At least two of my five grandchildren are showing signs of becoming very good writers. One has a journalists' accurate recall and the ability to organize thoughts on paper while the other has displayed an active imagination and creativity that lends itself to short story writing. Whether or not they eventually pursue writing as a profession is entirely up to them. The ability to "write", however, will stand them in good stead in whatever career they choose for themselves.
HUGH GARNER, won the Governor General's Award for Fiction writing in 1963.
The word "writer" has become a generic term that includes poets, journalists, playwrights, advertising copy writers, historians, biographers and novelists. The reasons for any person becoming a writer are probably as varied as the number of writers since the advent of the hammer and chisel. Personally, writing initially provided me with an opportunity to express myself and eventually the realization dawned that through journalism I could make a living doing something that I enjoyed.
Before I applied for a job as a cub reporter with the St. Thomas Times-Journal back in 1961, I sought the advice of two individuals who were as different as night and day in their backgrounds and personal lives. One was a former journalist turned fiction writer and the other was a sound newsman and copy editor.
Hugh Garner was a maverick working class writer in Toronto who had a tremendous respect for his craft and I knew he would steer me in the right direction. I met him several years earlier while working in a clothing store in Toronto and I became a fan of his work. Coincidentally, he was also a haberdashery clerk at one time, so we had something more than writing in common. It was Hugh's contention that there is no such thing as a "born writer". "There are, however, people who from an ingrained love of literature, a childhood conditioning to reading, and a driving unexplainable urge to express themselves through the written word, sometimes become writers," he explained. "If this applies to you, as it did to me, then go for it!"
Pausing to throw back a glass of his favorite brew at the old Toronto Press Club, the hard-drinking Hugh said that he was often asked how he learned to write. "My answer has always been that I learned to write by cultivating an ability to absorb what I had read, seen or experienced; by noting, perhaps subconsciously, how good writers wrote; and finally by living many of the things I later wrote about."
Winner of many awards for his writing, Hugh avoided pretension as assiduously as he shunned literary coteries or fashion. He insisted that the only formal education a writer needed was a grade school ability to spell, the skill to place words in a sentence one after the other, the sentences into paragraphs, and in the case of a novel, the paragraphs into chapters and the chapters into a book.
He was always cynical towards the suggestion, particularly in Canada at the time, that writing belonged to those who were well educated. In fact he was of the opinion that the exact opposite was true. His skill with dialogue was learned from listening and absorbing what he saw and heard.
Unlike Hugh, Doug Waite was a laid back tea totter, a rarity in the newspaper business in those days. He was not a published writer, but he knew his way around a news room and had keen editing instincts. His advice to me was to give news writing a try and to take on every assignment as if it had potential to be the top story of the day. "Be observant, ask questions, never make assumptions, take accurate notes, check and double check your facts," he repeated more than once.
"The key to writing, is to write as if you are talking to a friend. Give the most important information right off the top. Let the words flow naturally. Don't struggle trying to come up with clever leads and references -- that will come with experience. The more you write, the better you will get, take my word for it," added Doug who 10 years later would be influential in recommending me for my first managing editor job.
He too advocated studying the top news writers of the day, paying particular attention to how they handled certain story situations. "Borrow from them as you develop your own writing style," was a hint that really worked for me.
All of which was pretty helpful advice for a kid whose only experience in the working world up to then came from behind the counter in a clothing store. Needless to say, I acted on that advice and the rest is proverbial history or, as I like to put it, type in the melting pot.
NOTED IN PASSING
It is learned from my newspaper archive service that Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who devoted her life to the poor, died 11 years ago today at the age of 87. After suffering a heart attack in 1983, her health began deteriorating, but she remained active in the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order she established to care for "the poorest of the poor." Bowed almost double by age and afflictions, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun's labors were reflected in her beautific face. "Mother Teresa died when her heart simply stopped," Dr. Vincenzo Bilotta said from Rome.
It is interesting to note that Diana, Princess of Wales, died just six days earlier. "It is one of those great ironies of life that these two women who so deeply respected each other -- and who, each in her own way, represented the ideals of virtue to millions -- would be gone in the same week," commented the Syracuse Herald Journal on September 6, 1997.