AU Writer-In-Residence brings wealth of experience
Steven Heighton admits he was not the best student in the world while pursuing first a bachelor of arts then a master of arts in English.
Fortunately for the 2019/2020 Writer-In-Residence at Athabasca University (AU), he was able to turn the distractions from his academic life into the foundation of a prolific and award-winning writing career.
“I found myself drafting poems and jotting down ideas for short stories during the actual classes and seminars,” he said. “It seemed clear to me that I had to try to write books of my own.”
Writing books of his own is exactly what Heighton has done, with 14 book publications to his name including poetry, short stories, and novels. He has earned some prestigious awards for his efforts, as well, including four gold National Magazine Awards and the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his collection The Waking Comes Late.
As Writer-In-Residence at AU, he will be available to students, faculty, and the broader AU community to help advise on all aspects of the writing process—taking a manuscript from the creation phase through to publication. Submission guidelines can be found on the Writer-In-Residence site.
His main piece of advice? Figure out what kind of writer you are.
For some, the best approach is to pour your ideas out onto the page, not worrying about editing until the draft is finished.
“If this messy approach doesn’t work for you—and for some writers it just doesn’t—take the opposite tack,” Heighton said. “Plan carefully and build the work slowly, word by word, detail by detail, line by line.”
His own approach is one that involves a “very quick, messy, molten, spontaneous first draft,” with the fine-detail work coming in subsequent drafts. This, he said, is one of the most challenging parts of his process.
“By that point, the creative excitement has died down and I have to force myself to persevere with the drudgery of ‘perfecting’ the project, all the while knowing perfection is impossible and the improvements of the final couple of drafts may be indiscernible to most readers anyway,” he said.
Heighton’s appointment as Writer-In-Residence also gives him the opportunity to work on a few of his own projects including some short stories, poems, and songs, as well as two books.
“I’m finishing up two books that will come out this fall—a nonfiction account of volunteering on Lesvos during the first great refugee influx, mainly from Syria, in 2015, and a children’s book that emerges from that same experience,” he said.
On January 17, Heighton will give a talk for the AU community, The Paradox of Disillusionment, which he said will focus on “how failure can be the making of you.”
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