Television Doesn’t Kill Writing: How TV Helps Me Write

Television has had a bad press ever since your mum told you to stop watching it for one of the following reasons:

  • You’ll get square eyes
  • Your homework comes first
  • Good parents don’t plonk their kids in front of the TV as a babysitting device
  • You need fresh air in order to function, live, grow, do stuff etc, etc

Sorry mums, but I’m here to say that television, in moderation, isn’t bad for you:

  • My eyes are still eye-shaped
  • I always got my homework in on time because I was a nerd
  • TV saves parents who are on the edge: fact
  • Fresh air is lovely, windows open near TVs

If you use television effectively it will not kill your writing.

Everything in Moderation

Television Doesn't Kill Writing - multitaskingIf you decide to binge on box sets and never shift your arse from the sofa, your writing will die. That wordy stuff needs love, attention and wording fertiliser i.e. you.

My first piece of advice for those sucked into the television procrastination trap is to multi-task. If you’re able to write and watch TV at the same time, do it.

I find I can write blog posts when watching television. I’m doing it now. I need to work in silence when I’m writing my novel. It’s about trying things out and knowing what works and what doesn’t.

If you can’t write and watch, it’s time to put your big boy or girl pants on and turn the TV off for a while. Do the writing. Reward yourself with an episode or twenty of your favourite series when you do.

TV will always be there. The writing ideas won’t. Even if you make a note of that idea for another time, it’s never quite the same writing it out months later, when you’ve finally finished watching every series of Game of Thrones.

You will also find that your idea radically changes from someone going to a hair salon to pick up gossip, to someone, probably you, raking their hands through Jon Snow’s abundantly curly bonce.

Television will not kill your writing if you master that set. It is just a load of plastic and technological bits. It is not the boss of you. Turn it off sometimes and feel like you’re winning.

How Television Inspires My Writing

Television Doesn't Kill Writing - Happy ValleyI love that I’m living in an era of streaming television. We’ve never had it so good.

I’m old enough to remember when we only had a choice of three channels in the UK.

Of course we knew no better and loved it. However, if we knew then the squillions of channels and services we would have one day, I’m sure we would have wanted to advance in time.

Television isn’t lesser to books, in my opinion. I know there is snobbery out there that states TV is a brain drain.

People actively choose not to have televisions in their house. Their choice, but I do think they’re missing out. Television can inform, educate, and enlighten as well as entertain.

It’s just as easy to read ‘trashy’ books as it is to watch ‘trashy’ TV. What’s wrong with a bit of ‘trashy’ sometimes anyway?

We live in a complex and difficult world. Sometimes we want pure, unadulterated, trashy, escapism. You can get that from films, magazines, newspapers, books, the theatre, computer games, art… It’s not all television’s domain.

I have watched some TV series that have blown me away. I can hear the writer’s voice pulsating through. We sometimes forget that TV doesn’t just happen. It’s easy to forget because it’s just a flick of a switch away. Someone writes that stuff we watch, particularly series.

I admire many screenwriters.

I love Sally Wainwright’s writing. I devoured Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax. The characters are incredibly life-like, I feel like I know them.

It was an absolute treat to watch To Walk Invisible as a Bronte fan.

Her plots are intricate, tense, and balanced between humour and pathos. I feel inspired to write every time I watch an episode of one of her programmes.

The first series of Broadchurch was stunning. Chris Chibnall adapted the thriller book into a screenplay everyone was talking about.

Television Doesn't Kill Writing - The End of the F***ing WorldI think the next two series lost a little of their ‘wow’ factor but were still watchable.

The first series wove a plot that had viewers guessing right until the end. That’s the kind of thriller writing I dream about.

I was blown away by The End of the F***ing World. I originally thought it was another teenage angst drama. I was wrong.

Each episode was short but punchy. I felt like I’d been taken on a rollercoaster ride within 20 minutes. I loathed and loved the characters equally.

I marvelled at how growing up was portrayed as something more complex than getting acne and never getting the girl.

Charles S. Forsman, I salute you.

