Saturday, August 20, 2011

A fraction too much fiction

I've always been a story junkie but there was a time, not all that long ago, when I realized I was following 20 different tv series, watching every new release film, reading several books simultaneously, whilst revising one of my own manuscripts, writing another, working on this blog, editing the work of another writer, and constantly craving more.

It had to stop.

But how? What should stay and what should go?

Most of us have a relatively unharmful addiction to something, whether we're conscious of it or not. Maybe you're an adrenaline junkie, spending every spare moment at the gym, maybe you're a news junkie, obsessively following every broadcast, bulletin and news feed, perhaps you're a cyber-geek, engaged in a myriad of online video gaming pursuits, or a closet conspiracy theorist, or you've been labelled a workaholic, or you're a stock market addict, living and breathing the global markets and buying and selling daily, even hourly.

Hello, my name is Iain and I have an addiction to fiction (and non-fiction), reading it, watching it, writing it, editing it, whether it be in books, film, tv, audio, webisodes, blogs, I'm not fussy. If someone is spinning a tale or two I have to stop and sample it. Recently I heard about the newly emerging Japanese genre of serialized stories sent via cell phones and my curiousity was piqued.


When dealing with an addiction of any kind, and in fact dealing effectively with anything at all, be it a work project, a sport, an exercise regimen, a diet - the sensible, practical, most positive and successful approach is to prioritize, and then cut back.

There, I've said it. Prioritize.

So I set out on my plan. I would only read a book or watch a program if it was an absolute top-of-my-list, must-read/must-watch, something that keeps me turning the pages or glued to the screen. I would cut back considerably - not on the writing or the researching, but on those entertainments, most specifically tv and dvd that were the least compelling, the least hypnotic.

And isn't all of the above exactly what we should be doing, not just as readers, but as writers, and in fact in any other field of endeavour.

As an author, the first draft is about getting it all down. Then come the revisions, the editing, revising and re-editing, and this is where the P word comes into its own. Prioritize, so that every scene, every character, every line of dialogue, every plot development, every setting, every nuance, is absolutely essential, to ensure our story is as compelling, enlightening and entertaining as it can be. Or it's out on its ear.

Call it tough love.

Every story is competing for an audience that is already being bombarded (just as I was) with content, an audience that will ultimately gravitate to the stories that draw them in and captivate them the most.

Most writers wince at the thought of revision, but of course ultimately spend the lion's share of their time on the rewriting and finessing. It's the icing on the cake, and it can be the difference between a good story and a really great story that rises above its competition.

I'm still a story junkie, never intended not to be, just to prioritize so that I'm getting more out of the stories that I read, and the programs I follow.

Sooner or later we all have to be sensible.

I'm not intending to be anything like those dieters, who occasionally sneak out for a secret chocolate sundae with caramel topping, or those workaholics who intend chilling out just as soon as they do one last, 36 hour stint slumming for the next big client presentation, or those gamers, who have promised to get a life, just as soon as they crack the next level in that endless war against the hordes invading from infinite space-time dimensions.

Not me...