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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-12-31 11:23
Subject: [process] The television rant (again)
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Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Music:not much
Tags:personal, process, writing
"Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
"Go to the country, build you a home
"Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
"Try an find Jesus on your own"

    — John Prine, "Spanish Pipedream"

Every now and then, I mention on this blog that I gave up TV and gaming in pursuit of being a writer. This statement always seems to challenge some folks. It seems to me that people feel defensive about this.

Almost everyone in our society is a consumer of media. (I've discussed this before, here and elsewhere.) Exceptions exist, as a matter of choice (the Amish, for example), or a matter of situation (the homeless, for example), but by and large, Americans are heavily exposed to advertising, information and entertainment via radio, television, the Internet, outdoor (a/k/a billboards), bumper stickers, campfire tales and pretty much every other medium someone has been able to dream up.

Some of us choose to be producers as well. Anyone who aspires to writer, or design games, for example. That includes (I think) the majority of the people likely to be reading this blog. A very key idea, for me at least, is that the time and mental energy required to be a producer comes out of the same budget as the time and mental energy required to be a consumer.

For example, I have a day job. I don't make enough money writing to not have that day job, so I focus on it as required. I don't have the privilege of trading day job time for writing time.

I also have a child. the_child, actually. While I can sometimes negotiate a writing day or writing hour with her ("Can you go play with Daniel so Dad can write until dinner?"), I don't generally have the privilege of trading parental time for writing time. (Nor do I wish for it.)

Where my writing time comes from is the same flexible time that I used to use to watch television, go to movies, play computer games or do pleasure reading. I'm not willing to give up reading, even though I have accepted cutbacks. To a very limited degree, I've traded away movies. The other two...

I don't think tv is evil. I don't think it's bad or wrong or anything else. There's no judgment here. But every hour you spend watching it is an hour you spent not writing. One of the biggest reasons I quit was that I would sit down to watch The Simpsons in rerun at 6:30, and at 10:00 pm I'd realized the entire evening was gone, and I couldn't remember what I'd seen. Television is literally hypnotic, and it is quite entertaining. Likewise computer games. I used to dedicate dozens of hours per month to various Sid Meier games. Warlords II was crack for me as well, playing "just one more turn" until 2 or 3 am on worknights.

I want to be a producer, not just a consumer. Being passive entertained during all me otherwise free hours did not suit me.

How does it stack up for you? As I said here:
If you want to try an experiment, add this to the mix: track the number of hours you spend with the television on, the number of hours you spend surfing the Web, the number of hours you spend gaming, and/or the number of hours you spend out of your house going to parties, clubs, concerts and bars. Do that for a week or two, then look at how those things balance out. That will tell you how much of a priority writing really is for you. It doesn't matter what the answer is, I've got no judgments here, but you might be quite surprised.

Ultimately, being a working, professional writer is about taking away excuses. "I can't write because House is coming on tonight..." "I can't write because I have to go hear this really cool band..." "I can't write because..."

Television was one of my biggest excuses. Chances are you're better at switching it off than I was. Most people are, I hope. Cold turkey is kind of extreme in a culture where almost all the common referents come from television. Still, I somehow have gotten by these last 14 years without it. I've retained and managed control over my time. And I've had a lot of fun and built a hell of career.

What's your excuse? How much tv did you watch last week? How much did you write?
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User: tim_pratt
Date: 2007-12-31 19:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was much the same, largely cutting out TV as a boon to productivity... then I got Tivo. Now I watch only things I *intend* to watch, and don't veg out and channel surf, and I can watch House when my brain is fried and incapable of writing anyway, and not when The Man decides to schedule it!

World of Warcrack is harder, because I like playing it a lot more than I like watching TV. But I use it as a carrot to reward myself for getting my pages done for the day.
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User: etcet
Date: 2007-12-31 20:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a fellow WoW fiend... yes.

I don't watch TV... because of WoW. Other video games... err, sorry, guys, we're raiding Karazhan tonight.... *cough*

Over the last couple of weeks, I've probably watched four hours' worth of television.[1]

The amount of time I've spent gaming, however, is another matter.

