Notes On A Fiction Workshop By Richard Wagamese
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Photo by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
In October 2012, Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway who is a member of the Sturgeon Clan, gave a talk about fiction writing at the 5th Indigenous Writers Gathering at First Nations House University of Toronto.
With 11 books to his name, Wagamese, a survivor of the 60s Scoop, addiction, incarceration, and homelessness, shared stories about his life, culture, and craft. Having only a grade 9 education Wagamese became an award winning journalist and author. In this one talk Wagamese taught me more than many of my university professors.
To Be A Writer You Must Be A Reader
- “What I did do was immerse myself in the culture of books.”
- Libraries: “These places were mine.”
- One book opened a doorway to another.
- “I drowned in an ocean of words and images.”
- Read book reviews.
- Read two to three hours a day.
- Don’t limit yourself to your own cultural niche. Read everything.
- Looking for appropriation of culture takes you away from the story.
- Look at how the story is being told.
- Reading adds elements and substance to your craft.
- “Dialogue is speech.”
- “Language is so magical.”
- “The way we talk to each other is literature.”
- Keep your ears open. Listen in on conversations.
- Notebook carrying: “I scribbled what I thought they said.”
- Record conversations.
- Looks up words on un-busy days and uses them in sentences.
Wagamese’s Writing Process
- Yoga + meditation in the morning.
- Smudges and drinks tea.
- “I open up the channel that lives in all of us and I start to work.”
- Faces a blank screen every morning.
- “I work for the story’s sake.”
- Writes 3 to 4 hours every morning—7 publishable pages.
- “I breathe through my fingers.”
- “I’m writing there trying to find my own answers…trying to find my own views.”
- 1 draft writer.
- Wrote first book in 5 months.
- “Hit that bar and go over it!”
- “The final period completes the whole voyage.”
- “We were born on the breath of creation; we carry that breath within us.”
- Our nature is to be storytellers
- Feel the land: “The land will inform you.”
- “We reach out because we want to be connected.”
- “I was afraid to look like a stupid Indian.”
- “I had a hard time looking up because I was ashamed and afraid.”
- Find Another Indian To Hassle
- “I have faith now. And that faith is a byproduct of courage.”
- The way you get into the fabric of a story comes from within you.
What You Need To Be A Writer
- Love of language
- “There’s a story calling you. There’s a story in you that wants to be told.”
- Challenge yourself.
- “If you’re gonna live as a writer you have to live and die by the agreement you make with yourself.”
- Commit to yourself, your work, excellence.
- “You have to work dang hard!”
- Story lives in everything: music, theatre, dance, photos.
- Find your political peace.
- Hang your ego on the hook of the door of your writing space.
- Mean what you say.
- Say what you mean.
Richard Wagamese has two works of fiction forthcoming in 2013.
Click here for notes on a talk by Cherokee writer Daniel Heath Justice: “Declaring and Talking Back The Power of Words”.