Working on my latest article for Threshold Magazine (which will be appearing in issue 3 – coming soon) got me thinking about how we evolve in our art. What motivates us to create in the first place? Do those motivations remain the same throughout our artistic careers? Which people in our lives (if any) give us those critical nudges to get us where we need to go?
Although I had been writing stories for as long as I can remember, my Grade 5 teacher (Mr. Neil) was the person who first introduced me to creative writing as a disciplined art. By that I mean writing regularly, actively thinking about story structure, and most importantly of all not being afraid to express myself in order to find my voice. That year, the Nipissing Board of Education issued each student a creative writing folder, in which there was a simple spreadsheet that we could use to track our progress. Although a certain number of our story topics were dictated to us (e.g., Remembrance Day, “Why Pollution Makes Me Upset”, etc) we were encouraged to go wild otherwise. We had space on our spreadsheets for 20 stories over the course of a year. I wrote 52, and had tacked on a second tracking sheet.
Decades later I have re-read those stories, and after writing this blog post decided to type out one of them and share it below. While I can’t help but laugh at a lot of what I wrote, it’s pretty clear what interested me. Most of my stories (the ones that didn’t involve haunted houses and ghosts) featured adventure and discovery, and put ordinary folks in extraordinary situations. None of my protagonists had super-powers (at least not at first), nor did they have buckets of cash or weapons of mass-destruction at their disposal. Although it’s unlikely my ten-year-old self would have phrased it this way, what my characters did have in common was a desire to overcome the obstacles they faced. They didn’t always succeed. Even then, as it turns out, I was often writing stories in which the protagonists came out of their adventures in a diminished state, or simply ended up dead or never being heard from again. I also found a few attempts at sarcastic humour. Old habits die hard, I suppose.
So what did I get from this trip down memory lane, aside from the impression that I was a slightly morbid kid? I saw how fertile my imagination was, and how persistent I was in practising the craft of writing. It’s handy to keep that mind as the rejections trickle into my inbox. I’m in this for the long haul. The last remark from Mr. Neil, dated April 2, 1985, sums it up quite nicely: “Mystery, adventure? Keep up your good work!”
And so, to my fellow writers: Keep up your own good work.
Mr. Neil, wherever you are, thank you for encouraging me to take that first step, and the next ones.
Testflight, by Geoff Gander
(October 19, 1984)
The year – I don’t know when this is. But the citizens of Toronto have built a rocket. It cost 42 million dollars to build!
That night, a robber sneaked in the lab. Soon he was in the rocket. “Let’s see if this junk can fly, man.”
Sudden a voice surprised him. It said, “What do you mean by ‘let’s’?”
“Huh?” The robber was so scared he accidentally turned on the jets! In five minutes he was in space. “Wow, man, I’m really flyin’!” Soon he was on his way to the planet X-ros. He discovered there was a robot aboard.
“We are approaching the planet X-ros. Plenty of H2O, air – breathable, land – mostly rocky, but take a note – there are plenty of humans.”
“Oh my gosh!”
So they kept getting closer and closer to the planet! After a while they crashed into a mountain. As soon as they got out of the ship he said, “Let’s give this junk to rent-a-wreck!”
Two minutes later they explored the planet. Soon they found some plants. “Well at least we found some life.”
“’Some’ is a very unlengthy word. You should say some plant life.”
“Oh, shut up!”
Soon they were in a forest, which was filled with life. In twelve seconds flat they were conked out! When they revived they found that millions of cave-men were staring at them. “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble now.”
“Correction, master – a real heap of trouble.”
One of the cave-men said, “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”
“Uh-oh, now we’re goners for sure!”
Sure enough, a war broke out! Until a voice said, “Let me help you nerds!” It was Joe Cool!
“Alright man, it’s Joe Cool!” said the robber. As soon as he said that the war went on. There were lots of “ow”s, “eee”s, “ahhh”s, and “holy cow”s used in that fight. Soon most of the cave-men had fled. But the remaining ones chased the heroes out of the forest. As soon as they fixed up the ship they escaped. Soon they were on their way back to Earth. But something kicked them off-course and threw them elsewhere! None of them were seen or heard from again.