Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] The television rant (again)

"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?
Tags: personal, process, writing

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