Work With Words

I work with words. As a writer and a storyteller words are my basic equipment. Since I got my first paid job as a writer back in 1979 I have been engaged in the process of learning how to use my tools. The learning never stops. For me that’s a special blessing because I love what I do and to be constantly in the process of being given more tools to work with is amazing.

            Words are all around us. It follows that stories are all around us too. Because I have ears I hear them. When my eyes are open I can see them. With my heart receptive I can feel them. Staying conscious and connected to the world means that stories come to me by taste and smell and wonderfully, magically sometimes, on the pure wings of my imagination when I keep all my other senses open.

            What it asks of me is to continue harvesting words. I need to do that so I can describe what I encounter and imagine. I need to do that so other people can inhabit the same space that I do, feel the magic of my stories. So I need the flexibility of an elastic and spontaneous facility with words and language in order to make that possible.

            It means that I read books. A lot of them. I can’t remember a time in my life when a book was not a companion. When I open a new one I am flooded with the presence of more and more tools. Essentially the words in books have been my education. When I left school at sixteen it marked the end of my formal education. Everything I have accomplished in this life I taught myself from the pages of books. I’ve been a lifelong student in the University of Books.

            There is a lot to be gained from this. For one, you get so you’re really comfortable with expression. Years ago if you’d have told me I would stand in front of thousands of people and speak for an hour without the benefit of notes I would have said you were crazy. Now, I’m teaching writing at the University of Victoria. Words empower you. Words make magic possible when you let them.

            That’s what I’ve discovered after all these years. You can have all the tools in the world but they only work for you if you allow them to. Allowing is the key to everything. As a writer words just sometimes fall out of the sky – the right ones, the perfect ones. If I allow them to fall. But I have to be active in the process of gathering them, of reading, of harnessing the horses of words to the wagon of my dreams.

             My people say that allowing is the power that follows choice in Creator’s plan. Two great gifts we are given to empower us in this life. You choose and then you allow. Walking the Red Road, or living a principled, spiritually centered life, is the ongoing process of that. The choice puts you on the path and the allowing keeps that path rolling forward in front of you. Your duty is to continue walking it.

            So I choose words to be the pathway of my life and then I allow them to guide me in the work that I do. So far so good. Without education beyond Grade Nine I will publish my eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh books this year. I will publish four titles in four separate genres in the same publishing year – all because I allowed it to happen.

            But when I say the learning never stops I mean that. Sure, I’ve done some great things with the power of words but there is always something more; something unrelated to the worlds that words can offer you. For instance, it’s taken me this long to learn the rules of grammar. Like, when you say ‘I love you’, there’s a full colon stop. Then a dash and then the other person says ‘I love you too.” Period.

            The punctuation of our lives happens in the heart not on paper. I’m learning that these days. The words I use with the people in my life are the tools I use to build that life. So I choose wisely and allow them to work – and the book of my life is becoming an incredible tale, well told and punctuated by feeling and the images of  belonging, community and empowerment.

            When we speak of literacy these days, it’s important to recognize that we speak beyond the ability to understand words. We speak of the ability to comprehend feeling. A true and vibrant literacy of the soul and spirit. That, in the end, is the biggest gift that words can bring us.


About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

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