Jessi Honard of North Star Messaging + Strategy: “They told me it was impossible and I did it anyway”
Be yourself — It can be easy to get caught up in what you “should” do, but tenacity comes from an ability to look inward, stay honest, and trust your intuition. There will always be people who want to insert their reality into your plans. But at the end of the day, you know yourself better than anyone.
As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessi Honard.
Jessi Honard is a writer by day, and a writer by night. As co-CEO of North Star Messaging + Strategy, a content marketing agency, she supports small business owners in capturing their brand voice so they can outsource their content. As a novelist, she writes primarily fantasy and science fiction. An advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and the environment, Jessi believes in the power of community and perseverance. She lives in the Bay Area with her partner, where she goes hiking and rock climbing every chance she gets. She loves border collies, dark comedy, and not-so-dark coffee.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?
Absolutely. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by stories. I devoured them, I wrote them, I dreamed about them. In third grade I decided I would grow up to be a writer, and since then I haven’t stopped. I went to college for English, tried my hand as a high school teacher and a marketing coordinator, and eventually co-founded North Star Messaging + Strategy, a content marketing agency.
Through all of this, I continued to write fiction on the side. I’d wrap up my work day and I’d scribble scenes that took place in far-off worlds.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At North Star, we’re continuing to develop resources that empower small business owners to step away from being their own content bottleneck. By capturing their voice, stories, and values with our Brand Voice process, we set them up to outsource their content without sacrificing authenticity.
On the creative front, I have a co-written novel that has received an offer for publication! Plus, I have some solo projects up my sleeve. I like to stay transparent about my writing on social media to help other writers gain insight into my process and make creative expression feel more accessible for everyone.
In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?
I want to go back to Brand Voice. A common thread in both fiction and marketing content is the idea of voice, and writing with a voice that is both unique and compelling. But “voice” can often feel abstract and difficult to capture and record. As a result, many business owners struggle to outsource their content.
At North Star, we go beyond simple content creation and dive deep into the voice of a brand, developing a Brand Voice Guide before a single word of content is written. This allows our clients to trust their their marketing materials reflect their brand, and it also empowers them to continue outsourcing content over time.
Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?
Writing is a career path that’s met with a lot of skepticism. There’s a common misconception that professional writers are all starving artists.
Growing up, I wasn’t shy about my intentions. I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to grow up to be a writer. I was met with responses that ranged from “Writers don’t make any money,” to “That’s nice, but what’s your Plan B?”.
Everywhere I turned, people reminded me that my passion was a hobby, not a viable career path. Instead of listening to them, I focused on becoming the best writer possible, across as many mediums as possible. I learned about fiction writing, copywriting, content marketing, journalism, blogging, and more. I was determined to prove that writing wasn’t just possible for me — it was inevitable.
In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? :-)
I never turned my back on writing, and as I got older I began putting my work out to the world, instead of practicing in private. I wrote curriculum for schools, text panels for museums, and even started up a travel blog. Every new project was a victory that took me closer to my ultimate job — a full time, self-sustainable writing career.
My dreams were put to the test in 2010 when my best friend and I decided to start our own copywriting business. It was risky, but we were both passionate about making a sustainable living off of writing careers.
Ten years later, we have a thriving content marketing agency that serves incredible clients. We’ve helped people put their dreams into words, and make an impact in all kinds of industries, including healthcare, education, business, and more.
Not only that, but we’d designed our business to allow for creative writing, too. To date, we’ve written several independent novels and co-written a fantasy novel together — which has received an offer for publication.
I’ve not only built a stable career as a writer, but I’ve managed to do it while living in some of the most expensive cities in the nation (Los Angeles and San Francisco), and without sacrificing my well-being, health, or sanity. My writing career allows me to support my family, do what I love, and constantly challenge myself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My business partner and co-writer, Marie, has stuck with me for more than a decade, cheering me on, brainstorming, commiserating, and sharing the belief that writers can create successful, stable lives for themselves.
There are a million ways in which she’s supported me over the years, but what sticks out is her commitment to maintaining a strong friendship above all else. As co-writers and business partners it can be easy to get caught up in to-do lists, workplace politics, and client needs. But we’ve always maintained a strict Friends First policy — one that we put into action every single day. We don’t live in the same state, so we also go out of our way to schedule an annual camping or hiking trip devoted simply to stepping out of the work and keeping our friendship strong. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the moments away boost my creativity and determination to write more than anything else.
It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?
Like many people, my middle school experience was awful. I was a nerd during a time when neediness was far from trendy, and I bullied extensively for it. From being tripped in the halls to having my books taken from me, school never felt safe.
I coped by retreating into my notebooks. I wrote poetry, short stories, and even my first novels during those years, all to escape my peers. The more I wrote, the more I fed my dreams of pursuing it as a career. I began doing anything I could to become a better writer. I read voraciously. I wrote Harry Potter fanfiction. I showed my fledgling novels to my English teachers, begging them for feedback. The more I focused on creating my future as a writer, the more tolerable middle school became. Those years, more than any, cemented the importance of writing in my life.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)
1. Practice consistently. Whatever your dream, making it a reality requires continuous effort. One of the best things I ever did for myself was block off daily writing time. By making it a part of my routine, rather than something to “get to” when I “felt inspired,” I was able to hone my skills and make continuous progress. For example, before I created this habit, I sat on my debut novel with Marie for three years. We would make small bursts of progress, and then it would gather dust. Once we blocked off time specifically to write, we were able to complete a draft in ten months.
2. Build a support system. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, challenge you, and hold you accountable to your goals. For a long time, I wrote in solitude, and as a result I could only grow so much. In recent years, I began hiring mentors, attending writing events, and selectively inserting myself into leadership communities. As a result, not only has my writing has improved, but I feel more connected with my vision. Not only that, but when I hit a roadblock, I can bring it to the community and receive feedback and support.
3. Take calculated risks. At some point, your dreams need to stop living in your head. That means putting yourself out there in ways that can feel scary. I remember the first time I took a piece of writing to a critique group. I was so nervous I thought I might throw up. The idea of reading out loud to a group designed specifically to provide critiques, terrified me. But I powered through, and received great feedback and opportunities to improve. Since then, I made attending a critique group a weekly habit.
4. Build in breaks. As important as continuous practice and perseverance are, it’s equally important to step back. Our brains and bodies get tired when they do the same thing all the time, and taking a break can help fuel your next push. There’s no one right way to refuel, but I tend to seek out nature. I rock climb, find a new hiking trail, or just go on a long walk through my neighborhood. When I need a longer break, I’ll dig out my tent and go camping.
5. Be yourself. It can be easy to get caught up in what you “should” do, but tenacity comes from an ability to look inward, stay honest, and trust your intuition. There will always be people who want to insert their reality into your plans. But at the end of the day, you know yourself better than anyone. Over the years, I’ve learned to take time to reflect on what I want, and how it may differ from what those around me are saying. With so much free advice out there, this practice has become absolutely critical. Whenever I start to feel like I’m unsure of my path, I take out my journal and allow myself the space and time to get it out of my head and onto paper.
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote reminds me, every day, that if I look inward, I can find the strength to pursue my dreams. It’s not about what others say or think, but about where I put my own energy, beliefs, and time.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Creative fields, like writing, are in desperate need of diverse voices, innovative thought, and broader representation. Young people — especially those who have been historically marginalized — deserve the chance to pursue their passion without feeling like they have to sacrifice stability to get there. I want to help provide opportunities for aspiring writers to hone their craft and pursue a meaningful career that allows their voice to be heard and their bank account to be filled.
Can our readers follow you on social media?
Absolutely! You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @jessihonard
Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!