A couple months ago, I espied a newspaper article about a writing workshop being offered at a Kamloops library. Host to the invitation was Richard Wagamese, author of several novels including the 2012 bestseller Indian Horse. What made this opportunity particularly special was its cost, or rather, the lack of one. The writer was offering to share his advice and writing techniques with members of the Kamloops community, completely free of charge. Eager to sign up I called right away, but found the class had filled already. Still, I left my name and number, in case the man might hold another workshop. To my delight he did, and I ended up a member of that second group.
For six weeks, the charismatic writer guided me and thirty-or-so others to simultaneously engage the talents of our right and left brains, using techniques that emphasized spontaneous narrative and a harnessing of forgotten childhood energy. He described some of the exercises that have benefited his own craft, instructing us to experiment with them ourselves. The face to face class experience challenged the limits of our comfort zones, as one at a time we were encouraged to regale the room with stories spoken off the tops of our heads. Among Wagamese’s prescribed homework assignments were drawing words from a bag and even talking to our own reflections. Some of what I produced in the process of it all can be read in my previous blog posts Tumble Burning and Streams of My Consciousness: Feathered Foes and Dizzy Reveries.
The workshop culminated last Thursday in a 72 minute session of continuous writing, during which the room remained silent and hardly a hand took a break from scribbling or typing. This is the way it seemed to me, at least. My own focus was so wholly fixated on translating my thoughts into ink that any amount of external activity might have gone unnoticed to my senses. The fifteen pages of words that filled my notebook at the end of it all were the most I had ever written in a single ongoing effort, and I could easily have kept at it. What I had so absorbedly penned felt like part of something larger, and so I plan to cultivate it further with added practice and experience.
As a writer I do still have a lot of work ahead to reach the level I want to be at, and undoubtedly I will seek to improve myself even if I ever do get there. In the meantime, the exercises I have learned and utilized this past month and a half have already improved my ability to let ideas transpire naturally, while not allowing myself to over think things in the process. Though I may often still struggle with the challenge of a blank screen or unmarked piece of paper, I am now better equipped to deal with such intimidating emptiness.
Thank you, Richard, for lending your expertise to a bunch of us keyboard and pen wielding amateurs. With your advice may our words flow more freely, and our thoughts unfold beyond the constraints of judgement or expectations. I am now prepared to take a firm stance against writer’s block, and I will do all that I can to avoid throwing my hands up in surrender, admitting “I’ve got nothing.”
– Cory Magnus Stumpf