Spring Clean Your Inner Artist!

Every one of us is creative. Every one of us has an inner artist (I’m going to call him Art for the sake of brevity) but we don’t all take the time to nurture Art. It’s hard work nurturing a creative child with a mind of its own, and it can be frustrating —painful even, especially if we haven’t picked up a paint set since second grade.

But there are ways to rediscover the creative, uninhibited Art you were as a child. One of those ways is what I call spring cleaning. No, not actual cleaning, although I’ve had excellent ideas come to me while vacuuming! I mean using nature; the return of buds and blossoms and the birth of creatures as a return to the artist that’s lying dormant inside you.

You may think your artist is non-existent, but it’s simply living inside you, waiting for you to  bring it out of hibernation. My Art likes to go to sleep, too, especially after a busy period like I’ve just completed (I just published my fifth poetry collection and spoke at a journalism conference).

So how does spring cleaning work? It’s much more fun than actual cleaning. If you have a car, get in the car, and drive. If you don’t have a car, put on your running shoes, and go for a walk. Anywhere is good, except in heavy traffic! That will put you in a rotten mood and block poor Art, who just wants to run around outside, like the free-spirited child he is.

Bring along a voice recorder and record ideas that pop into your mind the minute you have them. Don’t be shy —this exercise is to shake loose the ideas lying dormant inside your mind. Let them loose! No one ever has to hear what you record but you.

If you have a camera, take that along, too. Stop the car or stop walking and snap photos or go explore anything that grabs your attention — this is Art telling you to take a few moments for him.

Just as with real spring cleaning, there are distractions that can stop you from getting anything accomplished when you spring clean with Art. These include feeling you simply don’t have the time to go play with a camera and a tape recorder, embarrassment, and feeling you need to obey rules.

You’ll have to dig deep and find the self-discipline required to simply not listen to those blocks if you really want to spring clean. Time? Yes. As technology increases the speed and ease of communication, employers are putting increasingly ridiculous expectations on us as employees. And there’s more: Early to rise, late to bed, families to care for, aging parents to look after. Where does that leave time for Art?

Make five minutes at first. That’s my Five Minutes First rule for anyone who thinks they aren’t creative, and don’t have the time to find out that they are. It takes five minutes to snap a photo, draw a picture with bright pencil crayons, cut some flowers and arrange them in a vase. I guarantee, once you find five minutes for your creative self one day, you’ll want to set aside 15 the next. Art is like that. He’s one persistent dude.

And what’s so embarrassing about standing with a camera by the side of the road at sunset? It’s far better than fuming about your day while stuck inside a car, like those passing by. As for rules, okay, please don’t get put in jail, but if you need to park in a stranger’s driveway so you can walk down their residential road and get a good shot of the river at the end of the street, go for it. You may want to knock on their door and ask for permission, but my bet is if they find out what you’re up to they’ll start telling you how they used to love photography, and how they wish they had more time for Art.

You may end up inspiring someone else to do some spring cleaning of their own. This is another trick Art loves. Once one artist is inspired to create, their whole community can be inspired.

Have fun spring cleaning!

Capturing the return of this flock of Canadian geese was my spring cleaning exercise this morning. In turn, the act of photographing the geese while thinking about all the actual spring cleaning I have to do stirred my inner artist to write this blog post!

Capturing the return of this flock of Canadian geese was my spring cleaning exercise this morning. In turn, the act of photographing the geese while thinking about all the actual spring cleaning I have to do stirred my inner artist to write this blog post!

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Meet Four Writers On A Blog Hop!

Welcome to my blog hop, where you will learn a little more about me and three other authors:

Tracey Allen (Sustainable/Gluten-free/Passive Solar) http://simplifyandsave.weebly.com/blog-save–simplify.html
Luigi Benetton (Technology/Business) http://luigibenetton.com/category/technozen/
Paul Lima (Business of Writing) http://paullima.com/blog/

and her
e’s my official website:

Heather Grace Stewart (Author/Poet/Speaker) http://heathergracestewart.me

If you’ve never visited my blog before, thanks for dropping by! Hope you’ll stay a while, and please be sure to visit my writer friends’ blogs. Thanks!

