Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I've started reading for fun again

When you're a freelance writer, letting guilt rule your choices is all too easy. For example, giving yourself permission to goof off can be problematic. There's work that needs doing, bills that need paying, and [hopefully] always another deadline looming. But you can only keep going, keep working without respite for so long before the machinery gets jammed. Think of your imagination as a well, fed by a natural spring that bubbles ideas up from deep within your psyche.

Every now and then you've got to stop drawing on the well, give it a chance to refill a little. And you also need to feed the psyche. Go see a film or three. Visit a gallery. See a play. Watch a DVD of some classic film you've never seen before. Read a book - but just for fun. Most of all, try to switch off that analytical part of your mind that interprets and criticises and pulls apart an event as it happens. Relax. Just enjoy the moment, let yourself be swept away by it happening.

Reading for fun isn't something I let myself do much. The vasst majority of my reading in any given week, month or year is for research purposes. I'm thinking of branching out into a new genre of novel, so I've been reading current works from that genre to get a better sense of its style, conventions, limits and opportunities. I spend a lot of time reading online - industry publications and practitioner blogs, Broadcast and Variety, Media Guardian and Digital Spy, any of the blogs on the right hand side of this screen - they all update my knowledge of how things are.

But reading for fun? Not so much. I'll wait until I'm on holiday and then devour a novel a day, maybe more. Having starved myself of entertainment reading, I'll chow down on murder mysteries, comfort reading of old favourites and even tackle a tome or two that I've been longing to read but never gotten round to. The problem is I hardly ever go on holiday. For me a holiday takes place away from home, ideally near a swimming pool, most often in another country.

Last year I had one such week in June. Didn't do much over Christmas but can't honestly say I unplugged myself from the matrix. This year I'm off to New Zealand for 24 days, so I expect to get plenty of reading done. But I surprised myself last week by buying a book just for fun and even read the first few chapters. Guess my psyche's in need of a feed. And the book? Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson.

While I am reading it for fun, I'm also looking at it because there's a film adaptation coming soon. I like to read a book before the film adaptation gets released, imagine how I would adapt it. Once the film emerges, I can go along and compare my version with the screenwriter's take on the same material. More than half of all Hollywood films are adaptations, so it's a muscle worth exercising.

Sigh. Even when I try to read for fun, my subconscious still pulls the old bait and switch routine on me. You can turn off your computer, leave your mobile at home and ignore the world at large, but disconnecting the psyche - never easy.

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