William Jehu Garroutte, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, was recently named as one of the eight 2017-2018 writers for NBC’s Writers on the Verge Program. The highly competitive Writers on the Verge program is a 12-week intensive that focuses on readying talent for a staff writer position on a television series. Participants are also given the chance to interact with industry players ranging from network executives to show runners and agents. Past participants have gone on to write for series including “The Blacklist,” “Marlon,” “Community,” “Burn Notice,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “White Collar,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Chicago Fire” and “Parenthood.”
Prior to being named as a participant of the Writers on the Verge program, Garroutte participated in the Native American TV Writers Lab during the 2016 LA Skins Fest. In partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, the LA Skins Fest aims to boost the careers of Native American writers by providing daily workshops, seminars and 1-on-1 mentoring.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, Garroutte shared some of his experiences as a storyteller and emerging writer.
How do you approach storytelling?
My storytelling always comes from, and comes back to, character. I'll find a character that interests me, and then build a world and a story that will challenge them, ask them hard questions, and lead them to interesting answers.
What motivates you to write?
I need to write to make sense of the world. The same hard questions that I'm asking my characters, I'm asking myself. Through the lens of fiction, I'm able to wrestle with issues that keep me up at night, and find some answers that let me get to sleep.
What cultural value do you incorporate in your writing?
There are more than 500 indigenous nations in North America, and each of them are shaped by their traditions and histories. My stories tend to be steeped in history - personal, cultural, national. These histories influence the characters and the worlds; everybody is carrying their past, and often the pasts of their people, with them. The strength of groups and communities, of tribes, is a theme I come back to time and time again.
What challenges have you overcome as a writer?
One of the largest challenges I've overcome is a lack of formal education. I didn't go to college, and missed out on the instructional and networking opportunities that a formal education can provide. I learned to write by reading piles of scripts, pulling them apart, and trying to put them back together. It was a slow, clumsy process. I struggled with the confidence to write the stories I really wanted to – I feared I lacked the talent to do them justice. I wasn't exactly drowning in external validation.
What advice would you give yourself starting out as a writer?
If I could talk to younger me, I'd tell him to focus more on writing and less on "being a writer." I'd tell him that he doesn't need a glass of bourbon and a cigarette in the dead of night to "find inspiration." I'd tell him to get up every morning before sunrise and put in work. No, it isn't as glamorous or as cool. But it's a much better way to get pages and get better.
What is the significance of being selected as a participant of Writers on the Verge for you?
For somebody with as little industry experience as me, Writers on the Verge is an absolutely incredible opportunity. Everybody involved in this program, from the coordinators to the guest speakers, and even my fellow participants, has knowledge and experience that they are staggeringly generous in sharing. They take what was once a pipe dream and make it seem like a concrete, achievable goal. They push and inspire, and give actionable, tangible advice. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but I swear it's true: I learned things in the very first week of this program that I hadn't figured out in a decade of struggling on my own.
Click here to learn more about the Writers on the Verge program or any of our Talent Infusion Programs.
Click here to learn more about the LA Skins Fest.