I’ve been writing creatively since I was five years old, and my first poem was even published (in the school newsletter!) From that moment on, I was hooked on writing. I went to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and wrote for the Queen’s Journal and Tricolour Yearbook. Then I attended Concordia and completed a graduate diploma in Journalism. After a few years working for a newspaper and several magazines as their associate editor, I decided to become a freelance writer, and in 1999, I founded Graceful Publications, my freelance writing and editing business.

Little did I know that one day I’d expand that business to become a book publisher!  I’ve been traditionally published a few times (Jackfruit Press, Bewrite Books and Winter Goose Publishing) and recently, through Graceful Publications, I published a book of children’s poems, The Groovy Granny, my screenplay The Friends I’ve Never Met, and I’m so excited to announce that my 4th collection of poetry, prose & photography, Three Spaces, will be released in ebook format mid-February 2013 (print will come a month later). I really enjoy doing readings and speaking engagements, and am looking forward to doing a workshop on epublishing at the Queen’s Conference on Journalism and Media next month.

I think the best advice I can give to aspiring authors is to follow your passion. You may have to keep a job you don’t like much to pay the bills, but if writing about fly fishing or vampires or poetry is your passion, then find the time to do that, because that’s probably where you’ll do your best work and find your greatest joy. Don’t give up, either. There are so many different ways to get your work out there now – you can make your own ebook for free, or post samples of your writing on a blog, record them in pod casts, or even Tweet them!

So, don’t give up! Write every day, even if it’s a few words on a little sticky note. Those few words could spark a great novel some day.

Thank You Canada!

I’m starting to think hard work DOES eventually pay off.

Today, Where the Butterflies Go hit #1 on Kindle > Poetry on Amazon.ca, and Carry On Dancing hit #2!

The books are also doing well in ‘Books’ (paperback) – currently #23 and 24 in Canadian Poetry. The Friends I’ve Never Met hit a high of #39 in Fiction & Lit> Women> Single Women (I haven’t looked at it again since yesterday – at a certain point as an author you just stop looking! Please let me know if it goes up again! :) )

You guys are amazing! Thanks for reading & sharing with others about my poetry & my rom-com screenplay.

If you haven’t bought a Kindle copy of any of my 3 poetry collections yet, today or tomorrow would be the perfect day – help me stay ahead of Leonard Cohen! ha ha ha :)

Thanks so much for buying CANADIAN books!

And yes, I realize after I post this post, they could fall to 800,000 in books. Such is the way of Amazon rankings and the life of an unknown author! But at this moment, I’m so happy, grateful, and wanted to thank you all so much.

xo
Heather

Wow :) Thanks!

Wow :) Thanks!


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The Friends I’ve Never Met- Now on Kindle!

This is the story of a screenplay that has traveled around the world more than I have in the last three years.

It’s the story of my romantic comedy screenplay, The Friends I’ve Never Met, now available for you to read and enjoy on Kindle or for free on your laptop or desktop computer using easy to use, FREE Kindle software  I’m selling the screenplay there for just three buckeroos.

Why put a screenplay on Kindle? Why not? It’s registered to me under WGAW, and it’s not like it hasn’t been read by dozens of people already. I just decided that I wanted it to be available for more people to read and enjoy.

I wrote The Friends I Never Met in 2009, and acted as my own agent, because finding an agent proved tougher than just getting it read by people in the industry. On a whim, I called up my then-Facebook friend, playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (he’s since left Facebook) and asked if he’d take a look at it. He was kind enough to say he’d be happy to read it (and also to suggest I buy the show Pinky and the Brain to engage my then- four-year-old daughter. I’d told him I’d given her a bowl of cheetos bigger than her head so I could “talk to the nice movie-making-man.”) and to send it right away to his office. It’s an understatement to say he’s a busy guy, and he never found the time amid writing The Social Network, Moneyball and The Newsroom. Last he told me, it was not only in his house but in his “awesome Mulholland Brothers script bag.”  I’d like to think some day he’ll finally pick it up, read it, and give me some pointers ~ or maybe even take his Kindle out of the box, set it up, and read my screenplay on the Kindle. That would surprise me more, since he admits he doesn’t even know how to create presets on the radio in his car. But, damn, the guy can write movies and television.

