In On Writing Stephen King proclaimed that writers should not watch TV. His reasoning: it’s time that could be spent writing. Or reading. He’s pro-reading, obviously. His advice makes sense, but I’m going to take a more moderate position. Here are my reasons TV is okay for writers:
1. First of all, I’d like to point out that Stephen King didn’t have Netflix when he made up the no TV rule. He didn’t even have the option of watching a show without Corn Flake ads and laugh tracks. Could he have said no to Game of Thrones? Netflix has made TV watching so much more efficient and pleasant.
2. If I skipped late night TV, I’d never see my husband. It’s basically the only experience we share besides kids and being derelict in basic home and yard maintenance. At least if we watch TV we can say that we propped ourselves on the couch and stared in the same direction for twenty minutes to an hour. If I completely give up TV for writing, we might not have anything to say to each other as we grow old. He’ll prattle on about how “The Walking Dead isn’t really about zombies. It’s about people.” And I’ll be like, “What people, who cares?”
3. It’s not just my husband. Americans watch something like ten hours of TV a day. Obviously, that’s not the exact number, but it is outlandishly high. If I went completely Walden Pond on the world, I would miss a lot of common experiences with the people I’m hoping to entertain. You never know, maybe watching Game of Thrones will help me harness the zeitgeist and reflect it back to readers in a way that will make people stop what they’re doing for a moment and say, “Whoa.” Probably not, but either way, GoT is a pretty good show.
4. TV is a great proving ground for creative ideas. Writers can sit back and watch what works and what doesn’t and hopefully use that knowledge to improve their writing. Last year, Season 1 of True Detective was a big hit in the writing community. The writing and acting were brilliant. I watched Season 2 recently. It wasn’t as good, but its failures were instructive. It had so many subplots that I begin to lose interest. Complicated plotting is great up to a point, but when things get too muddled it’s time to snip a few threads. Season 2 also hammered home another point. It nonchalantly threw away some of the show’s really effective branding. Besides a new cast, it had new theme music, a new setting, new everything. As a viewer, I missed the old show. In an effective mystery series, you can’t play fast and loose with successful branding. it’s important to immerse the reader quickly into the world they’ve come to love rather than expecting them to roll with you. Most of the time, they won’t.
5. TV can be inspiring. If you watch in an engaged way, or at least process what you saw the next morning, you can think, “That’s cool, but what if it happened this way!?” I have one idea I’ve been turning over in my head based on an old movie.
6. Sometimes by the end of the day, all that’s left of me is a glazed stare and a heartbeat. Better to watch TV than spend an hour writing a few horrible sentences that I end up deleting the next day.
Bonus Reason! You can multitask in front of TV. I’m spellchecking this post in front of an episode of iZombie right now. My husband is sitting next to me staring at his iPad. I guess we’re not bonding (reason number 2 TV is good), but we are doing a lot of things at once. Actually, I’m converting this bonus reason to a warning. Don’t multitask. Watching TV in a useful way is all about getting in and out. A writer should watch TV as if performing a special ops military operation---Get in and get out. Stay focused. Don’t get killed.
Shortly after graduating from law school, Samantha Bohrman had three children and began writing books. She never looked back, but she suspects her husband has. You can often find her wandering the aisles of Target buying ingredients for tacos (because her kids won’t eat anything else) and staging a murder scene in the produce section (in her head). Her first mystery, Ruby’s Misadventures with Reality, is out now. You can find her at www.sambohrman.com or follow her @sambohrman.