I love writing. I aspire to write novels, short stories, maybe even screenplays and a poem or two. I am a disciple of the written word. I adore all aspects of the craft – the way ideas arrive in my head from the gods know where, sometimes floating in like a bit of milkweed fluff and sometimes screaming in like a sniper’s shot. I love stringing words together to create images, evoke emotions, and take a story from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘the end.’ I love the pouring out onto the page and the endless tinkering. I love type and page design, the heft of a book in my hand, and way each story becomes a part of my personal history. I love the scratching of my pen across a fresh page in my notebook and the clickety-clack of my Mac’s keyboard as my fingers do their frenetic dance over its surface. I love everything about writing.
But, I also love TV. Television – the anti-book; the brain cell-sucking, idiot-creating, boob tube. When it’s on, I can’t tear my eyes off its flickering screen. Like a moth to the flame, I sit mesmerized. I’ll watch almost anything. My taste is less than discerning. Though I am an ardent fan of classics like I Love Lucy, critically acclaimed dramas like Touch, and blue-blood BBC shows, I’m equally drawn to schmutz like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. The other day I even watched twenty minutes of a modern train wreck called I Cloned My Pet. (No, I’m not kidding.)
My writer self is hanging her head in shame. I should be able to resist the siren call of the networks. I should eschew their feeble attempts at art (and outright pandering to the lowest standards of entertainment), and instead spend my time reading the classics, practicing my craft, or learning about the publishing industry. I should be keeping my mind free of the IQ-reducing contaminants that ride in over the airwaves and snip the synaptic connections in my brain. I should not be mainlining this kind of crap.
Obviously, there is a balance to be struck, but television isn’t entirely evil. Even junk TV has its merits. What other medium immerses us in dialog the way TV does? Good or bad, hearing dialog spoken aloud is excellent training for a writer trying to capture conversations on the page. And what about characters? The more desperate television producers become, the more outlandish the characters in their shows. Again, whether they are portrayed with artistic integrity or scrawled on the screen with as much care as a lawyer’s signature, doesn’t matter. Good or bad, they still give you ideas for characters of your own. Due to the time constraints of the 30- and 60-minute time slots, television shows have to follow a pretty consistent structure to wrap up their story by the top of the hour. The details may change, but the underlying architecture remains the same. So it is with written stories. Study the arc, the sequencing, and the tempo – see what you can learn about what works and what doesn’t.
I’m not going to lie to you. Much of the time I spend watching TV is time during which my brain is only operating at half power. I only watch at night (I must draw the line at daytime TV), and usually only when I’m too tired to do anything else. No use, I justify to myself, in trying to write anything now. I’ll just wind up writing the same six sentences over and over again. Better to give my brain a break (a.k.a. watch TV) and start fresh in the morning.
So, yes, I am a writer and I love TV. I’m not proud, but I’m not giving up my shows either.
What about you? Do you watch TV? Does it make you feel like you’re “cheating” on your writer’s life? What shows tempt you the most? Do you think watching TV has any positive influence on your writing?
P.S. In case you care, my current favorite shows are Castle, Bones, and Once Upon a Time. I also do indulge in the guilty pleasures of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. And I’m a sucker for BBC shows like AbFab, Keeping Up Appearances, and As Time Goes By.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.