Every so often I need a shot of writing advice and encouragement just to keep me going. Most of the time it’s not that I honestly need tips and advice, it’s just to give myself a mental boost before I dive back in to writing. Because each time I dive into the writing it can be difficult as if I were doing it for the first time, and it helps if I feel like there are people cheering me on. Even if they are people I’ve never met, on a blog post from three years ago.
Today I encountered again one of the many nuggets of wisdom in Stephen King’s book, On Writing. He says stop watching television, because it’s poisonous to creativity. (See this tip and others at Business Insider.)
On the one hand, what’s not to agree with here? TV can be stultifying, it can drain away our time, it can rob us of the energy we need to achieve our goals. Same with video games, movies, mobile apps. All that stuff. Chuck it and write.
And yet, sometimes I’ve come away from a movie with an aching desire to have written the story I just watched. A sense of immersion, wishing and maybe even believing that I’m the hero of the story. In these moments I know with certainty what the point is of having stories in the world, and that I want to help add to them. I have had awesome moments of connection with and appreciation for various media which have helped be grow as a writer.
I guess the trick is that you have to pick and choose, and nourish yourself with the best. If you want a quality, nourishing story you cannot equate This is the End (and that was some serious crap) with Alien, a movie so narratively brilliant that it is still being copied. You can’t compare Neighbours to Breaking Bad. You can’t compare Battlefield to The Last Of Us.
You have to use your discretion to help you find and enjoy these stories and avoid the ones that seek to waste your time. And this is hard, because a lot of media is specifically designed to waste your time. Just think of the content padding in American Idol or the X-Factor or any one of these talent shows. Just think of Candy Crush Saga, which, if it weren’t for the integral design elements that seek to work for the developer’s benefit and not yours (infect your friends via Facebook invites, make you try just one more time, make your success just a little, little bit out of your reach so it feels close but is impossible to reach without spending money) would be an excellent bit of entertainment rather than a vampire.
So yes, I think, stop watching television (and especially stop playing Candy Crush), except for when it nourishes you, and then use it to help you build better stories.