On January 31, Naomi K. Lewis will become MacEwan University's 29th writer in residence. The acclaimed author of Tiny Lights for Travellers, I Know Who You Remind Me Of and Cricket in a Fist hopes to help aspiring authors find joy in their writing practice.

Lewis is a Canadian fiction and non-fiction writer. Her memoir, Tiny Lights for Travellers, was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction, and her collection of short stories, I Know Who You Remind Me Of, was nominated for two Alberta book awards. In 2013, she co-edited an anthology on shyness, and her journalism has been shortlisted for provincial and national magazine awards.

Lewis has been awarded residencies at University of New Brunswick and the Calgary Public Library. As MacEwan's writer in residence, she will be available to consult online with writers about their works between January 31 and April 1.

Here she talks about the childhood classic that inspired her to become a writer, how ghostwriting gives her process more structure and her advice for aspiring authors.

What was the story or book that made you want to become a writer?

When I was seven years old, I really loved The Wizard of Oz and other stories like it — the Narnia books and The Neverending Story — where children are transported to another world and have these extraordinary experiences. Without any adult guidance, they go on a journey, learn to take care of themselves in an unknown landscape and return home wiser and more self-assured.

How did that inspiration lead you to become a professional writer?

I've always wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I never thought it was a realistic plan. I figured that to be a writer, I would have to do something else, but I never really found that something else. Instead, I found jobs that were adjacent to being an author, like writing and editing for magazines and ghostwriting.

In my 20s, I decided to get a master’s in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick, and the thesis for my degree became my first novel. Though I couldn't support myself by writing fiction, I gradually got to the point where I feel incredibly lucky that I can support myself with a career in writing and editing.

Where do you get your ideas?

Writers get ideas from everywhere – listening to conversations, reading books and remembering every little thing that's ever happened to us. Right now is such a weird time because during the pandemic, I've had fewer interactions with other people and that's made it so much harder to write. I have a whole lifetime of memories to rely on but it's through interacting with other people that a lot of ideas are sparked.

What is your writing process?

It depends on the project and how big or small it is. Sometimes a story comes out whole and sometimes it takes two years of leaving it and coming back. My last book was a memoir and I just wrote whatever came into my head. With the novel I'm writing now, I have a carefully drawn-out outline with every scene that I need to write. I've never done that before, but it's a really complicated story. I reinvent the process every time.

Ghostwriting has been helpful for me in how I approach my own writing. Sometimes I try to convince myself that I'm ghostwriting my own book so I can distance myself to evaluate what's going to work best. I try to step back and say, if this wasn't me, what would I do?

What have you taken from your past residencies?

I really love teaching and editing, and a residency is like doing both. It's great to be able to talk to people at different points in their writing careers, and the best is when I meet with people who are open to learning and having discussions about their work. I just love getting in the weeds with people about what they're working on.

What's your advice for aspiring writers?

Read a lot. If you're writing, you should be reading every book you can get your hands on. You also need to write a lot and not expect to be good at it right away. Like anything, it takes a long time to get good. There's a lot of writing that you're going to do that is not going to be publishable or that other people will want to read — and that's just fine. Some people may feel like their work is not worthwhile unless it's published, and that's just not at all the case. I would really stress that you stop thinking about publishing for a few years and just practice.

I think it's helpful to get feedback when you've worked on something long enough, revised it yourself, and have gotten to the point where you don't know what to do next. That's the point where it's helpful to get someone else to look at it.

Where can you find Naomi K. Lewis at MacEwan? Visit MacEwan.ca/WIR to learn more and to set up an appointment.

Writer in Residence
Real-world advice from someone who has been there—that’s what every fledgling writer needs.
Naomi K. Lewis outside in field Learn more

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