You Should Be Watching TV

The typical advice for creatives is to avoid TV like the plague. That’s wrong.

There’s nothing I love more than a great escape.

As a lonely fat kid, there was nothing I loved more than slipping into a great story.

To be fair, the same is true as a lonely fat adult, but I digress.

There’s something magical about falling into a story. It takes you out of a world that’s unfair, painful, and complicated. You fall into a story and — in most cases — you’re slipping into a better world, or at least a world where the good guys have a fighting chance.

To quote J.R.R. Tolkien (a master of many of my escapes, especially when I was younger) in his Epic Rap Battle against George R.R. Martin:

We all know the world is full of chance and anarchy,
so, yes, it’s true to life for characters to die randomly.
But, news flash: the genre’s called fantasy —
it’s meant to be unrealistic, you myopic manatee!

But, anyway, the point remains: stories are a great escape from the real world, especially when your budget is on a shoestring.

Sorry, we can’t all go to Boca, Karen.

But those classic stories aren’t the only kind of escape out there. It’s taken a while to warm up to it, especially to throw off the intellectual elitist ideas that only books are proper storytelling, but books and movies are just as good.

I wrote a while ago about how I don’t have a problem with people “defacing” books, because it’s the story, not the physical medium that conveys the story, that matters. That’s the same reason that writers and other creatives need to watch TV and movies.

If you don’t, you’re missing out on some really great stories. But, not only that, watching TV and movies has other benefits:

#1 — They are a cheap and easy way to see the world.

Seriously. We can’t all go to Boca. Or anywhere else that isn’t home or work, usually.

Coming to this realization was the first time I really accepted the true horror of adulthood. I was working 80-hour weeks and I could barely afford to drive to work, let alone anywhere else. There would be no road trips, vacations, or Instagram-worth travels in my future.

So we have the screen.

But even if so many movies are shot on sound-stages and back-lots around the world, at least some of the exterior shots give us a view of the rest of the world.

Sometimes, it’s The Lord of the Rings giving us huge panoramic shots of New Zealand or Game of Thrones giving us huge shots of Iceland.

But, for my money, the best emotional use of this was in the last shot of the series finale of ER, where, for the first and only time during the show’s 15 year run, they pull out of the shot of the ambulance bay, and show us the entire exterior of the hospital.

Very little in the hospital is the same — in that scene, there are only two characters out of a whole hoard of doctors who were introduced in the pilot (one of them having grown up during the course of the show) — but that ugly concrete building has remained the same.

But, anyway, as someone who writes stories that take place in places that I have never visited (my current WIP is set in a fictional overlay of Fort Collins, Colorado), watching TV shows and movies that are both set and shot is really helpful.

You can read about a place all you want, but actually being able to see it with your own eyes — that’s the next-best thing to being there in the flesh. And TV and movies give you that opportunity where books don’t.

#2 — They refill the creative well.

Stories are really good at this.

I’ve been struggling a lot with trying to write lately, and a lot of the reason is because my creative well is running dry. For whatever reason, I haven’t been reading a lot lately.

Usually, my preferred reading method is, every week or so, to drop myself into the bathtub for a few hours, and a read a book from beginning to end while soaking in the water.

In a house with seven people, that is obviously not going to happen.

I also have a lot of stress and anxiety around writing on Medium. That means I spend a lot of time on Medium, but then I struggle for things to write, and then the stress and anxiety flare up. I end up in a cycle of doing a lot of scrolling and worrying, but very little productive reading or writing.

That is pretty much the story of my life.

But when the reading fails? Turn on the Netflix.

My favorite thing for sparking ideas for novel projects is watching medical procedurals — House, ER, Grey’s, &c. I write contemporary YA, so every time they have a teenager as a patient, my heart goes out. My heart wonders about their story, their whole story, and not just the little fragment we see.

There are stories inside of stories. There are blog posts inside of stories. And Netflix is a cheap and easy way to refill the well. And, if you’re just completely wasted and need some binge time, you can write off the Netflix-watching as creative work. Just take some notes.

#3 — They create the potential for conversation and community.

TV and movies are a way that we converse with other people in the rest of the world. They are things that millions upon millions, sometimes billions of people consume at the same time.

Whenever I bring up my favorite book (All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven), most people — unless I’m at a specific YA-fiction event — have their eyes glaze over. They haven’t read the book, and they don’t give a shit why I passionately love that book with all of my heart and soul.

But I can bring up my favorite TV show (Grey’s Anatomy) just about anywhere, and most people will understand and commiserate. And, a good chunk of the time, you’ll find someone who is just as passionate about the show as you, and you can commiserate for a while about characters and stories and plot lines.

Hell, even one of my therapists was conversant in Grey’s. It made things a lot easier.

Fandom is joy, people. We connect over stories.

And, I guess you can connect with people over BitCoin and BitTorrent and BlockChain and being a part of the club of smug assholes who actually enjoyed Ulysses. Whatever.

But fandom is so much more fun. #DestielForever #Percabeth

Maybe you think that you don’t have the time for TV or movies, to scroll through Netflix.

Or maybe you equate watching TV with a lack of productivity. But you should make time for it — the same way you do for your daily reading. Or you can do it while you’re working on menial tasks (like scrolling social media, replying to emails, and other things that don’t require every ounce of your energy.)

In the past, I’ve worked with a split screen, where I ran Netflix in a small panel on the side of the screen. Now, I’ve set up a magnetic phone mount on the window in my office, perfectly set so my phone is in my field of vision.

I’m sure that, somewhere out there, somebody, right now, is handling uranium rods with one hand while watching Netflix in their other hand.

If they can find time for Netflix without causing a core meltdown, so can you.

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Zach J. Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne”. He is a thespian, poet, and writer for young adults. He is the #2 Ninja Writer.

(He/They) Ninja Writer. Thespian. Queer. Essayist, poet, novelist. “In Search of Sunflowers” available on Kindle now.

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