I didn’t stop at sending it to Mr. Sorkin (twice). I sent it to one of my writing heroes, Michael J. Weithorn, executive producer-writer of King of Queen’s, a writer-producer of Family Ties, and now a film director (A Little Help, 2010). He didn’t just read it; he offered to talk about it over the phone with me. His advice was the best I got on this journey. I used a lot of it to make the script tighter, more real, and, I hope, more compelling. As well, he sent me old Family Ties shirts and a funky sateen jacket from set. Come ON! It was definitely a Top 10 moment for this Family Ties junkie.

I sent the screenplay to several screenwriting festivals too, including WildSound in Toronto and Scriptapalooza in the U.S., and I got some solid writing pointers back from a team of writers at each festival.  I used their comments to improve it once again. (The script has seen at least 10 revisions. I’ve lost count).

I’d been acquaintances with actor Mark Feuerstein (What Women Want, In Her Shoes) for a few years before writing this screenplay (we’ve never met in person but we’ve spoken on the phone), and he agreed to read the script next. What a sweet, unassuming guy. He was busy preparing for his new show, Royal Pains, at the time, but he still took the time to read the screenplay, compliment me on it in an email (he even said he’d be happy to play either male character, schedule permitting and all!), and offer to let me use his comments as a referral to any person or agency I sent it to. And so, I sent it to his agency and a few others, and crossed my fingers that it would catch someone’s eye in the Slush Piles of Screenplays.

It didn’t, so I continued to send it to festivals, and called producers, big and small, in LA. Sometimes, their office assistants wouldn’t even give me the name of the person I should mail the script to. I used to open with “I’m in Canada.” Maybe that was a bad idea, EH?

Next, I poked someone else on Facebook. I’m kidding – but all of these contacts thus far were made thanks to Facebook!

Other places my script traveled? Actress Forbes Riley (24, The Pretenders, The Practice) gave it a read and a big thumbs-up from Florida. Next it went overseas to New Zealand into the hands of actor-director Tom Cavanagh (Ed), who was acting as Ranger Smith in Yogi Bear. He then accidentally left it in the Vancouver airport waiting room. I’d like to think he was overtired from flying half way around the world, and not that he left it there because he hated the read. It was mailed back to me with some very constructive comments – including new director’s directions! – in the margins up to half-way through. I kept that copy because that was even better than an autograph, and I implemented the changes he suggested.

I even spoke with Drew Barrymore’s Director of Development for Flower Films on the phone, and he agreed to read the film’s synopsis. He told me it “sounds like an innovative idea and a fun, sincere story, and you’re definitely plugged into the zeitgest,” but Flower Films is a “small company with a very small slate and not making that genre of film right now.”

A lot of good friends and family members read the screenplay, too. I asked for their honest opinion, and in many cases, their critiques helped me change scenes and characters for the better.

After two years of sending the screenplay around the world, I was stopped. I always say, ‘Keep on going until you are stopped,’ when it comes to your dreams, but this dream was getting expensive! I did one last revision, then left it alone.

But, I didn’t want that to be the end of this story. Recently, I read the screenplay again, and realized I didn’t write it for it to gather dust inside my laptop’s hard drive. I wrote it for people to enjoy.

I just had to come up with another way to get more people to read it. So, I’ve published it on Kindle (and soon, on the  Kobo and iBooks!) and hope that you all buy it and tell me what you think. It’s not like I haven’t heard compliments and critiques from people from all walks of life already; I’m all ears for yours!

Enjoy the read and if you like it, please tell others about it!
Best wishes,

Heather

Me, wearing my new Family Ties tshirt, a kind surprise from a writer-producer of the show. Getting his advice and constructive criticism on my screenplay was one of the highlights of this journey.

Keep On Going Until You Are Stopped

Hey! Here’s a 2-minute clip from my speech at Queen’s University’s Ban Righ Centre, which supports Continuing Education for Women. The topic of my speech was Leap! Living with Passion, Persistence & Poetry. It was a real treat to be invited to Queen’s to speak, and I’m looking forward to returning there early March 2013 to speak and be a panelist for their special conference on Media & Journalism.

Keep on trekking!

Heather

The Butterflies Are Going FREE ~ Kindle Stores Worldwide!

I’d like to present a gift to you loyal readers, and I’m so excited about it!  As you’ve hopefully already heard, my first of three poetry collections, Where the Butterflies Go, will be FREE starting early tomorrow morning (12:01 a.m. PST Thursday June 21) until 11:59 p.m. PST on Saturday, June 23rd.

