Critiquing myself

I grew up as a bookworm, constantly reading. My parents sometimes claimed that I spent my entire childhood with my nose in a book. But I didn’t learn how to read until I was five, so books had to have pictures in them before that time so I could make up the stories in my head. Essentially, I was withdrawing from the world and not learning how to deal with it. My parents did not mind if I read, just not all of my waking hours.

For me reading was entertaining and so was learning obscure facts from books. I recall hours spent reading our set of World Book encyclopedias. I checked out library books as often as I could. However, the real reading adventure occurred when we moved to another state. We leased the house of an education professor, and I found his personal library on an enclosed porch. The limerick book was amusing for a while. Gulliver’s Travels was a bit of a challenge. I thought that I understood most of that book, but did not discern the politics it portrayed.  

The time spent reading books was only as good as the books. My idea of a quality book changed over time. My choices morphed to more realism. I turned from the exciting, yet predictable adventures that I read as a young adolescent. I expected to learn more from reading and enjoyed a well written biography, or factual book as much as fiction. There are only so many fiction plots, and I have become more demanding of excellence in writing in the fictional realm.

The short stories I wrote in college were based on fables. However, the best one turned out to be very similar to my brief infatuation with a student who had promising ability as a great musician but would never become one. In my late twenties I started writing a novel based on my own experience in art school, and faltered for lack of a cohesive plot. My life simply did not have the exciting people and events that interesting books required. When my children were young I started writing short stories. I soon discovered that plots ripped straight from my own life were best and won contests.

Now I find myself at a crossroads. I hear people extol the popularity of mysteries, suspense and thrillers, or whatever one calls an action packed book where the hero tracks down a murderous villain, while dodging dangers. These are types of books I rarely read now, since I found myself repeating the same stories. I wish to take another direction in reading and also in writing. 

So, thirty years after I started writing, I realized the wonderful, imaginary things I wanted to put in the stories didn’t work as well as real life situations that took on my own perspective of the world. Character driven stories are time consuming and not easy to write, or easy to end. The only villain to conquer is the character’s drive to reach a worthy goal, one for which they are willing to sacrifice. Writing itself becomes a sacrifice, but still provides enough joy for me not to give up on it.

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