[1] That is, "active television watching," as opposed to "the tv is on as a convenient background score-providing[2] device while I do other things"

[2] Errr... that would be score as in "football and/or hockey" not "beethoven or williams."
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Leslie Claire Walker
User: lesliewalker
Date: 2007-12-31 19:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for this post, Jay. I'm at that place where I'm considering giving up on TV and just renting what I actually intend to watch (to use Tim's language) on DVD or what have you. TV is the hugest timesink I have, and I'd sure get a lot more writing done to build that career I want without the endless hypnotic staring.
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User: n5red
Date: 2007-12-31 19:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I quit watching TV a few years ago. If a series sounds really interesting, I'll pick it up on DVD and watch it on my notebook.

A friend's daughter has been diagnosed with ADD and she gets totally sucked into any TV that is turned on in the room. I certainly don't want to be like that.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-12-31 19:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm kind of in your boat as well about TV and, to a certain extent, movies. I may catch something now and then, but I've not missed not watching TV for the last couple of years. Then again, I started to get trained to miss TV when I was in grad school getting my teaching certificate. Most of my classes ran from 4:30-8 or 9 pm, and I caught the bus home on top of that, so I had no time for TV (I am not a big daytime TV fan).

I have one friend who is obsessive about crack--erm, cable TV and cable TV's political broadcasts. She gets very defensive when I tell her I don't have time for it, and that I get the same information much more quickly online (well, yeah, I do, from more varied sources than she's getting her info). And this is someone from the Left side of things. As it is, I have minimal tolerance for talking heads either in video or audio, so I'd sooner check it out on line. Coincidently, she's also one of those who wants to do some writing someday.

I find what really drives people crazy is that I don't listen to radio when I'm driving, or even books on CD. Or that I don't constantly have music or the radio going during the day if I'm here at home by myself. I like to hear what's going on around me, and I'm not always into music. And, when I'm driving, I'd much rather listen to music I control and think about either work or the writing than listen to a book on CD.
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User: etcet
Date: 2007-12-31 20:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
your last point, about the radio while driving...

I listen to NPR during my commute, or put on a CD. The handful of radio stations I occasionally skim through to see if they're playing anything I enjoy.... but this behavior apparently freaked out one of my friends enough that they felt compelled to gift me with an XM radio.


(it remains in the box, because the last thing I need is to pay for a lot of crap I don't want to listen to on a monthly basis)
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User: ex_frankwu
Date: 2007-12-31 19:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yup, the eternal conflict. Revelling in someone else's created universe, or creating your own.

In the last week, which was an unusual week what with Christmas travel and not being home and all that, I probably only managed to cobble together prehaps 10 hours total doing art, which is miniscule compared to my usual schedule. I often do 10 hours of art in one day.

Total TV: zero hours.

Typical week:
Art: 40 to 60 hours
TV: 0 hours.
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User: mevennen
Date: 2007-12-31 19:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've watched almost no TV over the last couple of years - mainly due to lack of time. Something had to give, and TV gave. My other half has the racing channel on most evenings, but that's more work than anything else. In my case, it's running the business and this household that have caused a change in my habits - with a small flat, I watched more television, but still not a great deal, and if I do watch something, I tend to either write while it's on, or use the net. I find just staring at the TV incredibly dull, even if it's something I like.
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User: thebitterguy
Date: 2007-12-31 19:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank God I never wanted to be a writer.
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2007-12-31 19:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
its when I decided to go back to college .. I did night school, all I had to give up to find the time was.. running around and drinking too much. Not only did I have the time for class, I had the money to pay for it too. I still could go diving or shopping or to the movies with friends, it was more quality time then.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2007-12-31 19:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My TV viewing changed forever back when I got my first VCR, which I used almost entirely for time-shifting. Echoing what an earlier comment said, the upgrade to our DVR last year cemented the deal. TV's on my terms and I love that. HAVING SAID THAT, there is some psychological allure to watching a show at the same time that millions of others are watching.

I am, however, totally addicted to this thing I'm typing on. I knew I would be before I bought my first computer and I've never been able to shake it...nor have I really wanted to.
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User: jess_ka
Date: 2007-12-31 19:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, I've never been able to write at night, except on very very rare occassions; too much noise from the day in my head. My writing hours have pretty much always been the morning hours. Even in college writing papers; I'd go to sleep early and get up early sooner than stay up to finish a paper.

