The first of Stephen King’s 22 Lessons on Writing is this: “Stop watching television. Instead, read as much as possible.” Oh dear. I’m sorry Stephen. I watch TV every night. Mea culpa.
My sister and I used to talk about how we managed our media diet. There are not enough hours in the day to read, watch and listen to all the podcasts, magazines, books, music, movies and TV that one wants to, let alone all of the content that one should get to. How does a writer who needs to read as much as possible budget her media time?
First of all, I make brutal judgments. If a novel doesn’t get me within the first 100 pages, or if I put it down and don’t pick it up again for a week, that’s it. I give it away. I used to be a completionist. I had to finish any book I started. Not anymore. There are too many books in my TBR pile. There is no time.
I also ruthlessly edit my TBR pile, which these days is all fiction. I’m looking for books that could be similar to (and therefore demonstrate a market for) my novel. So all the non-fiction I bought with earnest intentions has been shelved. Maybe later.
I don’t listen to audiobooks, because I am a fast reader. If I want words in my ears, it’ll be podcasts. But most of the time I’d rather listen to music. I need serotonin way more than information. I follow about a dozen podcasts but only regularly listen to two.
Why do I hang onto my TV habit? Because turning on the TV tells me that the work day is over. It fills my quiet apartment with human voices and faces. A great TV show combines images, music and story in beautiful ways (like the magnificent Lovecraft Country). Finally, TV cools out my brain. I don’t drink, Stephen. I need something!
Also, aren’t we living in the golden age of television? I learned as much about story construction from Crash Landing on You as I have from any novel I’ve read!
Sometimes a novel is so good that it overcomes my desire to turn on the TV. Lessons in Chemistry, Infinite Country, The Old Woman with the Knife and NSFW all kept me glued to their pages in the last few weeks.
In 2014 Stephen King updated his maxim with a Tweet: “New rule for movies and TV: You must stop reading or watching as soon as someone says, “I knew from the first moment I saw you.”