As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved to write. This included research projects in elementary school on Cheetahs and Jellyfish, through junior high school when I wrote a (just awful) short story about a civilization of fingers called “Fingeroids.” My strictly academic papers were strong, fact-based, and well-received. My artistic work was rather less so.
English was frequently my poorest subject in school. I just couldn’t seem to find the depth that others found in stories, which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy them, I merely contend that others read far more deeply than I felt a work merited. Sometimes a word has not been hand-picked by an author to mean precisely the opposite of its natural meaning. This came to a head in high school when the teacher assigned to us to read a short story for homework. The short story was to be the subject matter for a subsequent test on our ability to read creatively and to find deeper meaning in a text.
One of my peers who always did exceptionally well in Language Arts bragged to her friends that she could pass the test without reading the story. She may have read the first and last paragraph if I recall correctly, but certainly didn’t know any of the pages in between. On the other side of the equation, I read the story multiple times, searched for repeated themes, keywords, symbolism, literary devices, and basically spent hours dissecting the story methodically in the manner I had been taught. I looked over at my classmate during the test to see if she was sweating and nervous, but she didn’t appear to be.
To put the end on the story, I received a serviceable grade on the test, below my standards, but acceptable for my least proficient subject. On the other, my ill-prepared classmate received a better than perfect score. The teacher announced that she had written in beautiful flowing prose the kind of clever, deeper analysis that hit upon themes that even the teacher herself had not at first grasped in the work. This was the kind of student we should all strive to emulate. I had spent hours preparing and she didn’t even do the minimum and I was told to be more like her. Let me tell you that this experience further pushed me away from subjective subjects for quite some time.
Despite the frustration above, I continued to write. One motivator was a poem that I wrote while coming home from school in grade eight during the spring. I always enjoyed kicking rocks and making dams and on this day a rock that I kicked happened to stop right in the path of a stream of water in an alleyway causing the stream to back up and find an entirely different channel. Sometimes a little thing like that can be an inspiration because I started thinking about how just this tiny little pebble, smaller than a marble, had stopped and forced a lot of water to change its course. I saw this as a metaphor for how something small and insignificant can make a big change, either positive or negative. The poem that I wrote, Just One Little Rock won awards as a poem about racism, it was also published at my nana’s funeral as a symbol for the cancer that took her life.
Apart from academic papers in school, I didn’t write much for fun. I think the last big piece of my puzzle was my master’s thesis. I wrote the entire thesis in October 2004, including all the figures and editing. This was a big mental foundation block, that I could write something that long in a fairly short time. I knew, with children, a job, and other endeavours simultaneously, that I wouldn’t have an enormous amount of time to devote to this, so if I didn’t know I was capable of writing that much, I probably never would have started. I also would get criticized at work for writing long, difficult, verbose emails. I was told to stop doing that, so instead I started writing a story.
I give all this background information for the same reason that I led off On Swift Wings with background information about the fictional author, and because George Orwell, in his essay, “Why I Write” suggested the same reason. The subject matter about which I write is shaped by current events and my own experience. I also recommend reading his essay, for he brings up some excellent points about the traps of writing while under the influence of temperament and current events. I hope that I have somewhat tempered my own view of the modern world. Orwell says, putting aside the need to earn a living, which my writing most certainly does not provide at this time, I share a similar set of motives for my writing.
- Sheer egoism. I’m not going to lie and pretend that one of the major motives for my work isn’t out of an abundance of egoism. It is certainly part of a desire to sound clever, to achieve something significant, to be talked about and remembered that drove my desire to write my first book. I think this is more common, if not universal that everybody wants to be well thought of. The timing of the book ties in with this as well. I read Gulliver’s Travels to my son as an infant and I want him, when he is old and I’m not around to be able to say, my dad was smart, and check out this legacy he left behind. I’ve always desired to be known as intelligent. I’ve often tried to think of myself as smart, but a point from The Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore, a favourite author of mine throws the idea out there that smart people never actually know they are smart, and they question themselves. I want to prove to myself and everybody else that I can contribute something meaningful.
- Historical Impulse and Political Purpose. Orwell separated these two, but I’m going to combine them. I’m a fan of history, and an observer of politics, if I keep myself outside of the fray directly out of a sense of displeasure at the current slate of options. I’m interested in looking at the world today and analyzing things, but also providing a few of my thoughts without (hopefully) being too preachy. I use the word “political” in a similarly broad context to Orwell. I wish that my ideas help provide some direction for society towards what I believe to be a better alternative than the hyper-polarized place we live in today. I also feel that just about any work has a political purpose like this, whether intentional or not, even if loyal fans disagree.
- Obligation. I used to read or hear people say they did something because they had to do it and felt that it was a little bit disingenuous or a cop-out. Having written my first book, I find that a part of my head always lives inside the book. I never really turn On Swift Wings off, as the messages and purpose that I wrote remain very important to me. To this point, I find that the characters are all alive in my head, and I think about their untold stories. Sometimes I find that I lay awake at night telling a story in my head, refining it, writing it, rewriting it, all without putting a word down on paper. This has become an untenable situation and the only thing that I can do about it is to write it. I feel a sense of duty to share my thoughts and ideas and to write a second (and likely more books.) Either I write, or I don’t get to sleep anymore and my head will explode with these unstructured fantasies that I can’t even talk about because nobody knows them but me. So will keep writing.
I hope that this rambling essay is illuminating and meaningful. It sometimes feels like this blog is being read by nobody but me, and I’m ok with that. I use it to provide direction for my own writing, and a lens upon myself to keep me aware. Lacking introspection, I could become blind to the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing, and this is a dangerous path. I would love to hear that people are reading this, and especially to see their thoughts on my writing (both my book and this blog.) Just for my own interest, please leave a message below indicating that you read it, even if you just write “Read it.”