Writing On Writing

A reflection
by Chris Hibbard

Writing on Writing

Some people know that they want to be a writer from a very early age. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favourites, once claimed that he wrote his first story while he was still in diapers. He has been known to exaggerate, but his point is clear. I, on the other hand, started my life a little more wishy-washy.

First I wanted to be a marine biologist, because I was taken with dolphins. This shortly changed to a paleontologist, once I saw The Land Before Time and visited the Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. According to my mom however, I always loved words. She used to literally have to drag me away from my current book to get me to the dinner table. This never changed. For three years running, I made it to the provincial spelling bee. My elementary school had an annual Read-a-Thon, during which students raised money for the school through pledges, and read as much as they could, logging their hours. I did it just for fun. Never raised much money, but I was the elementary school champ – reading anything and everything I could get my hands on.

It’s hard to believe, but my reading habits didn’t make me the most popular kid in school. I’ve worn corrective lenses since I was five years old, got braces on in Grade 4, and had many friends who were fictional. These traits were not overly endearing to hundreds of other kids who were more interested in playing dodge ball. The fact that I had a tendency to make up stories and hold conversations with imaginary persons probably didn’t help much either. But what no one else understood was that in my private world, I could be whoever I wanted to be, and in my mind, I always had thousands of friends, some with wooden legs, and others who flew rocket ships.

It wasn’t until junior high that I started writing, mostly long epic poems about dinosaurs and such, but also short stories. Once high school hit, I continued writing poetry, most of it dark and full of inexplicable teenage angst. By this point, my mom was wrestling my poetry books out of my hand for a different reason. Having shed my glasses for contacts and growing my hair long, it seemed to her that my friends, my heavy metal music and my poetry were the only things that mattered to me, and she was somewhat worried. For good reason. She was one hundred per cent right.

Fast forward to age 22, when I got into Lethbridge College’s Print Journalism program; a great experience with mixed results. Being the only reporter in the Crowsnest Pass and writing articles about gardening supplies getting stolen and locals raising pot-bellied pigs not as glorious as it may sound. I suppose that I’ve never been particularly fond of being told what to do or how to do it, and writing basic made-to-order stuff about mundane and ordinary life didn’t give me a whole lot of pleasure.
That tedium, accompanied by some interesting personal events, got me into the U of L, enrolled in the hopes of being an English teacher some day – one that would encourage other kids to love reading and writing as much as I do. While enrolled there, I wrote long-winded rambles about random stuff for The Meliorist college paper, and tried to guide and inform the creation of a newspaper that might be read places outside of bathroom stalls.

I have often thought that sooner or later I might take a shot at writing a full-on novel, or at least a collection of short stories, but it’s never been priority. In 29 years I’ve learned a lot about myself, including the fact that I’ve never been an overachiever, since I am inherently lazy by nature. While the future is uncertain, one thing that has never changed is my love of words, and not just the words themselves, but their multiple meanings, their sounds, their associations.

I love words about words, like onomatopoeia and oxymoron, and words that attempt to describe abstract notions, like vacuum and unity and hyperspace. I find beauty hidden in the intricacies of the English language; and admire how if used and arranged correctly, it can reproduce almost all aspects of the external world. I take pleasure in the impacts of sound, in the flow of good prose, in the rhythm of a good story. Academic writing be damned – run-on sentences can come in handy, as can fragments. None of us actually speak the way that we are expected to write, and few of us actually write the way that we speak, including me.

I have also never lost an innate curiosity. I ask questions to myself, and then I feel an almost crushing need to find the answers, be they involving history, politics, literature, behaviour, or the infinite nature of time and space. What has changed over the years is the toolbox with which I can find now the answers. My library card no longer sees action twice a week, and my hands don’t cramp up from holding pens for hours on end. In exchange, I’ve had to replace my keyboard and mouse twice in the last five years and I sometimes catch myself correcting errors on Wikipedia – a valuable resource to point a researcher in the right direction, though one that should not be trusted enough to be a sole asset.

I give you all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer or their motives without knowing something of their early development. My subject matter is almost always guided by the age that we live in, the environment I was raised in and the choices I have made, for better and for worse.

It seems strange to believe, but looking back on it, my emotional attitude has not changed much since I was a kid, though I now talk a lot more. My temperament, my sense of humour, my procrastination habits, my ability to work under pressure, and even my immaturity, have always been there, and have not changed much at all. My vocabulary has simply grown, and I have had a lot of time to experience life and observe the actions and reactions of others to all of life’s stimuli – time which has resulted in what could be seen as something like wisdom.

Even though I no longer attend classes, I will still write. Even if not involved with the Meliorist, I will still write. If I had never gone to college or to university, I would still be writing. The fact is that I write because I like to. I like feeling clever. I like being able to move characters around at will like chess pieces, eliciting emotional connections from readers. I suppose I must also admit an intrinsic desire to influence people. I believe that writers can push the world in certain directions, simply by dropping an opinion on it like a bomb – blowing humanity’s collective mind into new ways of thinking. Admittedly, this is not a goal that writers always reach, and this goes for me as well, but we have to keep trying.

I would be remiss I did not admit there is a certain level of ego involved in this, but since I feel that all humans are inherently selfish, this does not make me too unusual. If there is one thing I have learned from all of my years of writing and talking with other writers it is that on the whole, supposedly serious writers are just as vain as other tradesmen and professionals – journalists, engineers, doctors, lawyers – anyone who is proud of their work. Since we take pride in our work, we hope that others do to. Subsequently, we like to hear positive feedback and we don’t take criticism well. In summary, we write because we can and we can because we write. At least, I do.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

One Response to “Writing On Writing”

  1. greetings,

    great new blog – i look forward to future posts!

    check out some websites that inspired me when i first started my blog:
    http://writetodone.com/
    http://livingoffdividends.com

    keep up with the creativity!
    cheers
    curt

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