You can search for Where the Butterflies Go at any Kindle Store – including Amazon.com and Amazon.eu - and find it free during these three days! It will go down to a crazy-low-price when the promotion is over, too. I want more people to find and have access to my poetry. Partly because I think it can touch more people, but also because of what it can do for UNICEF (I am still giving half the proceeds from these first two collections to their Gift of Education program and other third-world educational programs).

Go get it. Tell others to go grab it FREE. Tell them to check out my other poetry collections here. And enjoy being on the lookout for butterflies, and other small miracles!
With love,

Heather

Please share and tell friends about my other collections
at Amazon: http://amzn.com/e/B007GRA4Y2

Find Finola’s Diamond!

Hundreds of you visit this blog every week. Finola’s story breaks my heart. Could anyone going through the Toronto Island Airport this week please just do a sweep of it and look for her engagement ring diamond? I know it’s slightly crazy to hold out hope here, but ‘hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul/ and sings the tune without the words/ and never stops, at all. ~ Emily Dickinson

Please read Finola’s Story, “Dear Toronto”

http://finolablog.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/dear-toronto/

The Story Behind Our Story



I’m a previously published non-fiction author, so why self-publish The Groovy Granny? Why, when there’s so little money in it, and such a small audience? Here’s why
.

by Heather Grace Stewart

There are some things in life you don’t need to question. The times I haven’t hesitated in my life because my gut was telling me ‘yay!’ not ‘nay!’ —like marrying the man I love, deciding where to live and build a home, and deciding to start my own business in 1999—have all been fantastic successes, and have led to even more joy in my life.

Sometimes, you just know. After our daughter kept drawing illustration after illustration for my poems—of her own free will, because the poems inspired her to draw—I just knew that self-publishing this children’s book was the right path to take. It had already been a very, very long path with this project, but in early 2011, I felt a bend in the road that I knew was an important one to take.

The Groovy Granny is a project over 10-years in the making. I began writing the poems on my weekends in 1998 and 1999 while working as an editor at a children’s magazine, Wild! The children I met through my work and my young nieces inspired me with the silly things they said and did. But I was a busy associate editor at four sister-magazines at the time, so I only had time to send out the manuscript a couple times.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for that manuscript to get noticed. Bubble Mud and Other Poems was published as an ebook by Electric E-Book Publishing in 2000, and illustrated by an Australian graphic designer. I always call it a book ahead of its time. ‘What’s an ebook?” almost everyone asked. Most of my readers bought the PDF on a CD-rom, just so they’d have something tangible to show the kids before popping it in the CDrom drive. Remember, there were no e-readers at the time!

The book was nominated for an International E Book Award (EPPIE) but failed to get any other attention¬ from the media or critics – partly because the small Canadian company went under. But I did receive numerous emails from children readers, telling me how much they’d loved reading my poems. ‘The Groovy Granny’ was the poem most readers mentioned as being a favourite. I grinned, and mentally filed that away.

After the birth of our daughter in 2005, I felt inspired to rework some of the poems—and to write many, many more. Then began the long task of searching through Writers Market and Poet’s Market and Children’s Writer’s Market for the right publisher.

I’ve spent the last five years looking for a publisher. The book has gone through many revisions, and there have been both cuts and additions. There are several more poems in the original manuscript, like ‘Lunch with a Llama,’ that I didn’t publish in The Groovy Granny, because I soon discovered a kids’ book that long would have been too expensive to illustrate and print in colour. I’ve sent it out to agents here and in the U.S. and publishers both big and small, in Canada, the U.S., and the UK.

As a traditionally-published kids’ book author (I had two non-fiction books about our PM’s published with Jackfruit Press in 2006 and 2008), I thought I’d have a slightly higher chance at finding a traditional publisher. Most of the time, at least, I got personalized letters back, with handwriting, and everything! Many, in their rejection letters, wrote me that it was a ‘high quality’ manuscript and they ‘wished they didn’t have to turn it away,’ but this book ‘did not suit their list at this time.’ A few said they’d held onto it longer than usual in hopes of being able to publish it, but in the end, couldn’t afford to print a full-colour book of poems.

