Before this year, I really didn’t watch that much TV. I had a few shows I watched while they were on, and that was about it. TV is a huge time-suck – but it’s not a total waste of time, it turns out. This fall, in addition to many Netflix binges, I had at least one show to watch four nights a week. That’s a lot of hours of TV, especially for someone like me.
It wasn’t until I started working on a new book this past month (fiction! finally!) that I realized how much all this TV time was helping me write better.
Reason one: dialogue. I work from home; I really don’t get out much. I used to people-watch (and, OK, eavesdrop) all the time, which actually really helps you write better dialogue. In a way, I use TV for that now. It’s not always completely natural and I only watch scripted shows, but there’s something about listening to other writers’ words spoken out loud that makes it easier to go back to your computer and fall into a steady and seemingly natural rhythm of your own as you’re writing your own conversations between characters. If you can picture it/hear it in your head, it’s much easier to make it work.
Reason two: what to – and not to – do when telling a story. Sometimes I watch shows that are not written well – but I watch them anyway because it helps remind me what NOT to do when I’m writing my own stories. What are the overused, predictable, uninteresting tropes to avoid? You can’t always catch yourself doing it, but when you see someone else doing it, it trains you to be more watchful of those things when you’re off on your own, stuck in your own head trying to tell a good story.
If you’re someone who gets easily pulled into shows on Netflix – to the point where you can’t stop watching, and sacrifice your writing time for just one (two, three, six) more episode(s), be extra careful. I’d recommend watching shows regularly to someone who is a little bit more skilled with time management when it comes to writing. I’m not telling you watching TV and never writing is going to do you any good. Trust me, it doesn’t.
A lot of my fiction is inspired by things I’ve watched; there’s some really good stuff out there, and I don’t want to copy it. I want to invest my time in stories other people are writing. It often motivates me to continue working on my own. Maybe you’re that way with books or comics or movies. I think a combination of different mediums helps in a lot of ways. There’s only a limited amount of time to both consume and create. Finding a good balance between the two is likely a life-long struggle for all of us.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.