The 5-Question Interview: Greg Hardesty

The writer gets to the point about tension, narrowing in and finding a story just about anywhere.

Greg Hardesty
is a staff reporter for the Orange County Register where he often must turn around stories quickly and make them interesting, relatable and memorable. But a personal essay he wrote earlier this year about his teenage daughter’s astronomical tally of text messages–14,528 in a single month–not only landed him [and his daughter] on Dr. Phil and Rachel Ray, it had colleagues the world over writing about him. Greg teaches journalism at California State University, Fullerton. He is also a distance runner [of very, very long distances], and I was interested, among other things, to hear how the sport [passion] nourished his creativity.

The Writer’s Journey: How and when do you know in your gut that an idea is viable and worth following? Is there a telling moment for you?
Greg: Oh yes—a bell goes off when, more than anything, I feel a strong sense of curiosity: How did this person do that? What does this person’s wife/husband/child think of this? A key ingredient in any good story is a sense of tension or of a person overcoming odds or an obstacle, or a person with a reasonable amount of complexity; someone with shades of gray instead of black and white.

The Writer’s Journey: When it comes to writing would you describe your mind as a friend or foe? What’s his/her/its voice like?
Greg: Oh, it’s a friend—but one with a very demanding sense about what holds interest. My friend has ADD and if I can’t grab your attention at the beginning of the story, I am dead. My friend inside my head demands that a story be as interesting as possible. [dig this alert:] If I, the writer, am bored, the reader will have no change. My friend usually says, “Think cinematically. Think of the most compelling scene, and go from there.”

The Writer’s Journey: Taking the stance that creativity is a natural state, why do we get stuck? How do you overcome “stuckness” if you encounter it?
Greg: I reinterview people when I feel I do not have enough material. I go over notes again and again. [wow alert:] I rarely get stuck. There’s always some way to get into a story. The challenge really is, what is the most interesting way? To overcome stuckness, I walk away from a story and do something else and come back to it with a fresh mind/eyes.

The Writer’s Journey: Jackson Pollock said, “The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.” Using his model for creation, how do you, as a feature writer and reporter, let a story come through?
Greg: It’s sort of an instinctual process. I let the person or subjects of the story rattle around in my head for several hours while I do something else. Then they usually speak to me in the sense that a clear picture of the essence of their story emerges, and then a specific scene that makes the essence of the story clear.

The Writer’s Journey: You’re a (long) distance (trail) runner. Does running fuel your writing? Can you describe what fuels your writing, if not, or in addition to running?
Greg: Running fuels my mind and spirit and absolutely helps my writing. It forces me to live in the moment, which makes me a more attentive person when I do an interview and allows me to focus more sharply when I review notes and sit down to right. Running supercharges my mind with a flood of endorphins and all that energy allows me to bust through the color and narrow in on a subject, much like I narrow in on where my feet land on the trail.

Greg lives in southern California in a canyon where it’s hard to get a cell phone signal. He was out running at the time this went live. Get to know him here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/text-phone-texting-2275269-bill-daughter