Nonfiction

The Way Man

By Sam Smith
Artwork by Jude Dillon

Going into this interview with Tom, I knew I would learn a lot, but I never could have predicted how enlightening and entertaining my time with Tom would really be. Not only did Tom answer all of my questions, but he went beyond that. Within our two-hour conversation (which I was only expecting to be half an hour long), Tom shared valuable knowledge – from the importance of reading, to the importance of learning to turn off your censors, and write freely. Additionally, we were also able to discuss his views on the education system today, as well as the publishing industry.

I think I can speak for all writers when I say we can learn an awful lot from writers like Tom. Thank you so much for sharing your time, wisdom, and words with us.

Regards, Samantha Smith & The BlackBear Review

Q: What makes for a successful writer?

A: Success is how you define it. Some people consider it to be successful if you become a best seller, with that being said, very few Canadian writers are able to accomplish this. You can redefine success as being able to make words do what you want them to, but this is also very rare. Success is really what you shoot for, and you have to be able to live with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Q: How do you think writers can engage readers?

A: There’s an element in writing that nobody really talks about – luck. I think writers, or any artist for that matter, need to produce for themselves. You can never predict what audience you’re going to reach just out of pure luck. You’d sure kick yourself if you had an idea and didn’t do it, then someone else came along with the same idea, did do it, and was wildly successful.

Q: What is the importance of reading as a writer?

A: Reading is absolutely vital from a writer. Reading is learning the history of your own art form, so that you don’t have to start from square one. You need to read to find ideas that you can steal, as well as ideas that don’t work for you.  I think it’s the same thing as musicians listening to music. It is no different than The Beatles starting by playing covers of musicians that inspired them, then they could begin to write their own music that was very close to that material. From there they could go on, and it’s the same ideas with reading from writers. Nobody is a genius that just falls from the sky. It may look like that from the outside looking in, but the more you know about how a writer is developed, you’ll see a lot of great writers did a lot of close reading so that they could find a style that really speaks for them.

Q: What is your biggest piece of advice for young writers.

A: It all begins with reading. Reading is the best self-education a writer has. Through reading, a writers can learn what they like, as well as what they don’t like. Writers can learn from each other, and I’ll call it reading, but it’s really stealing. Once somebody recommended to me a writer from Santa Cruz, California that I had never heard of before. So, I had bought one of his books, but I put it aside because I had never heard of the writer. I got around to reading the book this fall, and I ended up reading it back to back twice, because there was so much the author was doing that I thought was really interesting. It was interesting to see how much of his thoughts were completed, and how much was open ended. He also discussed ideas that I wasn’t familiar with, such as traditional Chinese poetry, which spoke to me as ideas to try.

Q: Do you have a favourite place for writing?

A: Just like anything in the arts, there is no right way of doing things. Personally, I need a quiet space. I know that’s not what everybody likes, there are a lot of writers that can work in various coffee shops and enjoy the bustle and conversation happening around them, or they can have music going. For me, I need a quiet space to myself to get my writing done.

Q: Do you have a ritual or routine?

A: I’m not much for rituals. I know that I’m freshest in the morning, and I always do my best writing first thing. By early afternoon, my brain is kind of fried in terms of writing. When I’m home, then the afternoons are usually spent doing physical things. In the spring, summer and fall that would usually consist of gardening or biking. In the winter, it’s going skiing, or bringing firewood in from the shed.

Q: What are your thoughts on using substances (such as marijuana, alcohol, or other mind-altering substances) as a creativity enhancing tool in your writing?

A: I think it is really an individual matter. For me it doesn’t work, but I would never make that a blanket statement. Everyone’s creative process is somewhat different, so I imagine there are some writers who can be inspired that way, and I think there is enough evidence that some people really needed or used stimulants in a way that was good. A lot of writers can become paralyzed by that voice in their head that’s saying “this isn’t good enough”, and if a drink or smoke can shut that voice up and prevent a writer from censoring themselves, then go for it. For me personally, I have to have a clear mind to write.

Q: What is the best money you’ve spent as a writer?

A: I would have to answer with books – it all goes back to the importance of reading as a writer. For example, that book by the author from Santa Cruz has provided me with a whole direction of writing, a whole different set of ideas that I have already gotten a few poems out of; all because of reading. Certain books that I’ve bought have opened up worlds of writing, and different approaches to writing that I never would have known without reading.

Q: How important do you think it is to collaborate with other people when producing your work?

A: Personally, I started writing fiction later in life. When it comes to writing my fiction pieces, for a long time I was afraid of them, and wanted another eye to look through them. It really depends on the person, some feedback you just say thank you to, and then don’t pay any attention to it. But if their suggestions made your work better, then it’s worth it.

Q: What does writing do for your state of mind?

A: It depends on what I’m working on. With a long form like a novel, I live with those characters for years, as well as I’m thinking about the next novel. With poetry however, it’s kind of over and done. I may think about a poem for two or three days after, but that’s about as long as it goes on, so there’s that difference in regards to what it does for my state of mind.

 

Tom Wayman has published innumerable books of poetry and prose over a long career. His recent collections of poems include The Order in Which We Do Things (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2014) and Helpless Angels (Saskatoon: Thistledown, 2017). His newest fiction is short stories, all set in the Slocan Valley of southeastern B.C. where he lives, The Shadows We Mistake For Love (Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2015). A selection of his essays and interviews 1994-2014, If You’re Not Free at Work, Where Are You Free: Literature and Social Change, was published by Toronto’s Guernica Editions in spring 2018.

In 2015 Wayman was named a Vancouver, B.C. Literary Landmark, with a plaque on the city’s Commercial Drive commemorating his contribution to Vancouver’s literary heritage through his championing of people writing for themselves about their daily employment. Since 1989 he has been based in Winlaw, BC, although he has taught widely in the BC community college system, and most recently (2002-2010) at the University of Calgary. Currently he is on the organizing committee for two West Kootenay literary events: New Denver’s Convergence Writers’ Weekend and Nelson’s Elephant Mountain Literary Festival. www.tomwayman.com