Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Learning the art of control when it comes to book buying and reading

When I started dabbling in writing, seriously dabbling rather than just producing kiddy scrawling, I was reading at the usual rate but when I finally decided now was the time to really knuckle down and work on it as a job I found that I just couldn't read and write at the same time. Many authors don't have this problem at all, and in fact they often say that you should keep reading and reading while you're writing for inspiration and to keep up with trends. But not me. I have the opposite problem.

For me, it is writing or reading. If I read I get so engrossed in the world and the characters and what's going to happen next that I lose all grip on my own story and can't go back to writing until I've finished the book I'm reading. To some extent, comics has helped this issue as if I start reading then at least the story is short. Hopefully. Sometimes I can't stop until I've read all 150 odd issues that have been released so far...

So for me I had to learn to control a few impulses while I was writing. And it was and is still quite hard. But I have actually managed to maintain some dignity and hold on the purse strings while gaining time and freedom of mind to write. For a book addict, not just someone who loves books but someone who can't imagine living without one on hand all the time (sleep, eat, travel, rest, work etc, there's a book on hand), being able to leave the house without a book tucked under my arm or go to sleep without knowing the current book is within arms reach for when I wake up is quite a breakthrough. Not to mention being able to walk in and out of a bookstore without actually buying any. Miracles of miracles!

If you share the same addiction, have collected and collected and are never without a book which you treat like a blankie to get through life, then knowing how I did this might be of help. It is truly simple though incredibly hard and you're likely to think you just CAN'T because you don't have the fortitude. But you can.

How I did it was an exercise in mental control, which meant:

  • Shoving my purse at the bottom of my bag so it was hard to get too
  • Worrying myself over the bank account enough to make me think twice on any purchase
  • Slowly but surely blinding myself to the tease of a new release sitting prettily on a shelf (this is a true exercise in mental control and the rewriting of habits)
  • Emphasising to myself that I hadn't left fiction behind because I already had a world to explore in my head, which I was writing
  • Catching up on new releases for my favourite series by ordering online only and working from a preset list
  • Avoiding all random browsing of catalogues
  • Putting any new books away as soon as they were bought
  • Convincing myself that it was harder to read books than comics
  • Using the Internet as the main tool for research so I wouldn't get lost in a library
  • When splurging I splurged in full and then quickly hid the books before I got addicted (this will happen on occasion no matter your control)
  • Allowing time to pass by while enjoying the look of all my new books being uncreased (for once) and pretending I was just taking good care of them
  • Writing as much as possible as quickly as possible so that I could read in between drafts
  • Setting deadlines for how long the break between drafts could be and read only as long as I could finish the books by then
  • Making sure there wasn't a book in my bag or regularly on hand, only one by the bedside table for comfort
  • Leaving the book on the bedside table as I went about life and writing
  • Giving myself chances to explore fiction in other ways, such as writing posts like this
  • Setting a strict rule that work was work and leisure leisure as a book addict working in fiction can mean the lines blur
  • Inuring myself to the ka-ching of the cash machine which sounded to me much like the winner's bell for a slot machine
  • Restricting my wanderings through bookstores by either never entering or, if possible, avoiding my favourite and most tempting sections
  • Never reorganising my shelves so that all the books to a series were placed in order once bought (this way the shelves became difficult to search through and slowly too much trouble to be worth spending a few hours on. I shall reorganise when I'm free again.)
  • Insisting that I should also have a chance to voice my imagination (while this seems egotistic in fact is in only a way to stave off a dependence on a multi-world lifestyle)
  • Writing, writing, writing to save my mind from a fiction withdrawals
There are other small habits but most of those I used were born of the mind and were successful simply because I wanted them to be more than I wanted to cave and read to my heart's content. It was and is much like dieting. Sometimes you can't get through more than a few weeks before you cave but other times your life is riding on it and so you really do dig in and make the change. 

Not being a crash dieter in any way, shape or form, I had my biggest experiences with dieting due to allergies and endometriosis. So the similarities in the amount of self-control needed between not scoffing hot cinnamon donuts and a milkshake and not picking up the next book are well known to me. It is hard but if you know it isn't going to do you as much good as it will damage you and your chances then slap your own wrist and control the impulse.

Giving up books, donuts and milkshakes though, just makes me want to cry sometimes. Still, there's honey and writing and illustrating and blogging like this. Oh, and my next instalment for replacement foods with no major allergens which will be rocky road, another thing in life that's hard to give up. I think that will be tomorrow's big kitchen project.

That all said, if you're an addict of books who needs to change their habits then good luck with the fiction diet. Don't bother dieting unless you're going broke from your habit, have run out of room in the house, can't write for reading or you're sick of your dependence. Otherwise, enjoy everything that comes with reading non-stop.

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