That said, when I watch tv, I'm watching a particular show, turn it on, turn it off; and I didn't watch any last week, because it's all reruns and reality tv, which I'll never watch. Also, it's never felt particularly passive to me; if I like a show it's because I interact with it in my imagination far beyond the margins of the actual show. It sparks me in some way.

All that said, I've always thought your point in this is a good one.
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Twilight: WriteInspirationNow
User: twilight2000
Date: 2007-12-31 20:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Any distraction works -- if I want to find a reason *not* to write -- a good SCA event or a cool new SciFi con to add to my schedule work too ;>.

Like tim_pratt I use DVR to tape* what I want to see and that's what I watch. That way, not only do I get away from the "oops I sat down 4 hours ago" issue, but my "hour" of tv is only 45 minutes long ;>.

That said -- I have LOADS of excuses not to write -- TV isn't really the issue -- my writing isn't where I want it to be, but I can think of loads of things I find to distract myself. I have lots in the head, sitting it down and fleshing it out is every bit as hard as anyone every told you it was -- I'm still working on it and will jump on Novel in 90 again to see if the "everydayness" helps :>.

As for folks getting defensive -- I suspect two things at work:
1. A LOT of folks say "I don't watch TV' with a seriously Holier Than Thou attitude -- the "I'm better than you masses" thing. Online, and especially for those who don't know you, it's easy to hear the words and apply the tone :>.
2. It's easy to feel guilty about consuming rather than producing -- and being reminded of it tends to make folks defensive ;>.

*man, did I use that word? I *am* old :>

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Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan
User: cherylmmorgan
Date: 2007-12-31 20:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I suspect it is a more general issue for anyone who is self-employed, not just writers. You are at home; you could be working; you could be doing housework; or you could be watching TV. All very distracting unless you discipline yourself.

I hardly ever watch TV drama (or movies, home or otherwise). I do, however, often have sports events on as background noise. Some work tasks require absolute concentration, but others I find go much better with background noise. As such, TV sport provides a similar function to music.

Now if only I could discipline myself to stop reading blogs...
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2008-01-01 14:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

I would've assumed the same thing, but I've actually watched less TV since I started freelancing, not more. I never find myself tempted to blow off a day in front of the tube.

But I do sometimes have the sports on with the sound off and music playing.

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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jen Volant: eyes
User: tacithydra
Date: 2008-01-05 19:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm fascinated by phenomenon of people getting all weird about personal choices that don't affect them. Abandoning the TV is one of them. I also have a lot of vegetarian friends, and they have a lot of stories about someone at the table apparently perceiving their salad as an aggressive move towards omnivores everywhere.

To a lesser extent this still happens with gays and lesbians - "What, what did [other gender] do to you to make you hate them so much?" But I think this phenomenon is fading as more people come to believe that there isn't a choice involved.

It almost feels like the folks who get defensive feel like there's a moral judgement being made against them. But it can't be that simple, because otherwise people who worked out a lot would never hear the end of it - instead they're usually complimented.
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Sleeping Under Butterflies: star
User: mary919
Date: 2007-12-31 20:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can't sort my thoughts at all unless I can turn my brain off for awhile (aka watch television). Movies at the theater are even more rejuvenating. I think it's because I come from a certain genetic makeup-- we become *too* self-involved (not that a little isn't good) if we reflect upon ourselves 24/7.

And also there's this-- I want to tell stories because I enjoy a good story. Yes, most of it is crap, but many books are also crap-- there's good storytelling and bad storytelling everywhere.

And then there's also this-- I watch and write, write and watch. It may not be as productive, but it's also not as exhausting. Sometimes I find that deeper parts of my brain can work out verbal knots I've been stewing over if the shallower parts of my brain are preoccupied with something... shallower. Seriously. I went through years when I could only write if other people were around having conversations and mostly ignoring me.
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User: martyn44
Date: 2007-12-31 20:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
a. too much. b. not enough.

I've never played an online computer game - life is just too short. What I do is have to win at least two games of Patience before I start writing. That is going to change.

As for blogs, there will be no logging on until I have done my daily words.

Two resolutions. What day is it?
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