Deborah Ellis

Deborah Ellis
Coming to Thunder Bay

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rough notes from a Richard Wagamese Workshop. Thunder Bay. May 9, 2015

Richard Wagamese – workshop, Saturday, May 9, 2015 – rough notes.

Held at MJB library, with about 30 participants

Wagamese said he read a lot and copied copiously from the books whenever he found a section he liked. He copied into a big notebook by hand. He tried to find out the titles of good books and took down the names in a small spiral notebook that he carried everywhere. He stayed up late copying.

He has no degree in writing and never attended a writing course. He did not finish high school. A homeless youth, he found the public library a blessing where he could read at a carrel and was never disturbed. He went every day to read and copy. He could not take the books out because he had no library card.

"To write – go to the energy." He compares the spontaneity of children, their energy and their “guess what happened” and the key word, the answer, “what?” When you say “what” you are agreeing to a story. Children pour the tale out unselfconsciously, usually in one long sentence with and, so and but to keep the thing going. “What” is the magic word, the key to the story.

The child just strings words together. She can’t stop talking. The child ponders, wonders, questions.

Wagamese works with oral stories. He never rewrites. The oral gets you away from the concept of failing, bad negative thoughts about writing, judgment rules.

"You have to be out of your head to be a writer, that is out of the judging brain. You must go by heart and emotion." He has his students do oral story telling for two days. 

At this point, we did a exercise by writing down ten words and making sentences of out neighbours first three. Then the first five. We also took a key word, circled it and crated other words radiating from it like a sun. Then made a sentence using all the words.

“As soon as you stop and think, stop. Writing should not be a struggle.”

 Wagamese writes four or five hours in the morning but if he stops to think he stops. He goes to another activity such as breathing, stretching. Later he fixes the stuff up but he may decide to leave it alone. Later, taking these ideas and blowing them up gives you a feeling of energy. He makes word maps (see sun above).

He is insistent that the more you practice the better you become at attaining this spontaneity. He seldom revises. You want your language to be unfiltered, open and flowing. “Open the lens of understanding. See life with a wide child-like lens.”

If he has an idea for a novel he tells the story by speaking it out loud to his dog on walks. He does this for 6 weeks, over and over. As he is speaking, his logical brain is organizing, his abstract brain is creating and his psychological brain is pushing the enemy (self doubt) out.

He believes story telling is spiritual. Speaking out loud is better than silent thought. He discovered the title, Quality of Light, by speaking out loud on a walk when he saw mist on the river. Through oral story telling we can write without struggle.

He believes we all come from an oral tradition. He says once we all sat around a fire and listened to stories. We are geared to out loud. We are geared to story telling. Every time we ask a question, we are asking for a story.

When he is writing his characters take over. They start to dictate the story.  

Tell your story of bad things that happened. He wrote about being homeless in Miami and later he remembers that Muhammad Ali gave him a meal. Patted him on the head. He was fifteen but before he wrote that down he had just remembered his sad plight and had forgotten the boxer. So write the sad things and look for the light.

When you tell a story, certain steps occur. 1. Telling– the energy of telling sparks 2. listening gives it energy. 3. hearing which is different than listening because it has emotional, mental, spiritual or physical reactions connected to it and so in turn 4. You are incorporating the story which gives energy to 5. Tell it again to someone you know and so a circle from tell to tell.

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