I soon realized lesson 101 in business: it all comes down to money. I reached one agent on the phone after she’d carefully looked over my work, and said she was only looking to represent illustrators at that time, but “wished she could represent me,” adding, “It’s so good, you can sell this book to publishers yourself!”

That’s when I finally stopped questioning the quality of my work—so I’m grateful for that stage of my journey. I decided to forget about the agent for a while, and started looking for a richer publisher. However, when I did that, it proved even harder to get anyone’s attention.

For example, Scholastic took a year with my letter to them. A year. To answer just a query letter. I did call to follow up, but never got any phone calls back. When they finally wrote back, they said ‘we have returned your material to you.’ One problem: I hadn’t sent them material. I had only sent them a query asking if I could.

I threw darts at that letter.

I’m kidding. I circled parts and pinned it up on my wall beside my desk to remind me I’m often dealing with ridiculousness, and I can’t take life—or rejections—too seriously. Life’s too short for that.

When my daughter came to me with her first drawing for the book (it was a girl hanging from a clothesline by her feet, and it cracked me up) I decided I wanted to be in control of this project. I wanted to choose the cover, to set the royalties (much higher for me without a traditional publisher), and above all, I wanted Kayla to be the illustrator (something that likely wouldn’t happen with a big traditional publisher—at least that’s what the CEO’s of a couple publishing firms told me).

So, now I have my own publishing company, Graceful Publications. with a publisher prefix number and my own block of ISBN numbers waiting to be placed on The Groovy Granny, and perhaps even my next poetry collection for adults (2012).

Making and selling books won’t pay off our mortgage—but I’m not doing it for that reason. I’ll continue to sell my magazine articles and poems to textbook companies, and to read my poems at schools and libraries for a living. But I’m fascinated by both online and print publishing and social media, and constantly think about how social media and new technologies are affecting how we read and share books. I like being a part of this rapidly changing field. There’s always something new to learn, and to me, that’s exciting.

Preview and buy The Groovy Granny here:

First night reading our book, photo by Bill Stewart.

“You Should Write A Movie.”

“It’s him. Why wouldn’t it be him?” my friend Artsy Mommy asked me the day after Mr. Screenwriter signed my blog.

“What’s the big deal?” she wanted to know. “He’s just a writer.”

Just a writer. I laughed out loud. She had clearly expressed what most of the world thinks of my chosen profession. This is one of many reasons why I love Artsy Mommy—for her honesty—and for what came next.

“You should write a movie about this,” she smiled as she helped me toss another load of muddy clothes into my washer.

“About this?”

“Inspired by this. By the people you’ve met on the discussion board, by meeting someone famous online—by you freaking out pretty much all the time about it.”

“It would be pretty funny. A stay-at-home-mom and writer meets someone famous on the Internet. I like it. I could fictionalize it—but people who meet on the Internet—that’s a good starting off point. Something we can all relate to.”

“So get to it.”

“Yeah, right. With what free time? At four in the morning? ” I laughed.

Six months later, I was sitting in front of my computer screen, rereading the first draft of my script, “The Friends I’ve Never Met.”

I glanced at the clock. 4:44 a.m.

I hardly remembered any of the writing process these past few months. I’d been waking up at 4 a.m. instinctively—on the nose, without an alarm clock—and writing in a trance-like-state until my daughter woke up at 8 a.m. every morning.

I’d read a couple screenwriting books, visit Mr. Screenwriter & The Facebook Movie’s discussion board for advice and inspiration, and rework that morning’s write using my cue card system during the three hours she was in preschool. I knew the first draft was done when I woke up at 7 a.m. one morning instead of at 4 am. I’d hit 120 pages.

It was one of those pieces that insisted on being written. And then—like no piece I’ve ever written before— it insisted on me telling the world about it. It’s a very stubborn, persistent child. It won’t give up.

But then, neither do I.

***

Update: I wrote that movie. I shopped the screenplay around for two years, and when I ran out of money doing that, I published it to Kindle, Kobo Nook and iBooks! It has been my best-selling ebook to date!  Thanks so much to everyone who believed in me along the way! :)

The Friends I’ve Never Met  - find it on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Sony, iBooks, Copia, Smashwords and more!

Read the background to how I came to write the screenplay and the many adventures I had around it:

starting here:

I’m Afraid to Ask, But What Is Poking?