We are so thrilled to present next month’s exiting speaker Amanda Lewis. Join us online.
Amanda Lewis helps writers build their body of work. She is currently Editorial Director at Page Two, a publishing house in Vancouver that collaborates with individuals and organizations around the world to produce quality non-fiction and children’s books. Previously, she was Editor and Associate Managing Editor at the Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group at Penguin Random House Canada in Toronto for eight years. She has worked with authors including Naomi Klein, Gary Barwin, John Vaillant, Michael Bungay Stanier, and Kate Harris, and edited posthumous collections by Jane Jacobs and Carol Shields. Amanda is also co-founder and Literary Director of The Reading Line, a unique literary festival on two wheels. A writer herself, Amanda is currently working on her debut book, a memoir about searching for the largest trees in British Columbia. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Amanda now lives in the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. You can learn more at amandalewis.org
How do you define creativity and apply it in your life and career?
I believe that life is inherently creative, and our task is to maintain flow and openness. I work in a creative field—publishing—so I am constantly coming up with fresh ideas and innovative systems, in tandem with our team at Page Two and our authors. Lately I’ve been focusing my creative energies on simplifying my life and work. Early in the pandemic, I listened to a talk by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who said she sometimes asks herself, “How would this look if it were easier?” That creative problem-solving usually presents a cleaner narrative and less stress overall.
Where do you find your best creative inspiration or energy?
In routine. I find that my best ideas come when my day is organized, and my mind is free to wander between the tasks and appointments.
What’s one piece of creative advice or a tip you wish you’d known as a young person?
To coin a phrase: Just do it. The creative energy that inspires you is often the energy that will help you finish a task, regardless of whether you identify as a “starter” or a “finisher.” There’s a principle in coaching that the first problem that’s identified is often not the real problem, but when it comes to creative thinking, I believe “First thought, best thought.” Don’t overthink it, just get it done.
Who (living or dead) would you most enjoy hearing speak at CreativeMornings?
The late Oliver Sacks is my go-to inspiration for balancing personal creative work alongside a day job—in his case, as a busy neurologist who was devoted to his patients. I admire him for his work ethic as much as his commitment to personal pursuits (like studying ferns) and physical fitness (he swam every day, frequently in the ocean). He was a true eccentric, in the best possible sense, and I think we’d be treated to a wide-ranging, illuminating conversation and a Q&A delivered with kindness and curiosity.
What did you learn from your most memorable creative failure?
That it was worth trying. And even if I don’t use the material in that form, I can repurpose the idea or material elsewhere. I learn and figure out what I’m trying to say through doing it, especially when it comes to writing. Some people outline first, but I draft and then organize the material. As Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
What’s your one guilty creative indulgence?
No such thing. I don’t apply guilt to something that gives me pleasure.
What are you reading these days?
A stack of library books, by authors including Samantha Irby, Jonathan Safran Foer, Richard Feynman, Sheri Fink, Jerry Saltz, Roger Deakin…I always read a bunch of books at once. Plus the books I’m currently editing, which are mostly business and self-help.
What fact about you would surprise people?
I have a near-complete collection of my orthodontic appliances and dental models.
How would you describe what you do in a single sentence to a stranger?
I help writers figure out what they’re saying, and then help them say it in the clearest and most engaging way possible.
What’s the most recent thing you learned (big or small)?
How to use a rotary sander. Not complicated.
If I could open a door and go anywhere where would that be?
My recurring dream is opening doors to empty rooms. I always wake up feeling spacious and free. I hope I always have that dream.
What myths about creativity would you like to set straight?
That only certain people are creative, that it’s innate, and that you need to go to art school or get an MFA to be creative. Bullshit.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
Anne Collins, publisher at Penguin Random House Canada. She taught me to work hard and dig deeper and demand more of authors, while also being kind and sending them a gift when they need a boost, oftentimes a bottle of booze.
What are you proudest of in your life?
Rising to the rank of Editorial Director and working in publishing for 12 years, when it’s notoriously hard to land and keep an editing job.
If you could interview anyone living or dead, but not a celebrity, who would it be and why?
My paternal grandmother. I’d ask for her secrets in maintaining a home and stretching a budget. I adore homemaking.
If you could do anything now, what would you do?
Deliver my Creative Mornings talk early so I don’t obsess over it.
Where was the last place you travelled?
Since we’re in a pandemic, not very far! I was fortunate to go to Japan in December 2019 to hike the Kumano Kodo, a UNESCO world heritage site. I can’t wait to return to Japan to complete more pilgrimage routes. These days, I stay close to home in East Vancouver, or visit my family on Vancouver Island and Gabriola Island. I feel most comfortable when near the ocean; inland, I go a little squirrely.
What music are you listening to these days?
Let’s see, my 10 most recent downloads are:
- Jeff Russo, Fargo series soundtrack (I love the drums in “Wrench and Numbers”)
- A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Forest Bathing (their most recent album, one of my fave bands)
- Idris Muhammad, Power of Soul (the Beastie Boys sample his song “Loran’s Dance”)
- Simon and Garfukenl, Essentials (what can I say? Classic, perfect for moody PNW fall)
- Van Morrison, Essentials (high kicks and bell bottoms, baby!)
- Lenny Kravitz, “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” (Let’s! Clean! The! House!)
- Midlife, Automatic (my friend Kate recommended this album and I’ve been meaning to listen to it when I exercise…next time I exercise)
- Easy Star All-Stars, Dub Side of the Moon (they do excellent reggae/ska/dub covers of classic albums; I adore their covers of Radiohead songs)
- Toots and the Maytals, Essentials (RIP Toots!)
- Gordon Hempton, “The Ocean Is a Drum” (sound tracker Hempton recorded the sound of waves rolling in off the Pacific, using a mic in a naturally hollowed Sitka spruce log on the shore, which has excellent resonance)
Where is your favourite place to escape?
In my mind, to a favourite rock on Hornby Island, BC.
What practises, rituals, or habits contribute to your creative work?
Meditation, keeping a schedule outside my work hours, Pomodoros (20-minute work bursts), exercise commitments/challenges, long walks, coffee and dark chocolate every morning, starting work early in the morning and not getting dressed until I have to.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
Take a walk and then give myself 20 minutes to work on a task, just riffing on paper. Or chat with friends about the blocks. Creative blocks are building blocks.
If you had fifteen extra minutes each day, what would you do with them?
What has been one of your biggest Aha! moments in life?
If we start from a grounded place and take deeper breaths, we’ll go further.
What object would you put in a time capsule that best represents who you are today?
Dark chocolate wouldn’t survive the time capsule, so I’d say my yellow kettle, since I use it several times a day for coffee and tea.
What is the one movie or book every creative must see/read?
Two films: Beautiful Losers and Cameraperson.