I am addicted…to reading.
I blame it on Mrs. Niedzielski. When she taught my 5th and 6th grade class, she insisted on weekly book reports. That got me into the habit of reading. And boy did I read—a lot. Like many 10- and 11-year-old girls in the late-80s, I read a lot of Sweet Valley High books, a series of books that basically were a teen soap opera in print form. (Hmmm… Perhaps Mrs. N. is to blame for my soap opera affinity as well….) But that is not all I read. Mrs. N. pushed everyone to read more than just the current popular books in our age group. She had a list of Newberry Award winners, and she kept the classroom shelves stocked with a selection of these titles. At one point, she even held a little reading contest, the prize being a book of the winner’s choice. I remember that BINGO board, and working diligently to fill in each square. The copy of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends that I earned still sits on my bookshelf, one of my most prized possessions.
That reading addiction has served me well over the years, especially in my current course work. As I am learning more about the craft of writing, I am reading a lot more. Some of it is dry and bland (check out some of the essays on writing by Charles Baxter…the man might know a lot about writing, but he does not know how to write about writing in an interesting manner.) Some is very informative in improving my own writing (Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book has been invaluable.) And some is just for fun (because, thanks to Mrs. N.’s influence, I can’t go long without reading a novel!) Most of the novels I’ve been reading lately are in Kindle form. As much as I love the feel and smell of a real, printed book, I’ve found that with the Kindle I can build my book collection without taking up extra shelf space in the house (after all, though I once thought it impossible, using a shelf for sports trophies earned by children really is more important than displaying a vast book collection.) Thanks to Book Bub, I am able to build my Kindle book collection quite inexpensively. I add 2-3 new books to my Kindle each week for free. Most of what I download are Christian novels, because that is what I write. Makes sense to me to keep up with what is being published now so that I have some idea where my work will fit into things.
This week, I have finished reading two of the free novels that are currently on my Kindle. I am about half way through a third. And I have to say that what I am reading is leaving me a little depressed.
Not to sound conceited, but I can write better than this! Of the three books, only one had really deep characters. That book had its drawbacks, but the characters seemed more like real people than the characters in what I am reading now. The current novel features very flat characters, doing really nothing. Halfway through the book, and I am still not really sure what the book is about. I can’t pick out the plot yet. Not only are the characters boring, the author’s description is bland. The book is set in an area of the country that I have never been to. In itself, that’s not a problem. Part of why I read is to experience parts of the world that I am not able to visit in my real life. But the lack of vivid description makes it hard to imagine myself actually being in California’s wine country. I have yet to become so engrossed in this location, in this story to feel like I am anywhere other than curled up on a corner of the couch in my Jackson, Michigan living room. And this book was written by a woman who is not only an author, but also a literary agent and a creative writing instructor!
I am left wondering something—do I need to write badly in order to be published? Does my fiction need to be flat, bland, and boring to grab the attention of agents and publishers? If so, then why am I in school? What is the point of honing my craft, of learning to write engaging fiction if it is this bland drivel that is being published?
Or maybe what is needed is a little courage. I love writing and for the most part I am pleased with my work. But I have this perfection issue—I want my work to be perfect, absolutely perfect before I show it to anyone else. Especially anyone who is in the writing business. But after reading these books and thinking all through them that I could do so much better, I think that needs to change. For years I have said that God gave me this writing talent. He will get it into the hands of those who need to see it. I do believe that. At the same time, I find myself thinking that He might require a little more of me than just writing down the stories.
Perhaps it is time to do a little more work, to try a little harder to get my work noticed by agents and publishers. I know that God will get my work into the right hands. But how will those “right hands” know anything about where to find my work if I am not sending it out?