How Television Has Shaped My Life

I confess that in my younger years, I spent more time watching television than was healthy.

I was a typical kid, drawn in by watching the latest series so I could talk about it at school the next day. It was a buzz to be able to share our thoughts on the new show.

Television has been a background noise for when I’ve felt lonely. When I lived alone, I would often have it on just to break through the silence. Other times it stayed off for hours so I could enjoy the peace.

Television was part of my family. Each of my four siblings and I had our favourite programmes. We would covet our viewing slot and protect it.

As a family, we’d sometimes watch particular programmes together. It was a unifying experience within our busy days.

Television taught me that fantasy worlds can exist on the screen as well as in a book. I have never seen one as superior to the other. If pushed, I would say I could not exist without books but could without television. I’d rather not have to make the choice though.

The Television Screen in My Head

Television Doesn't Kill Writing - Television headWhen I write, I have a screen in my mind. It’s not a visual thing as such, more of a suggestion.

A novel is a series of scenes within an act. It plays out like television. Chapters are like episodes of a drama or soap opera.

Dickens first published his novels as serials. The Victorians lapped them up. They were the soap operas of their day.

I understand when people argue that the television is visual and therefore more obvious than reading a book. The reader works with the writer to create a scene. As readers, we may feel we have more autonomy because the scene has not been created for us on the screen.

I enjoy that aspect of using my imagination but I believe that if a television drama is written well, your imagination is still being employed by the writer. Tension and suspense are within the spaces that the writer suggests and leaves your mind to fill.

Gory horror that is written to make you jump doesn’t work for me. It’s too obvious. Give me a carefully constructed psychological thriller where the camera hints at something, a character drops a clue, or the plot temporarily deceives me, any day. That is how I want to write; with thought for the imagination and a visual sense of what I am creating.

Every time I write, I turn on the television in my head and write how it plays out.

Television did not kill the writing stars. Used to effect, I believe it can create and sustain them.

How do you feel about television? Does it help or hinder your writing? Do you enjoy certain programmes? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

6 comments on “Television Doesn’t Kill Writing: How TV Helps Me Write

  1. I also find television helps my writing. I often binge watch shows I’ve seen before while I write so it doesn’t matter if I miss something! I also love watching the ‘behind the scenes’ specials on DVDs to find out more about how a show or a movie was created. They can also provide great tips for writing.

    1. I often have box sets on that I’ve seen before when I’m blogging or editing. I feel that it’s seeping in but I still don’t have to concentrate deeply as I’ve seen it already.

      Behind the scenes specials are a great idea. We often ignore them, thinking they’ll be dull. I need to watch more. Thanks for the tip and for commenting, Melissa.

  2. I didn’t watch TV for years, because the only way I could get my writing done with children around, was to do it when they were in bed. Something had to go, as I’d already wasted too many years not writing at all because I didn’t think I had the time or the energy. I didn’t really miss TV when I gave it up, I just threw myself into writing and reading. Lately though, I have started to allow myself to watch Tv, but boxsets, not actual TV. I still don’t want any soaps or TV dramas, as I have to dedicate my evenings to writing, as it’s still the only time I get to do it. But recently I totally fell in love with Breaking Bad and like you say, it actually helped my writing. I’m also working on a screenplay so watching TV shows is really helpful now. I’m currently working my way through watching it a second time AND watching all the special features and commentaries! I find all that stuff fascinating. I’m also now watching Supernatural with my daughter as she’s very into it, and she also got me into Hannibal, which is superb. There are other things I would like to watch, such as Stranger Things, but all in good time.!

    1. It sounds like you’ve struck a good balance after trying it different ways.

      Breaking Bad was superbly written. It’s a great example.

      As you say, if you’re venturing into screenwriting you’ll definitely need to see it in action. All the best with it.

  3. I love binge watching shows and I too agree – tv is a good thing. If a show is terribly written it shows you what not to do, and when it’s spot on, it aspires us to be that good. Plus it’s a great down time to rest the brain from writing and reading, we need that ahhhh moment. At least I do. 🙂

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