A lifetime apprenticeship

September 12, 2017

New writer in residence encourages writers to take it slow and help each other


Deborah Willis is a bit superstitious when it comes to talking about her current project. The acclaimed short story writer is using part of her time as MacEwan University’s new writer in residence to work on her first novel—but readers will have to wait until she’s finished at least a draft or two before she will share what it’s about.

The other part of her residency is no secret—she will be mentoring writers of all experience levels and providing feedback.

Deborah's experience working at a publishing house and seeing manuscripts at varying stages of completion means she has a lot of useful advice to offer—including the benefits of slowing things down. “Take your time at every stage of the process. If you show something too early, before you really understand what it is, then you can be pushed off course.”

Deborah has stayed on course since publishing her first collection of short stories, Vanishing and Other Stories. It was named one of the Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2009 and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award. Earlier this year, she released her second collection, The Dark and Other Love Stories, which was recently included on the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist for 2017.

“I’ve always liked reading and though I started writing at age nine, I probably only started to seriously think that I could write a book once I was in university,” she says. “Publishing a book seemed like a really foreign, amazing thing that only amazing people did, and then when I actually met writers for the first time, I was at the University of Victoria. So that’s something, I think, that a writer in residence can do—show anyone that it’s possible to write and publish a book.”

Deborah looks forward to working with other writers and consulting on their projects. “Improving as a writer is a really slow process. One of my profs once said it’s a really long apprenticeship. He said 15 years, but I think it’s a lifetime.” Deborah also understands that writing is very personal. “All of us are in the same boat—writing feels like a really vulnerable, emotional experience sometimes. But I think people should know that every writer, including me, is always at that stage. It’s difficult to write well, but we can help each other.”

Deborah Willis is MacEwan’s writer in residence from September until December 2017. If you would like to book an appointment, visit MacEwan.ca/WIR.

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