My Writing Career — Stalled By a Lack of Humility

John Matterson
3 min readFeb 13, 2022

I went off to university with a lofty dream of becoming a writer — the next Alan Fotheringham. As a teenager, I looked forward to reading Fotheringham’s “final page” editorials in McLean’s Magazine. He covered serious topics with an entertaining wit, sarcasm, and pointed insults. In one editorial he described the head of the CBC as “looking, as always, as if he has accidentally left the coat hanger in his suit jacket.” In another, he referred to then Canadian Prime Minister as Jurassic Clark commenting that Clark had booked a room for a speech that slept 300.

I was opinionated and was flush with sarcasm. My High School English grades were strong. I thought I was a natural. I failed to consider, however, that I had never written anything beyond a few essays, and I could count the novels I had read on one hand. The only book resembling a classic I had read was Robertson Davies’ “Fifth Business” which was required reading. For a 17-year-old boy, reading that book was right up there with having a broken right wrist.

I registered for classes, but I was not ready for university. My first term of English Lit was all poetry. The only poets I knew at the time were Dr Suess, Freddy Mercury, and Edward Lear. My appreciation for the latter was primarily the product of modifying his Limerick’s to match my maturity level at the time. The first week of class, I was asked to write a short essay interpreting an Auden poem. Who?

I had better luck with Shakespeare which I came to enjoy once I learned I could go to the library and listen to recordings while I read along. Othello made a lot more sense once I understood that Desdemona was a woman.

The killer class, though, was Creative Writing. The requirements were straight forward. We were to write several short stories over the term, distribute them to the class for review prior to the next class, and then they would be openly critiqued in front of everyone. I was nervous at first, but I reasoned that everyone would be coming from the same place as me. That lasted until I started reading other people’s work. They were good.

I have regrets associated with my first year of university. How I handled this class might be the greatest. Rationalizing that I lacked the life experience to write as these other students did, I dropped the class. They were writing of love and loss at a level I didn’t think I had in me.

I have come to recognize since then that I had plenty I could have written about if only I had been willing to stretch.

I wasn’t honest with myself. I wasn’t open to being teachable. I lacked the humility to recognize I was struggling. Overcoming those struggles was what it was going to take to achieve my dream.

I ended up plodding all through that first year taking classes that I didn’t feel led to a future. When I came back for second year, I took an entirely different approach registering for nothing but business classes. I made a complete shift to a program that required no creativity. From a grades point of view, I excelled. My confidence grew. One thing led to another, and I went on to a career where success was measured by the bottom line. A career that also required a lot of travel that helped me become an avid reader.

Now, 40 years later, I am attempting to become a writer again. I have exposed a manuscript that is the product of two years work to an editor and asked her for a critique. A nail-biting, highly personal experience. Striving for humility never stops. It helps that a major component of the manuscript has required me to take a good hard look at myself, and to open my eyes to my own privilege.

This time I plan to complete the course.


Originally published at on February 13, 2022.



John Matterson

I am a writer that happens to have Parkinson’s. I write about my experiences with a balance of humour, optimism and honesty.