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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Heather Demetrios

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world?
I write in order to awaken my readers to the deepest parts of themselves, ignite their imaginations, and hold space for them as they grapple with what it means to be human. My goal as a writer–whether it’s a book or a blog post–is to inspire my readers on their life’s journey, to aid in their continual discovery of their place in the universal story, and help them strengthen their connection to others. I want my words to be a refuge when one is needed and a light in the darkness when none can be found: a bit of good, old-fashioned magic. Also? I want to entertain the heck out of each person whose eyes land on my pages. Life is hard. Books help. I really love how Alice Walker talked about how her activism was the way she paid rent for being on the planet. I feel like writing is that for me. In my recent novel, Little Universes, the characters are figuring out how to “do right by the miracle.” The miracle being the mind-blowing amount of things that had to come together so an individual human being exists. I think of my ancestors and the sacrifices they made and the natural or cosmic events and every micro choice in my parents’ lives that led to my particular self. I want to honor–to live up–to all of that, and words are the way I’ve chosen to do right by the miracle.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block?
I write. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think that’s the monster under every writer’s bed. That’s not to say I don’t ever feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark. But we’re writers, right? We know the power of language. So I try to avoid using language that makes me feel constricted, limited, shackled. I don’t say “blocked” with myself or the writers I work with. I say “stuck.” If you’re stuck, there’s room for movement: you’ll eventually hit upon a way to wiggle out. If you’re “blocked,” suddenly you’re at a military checkpoint, no movement allowed. At the end of the day, I believe showing up is the key. Write a lot. Be consistent. Treat your writing as a practice–one you’re devoted to. As Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” It’s a simple equation, really: Intention + Devotion = Flow. However, I do have a couple tried and true practices when I’m stuck: I meditate almost daily, which works the same muscles in your brain as creative flow. I use mindful practices to work with my Inner Critic, self-doubt, fear, etc. And I take a weekly writer’s sabbath to fill the well. A whole day where I let my curiosity run the show. It works every time. You can’t draw creative water from an empty well. Finally, I cultivate a healthy relationship with my writing: In my life, writing is the harbor, not the storm.

What is your favorite time to write?
I love writing in the morning. Most of the time, when I’m on my most healthy schedule, it’s the first thing I do after my morning coffee and walk around the lake near my house. The walk primes the pump–not quite as good as meditation, but it does the trick. I get ideas on the walk, get in touch with nature, tap into flow. Doing my writing first thing is necessary on a few levels. First, as it’s the most important thing to me and in my day, I put it first to ensure I actually get that writing done (this avoids the terrible I-didn’t-write-today guilt/panic/shame ride). I like to meditate between my writing sessions so I can keep that flow and focus going. I write BEFORE I open my email and certainly before I go on social media or take a call. Nothing kills flow like our phones and apps and inboxes. I’m also signaling to myself and those around me that writing is the priority. And I’m getting the best of me when I sit down to write first thing. I’m not drained from social interactions or the hellscape of the inbox. I haven’t been knocked about by social media or news from publishers or the world at large. Writing first thing keeps me honest, too. If I’m a writer, then I need to write. Plain and simple.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers?
One of my mentors, the novelist A.S. King, gifted me a poem that keeps me grounded in the ups and downs of the writer’s life. I was working on my MFA at the time and juggling deadlines with my publisher, while also feeling the whiplash of the debut author’s first rodeo of publication. I’m a big Whitman fan and she encouraged me to keep this treasure trove of wisdom in mind from “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer,” which is basically about having that little blue dot, cosmic perspective. It’s great for building and maintaining a healthy mindset, to having perspective about what matters most (the writing):

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

I recite this to myself when I get lost and worried about my status in publishing, my sales, my “brand”–all that. This brings me back to why I write in the first place (doing right by the miracle).

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age?
The absolute best thing about writing in 2020 is how easy it is for readers to reach out to me. Just [recently] I received a beautiful, heartfelt message on Instagram from a hurting teen who’d read my recent novel, Little Universes, which delves into topics ranging from the Big Questions to addiction to suicide. One of the characters, Hannah, talks about feeling invisible. Zero followers, zero purpose. And this reader, she identified with that. And as Hannah begins to sort out for herself how to flourish as a human being on Earth in the digital age, this reader said she was able to get some clarity for herself too. I don’t know if this reader would have taken the time to write a letter, find an envelope and a stamp, figure out my address, and then remember to mail it to me. I love snail mail, but most people these days are not going to go to that effort. But because I’m on social media, she could reach out to me right away, right after finishing the book, and tell me how my words landed. Receiving a message like that, it’s everything. It’s why I do this. It’s what makes all the effort and heartache and joy and confusion and terror of putting your words into the world worth it. To know my words, my story, helped shine some light in the darkness of another person’s life? That’s the ultimate mic drop.

Heather Demetrios’s Little Universes is out now with Henry Holt & Co.