found her on Twitter several months ago and had to check out her writing.  I'm so glad I did as she has really inspired me. Also, I think it's cool that we have the same hometown.  Thank you, Heather, for sharing your thoughts with us! 

Trained as a journalist, Heather Grace Stewart started publishing her poetry after starting her own freelance writing & editing business in 1999. Her poems have been published in Canadian literary journals, newspapers and magazines, Canadian and British school textbooks, online journals, international print anthologies, and in the British small presses.

Heather’s third collection of poetry and photos, Carry On Dancing (Winter Goose Publishing, March 2012) has been reviewed as ‘brave, personal and eloquent poems,’ ‘stirring memories of Dickinson and Plath,’ ‘poems to remember. A poet for everyone.’ Her second collection of poetry and photos, ‘Leap‘, has been described as a “lovely lilt of language” and “a must for new and already hooked fans” by reviewers. Her first collection of poems, Where the Butterflies Go (2008) with half the proceeds still being donated to Unicef’s Gift of Education project and other third-world school projects, has been reviewed as ‘a joy to read,’ ‘honest, tinged with awe and an eye for humor,’ and ‘full of healing power.’

Heather is a Queen's University grad, a longtime member of PWAC (Professional Writers Association of Canada) and a full member of the League of Canadian Poets. Born in Ottawa, she lives with her husband and daughter near Montreal. In her free time, she loves to take photos, scrapbook, cartoon, inline skate, dance like nobody’s watching, and eat Swedish Berries — usually not at the same time. You can connect with Heather on her website, Facebook, Twitter, or  Amazon Author Page. Read Heather's interview below!

Image (c) Heather Grace Stewart

Image (c) Heather Grace Stewart

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Who did you receive it from?

Just before I headed out the door to high school most days, Mum would tell me, 'Just be yourself." She was so good at helping me through those tough years ~ all that peer pressure, wanting to fit in but feeling like I never would ~ and I think of her words to this day whenever I'm in a situation where I feel uncomfortable.  My father, who helped me decide to freelance, to go off on my own and write and edit from home, recently told me to 'keep going until you're *stopped*.' He heard that from another business person and he never forgot it. I love it because it says, no, not even failure should stop you from getting up and trying again. There are days I want to quit writing and publishing poetry ~ it feels like there's such a small audience for poetry, and I often wonder if I'm touching anyone at all. But I carry those two pieces of advice in my heart, and my parents' voices keep me at it.

How important is mentorship in terms of your success?

I've had some incredible mentors in my life - one, sadly, died of a brain tumor when I was 26. But the way he lived his life - very creatively, despite eyesight loss due to his brain tumor - inspires me to this day. I have a lot of creative mentors - my own peers in Winter Goose Publishing and peers in my Periodical Writers Association of Canada  - who likely don't even know I see them as mentors. But they inspire me often. They remind me I'm not in this alone.

What has been the best moment in your life so far?

I can't pick just one! I've been so blessed in life. Our wedding day and the birth of our daughter are right up there, but so are several Christmas Day's with my family, soaking my tired feet in Israel's River Jordan, and the moment Carry On Dancing hit #1 in best-selling poetry on Amazon Canada (I happened to be with some of my best girl friends on a getaway weekend at a cabin, so we had even more reason to celebrate!)

What tips would you have for living a healthy life?

I'm not sure I'm the poster child of health! I'm big on vitamins, and sunscreen, and I try to drink a lot of water. Spiritually, I think my poetry is a form of meditation, and I spend a lot of time in nature. Mentally, I read a lot, in a lot of different genres - from poetry to physics to art theory to social networking trends to nature guidebooks. I like to challenge myself. Physically, I don't always exercise every day, but if I haven't inline skated or done my Just Dance Wii game, I dance in the kitchen a little while making supper. I'm not saying I dance well, but hey, it's keeping me in balance! Emotionally, I make sure I laugh with someone every single day, or make someone else laugh every day. Laughter is so important!

How do you motivate yourself to persist despite setbacks?

It's not always easy. I usually stop what I'm doing work-wise if I'm feeling frustrated, and go for an inline skate, do yoga, dance, or go take photos. All of these things get me back on track.

heather grace stewart.jpg

What has been your biggest setback? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?

I haven't really had any major setbacks in my career, or if I did, and others perceived it as such, I didn't. I just kept going and didn't stop trying to accomplish what I'd set out to do. Oh, as a young journalist, I did mess up a headline to say there had been 30,000 people in the park that weekend. There had been 3,000. Oops. I've learned to be a very careful proofreader as a result of that newspaper headline (the competing newspaper's reporter had fun faxing me  it over and over, and making fun of me for a week).

My poetry in Where the Butterflies Go was collected from about age 17, and I started trying to get it published around age 32, just after I was married. It was tough getting anyone to even respond to my queries. I tried and tried, and it did get frustrating, but I kept on sending out the manuscript. When no traditional publisher wanted it, I decided I could do it myself, for myself. I'm still surprised how many copies I sold, and keep selling, so I'm thrilled I was able to make that a project that helps educate children every time someone buys a copy.

How do you deal with critics?

I try not to take critical reviews personally. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. They do hurt, but I've only just received my first couple of semi-negative reviews since I joined Goodreads, where all three of my books are showcased, so I try to look at is as, hey, this means my books are being seen and read by a wider audience! You can't be everyone's cup of tea. (Especially not mine as I change how I take my tea and coffee on an almost weekly basis! I just gave up sugar in coffee...ugh... )

How important is social support in overcoming obstacles?

That's the only way I can keep at the marketing part of being an author. I love the writing, but the marketing is tough. Sometimes it feels like you're just not getting heard. And then, someone in South Africa, someone you've never met, sends you a Facebook message and tells you they've been searching for Carry On Dancing everywhere in their country, but they just found an online bookstore that carries it and they're so excited to be able to buy it! Or, I hear, again on Facebook, from a young voice/performance coach at a college in Chicago who has just done a mash-up of my Carry On Dancing poems and put it on YouTube! Unbelievable.

heather grace steward

I hold onto those stories like gems in a little gemstone case. I carry them with me everywhere. Because if I can touch just one person with my words, then what I'm doing every day is not in vain - and I took that concept from a lovely Emily Dickinson poem.  I love social networking support and while there are drawbacks I consider it a real blessing for our generation, overall. I can't imagine how poor Emily felt up in her room, not knowing if anyone in another country would ever discover her work!

What advice would you give others about goal setting?

Goal setting is great, but limit yourself to 2-3 major goals a year. That's what I've found works for me. I had a few years with 5-10 goals, and still only accomplished the top 3. It's hard enough to get up with the alarm clock every morning, give yourself a break!  Be sure to write your goals down. I've read that those who do that accomplish them more often, and I find that to be true. All three of my books were 'goals' on a written list I created a year prior to each book's release.

What life lesson have you learned that you would like to pass along to others?

I've lost two friends to brain tumors, and cancer has stricken other friends and family members. It takes tragedies for us to slow down and realize how fragile life is, but I wish we could remember this every day. I don't. I write about living in the moment, but that's a reminder to myself, too, because I can't always do it. I rush ahead all the time.

I think it's important to ask yourself, every few days, are you really living your life, or are you just going through the motions of living a life; the life others expect you to live? Because we only get this one life. This is it. Now is the time to make the most out of this one trip you've been given, this one adventure. There are no do-overs!

Thank you, Heather, for sharing your thoughts on perseverance with us! As you say, "Carry On Dancing" and sharing your words with others.

Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.

See you at the beach!