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Is Television Ruining Our Writing (& Our Lives)?

I am in the middle of Stephen King's On Writing. Many writer friends have recommended it to me and I am finally digging in. So far, I love it. King has many no-nonsense insights on writing and the writing life. I find myself agreeing with much of what he says and suggests. Obviously, this guy - with his massively successful writing career - knows what he's talking about.

One thing he says is, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut." I read this and, yup, I nodded. But then King goes on to note that these things take time and that we must find that time. And then. He says that if we are really serious about being writers, or good writers, we must wean ourselves from television, what he comically deems "the glass teat."

Uh oh. (I may or may not be watching Kim Kardashian's wedding while writing this.)

Now, believe me, I get it. If we all turned off our television and threw ourselves into a rich book every night, we'd likely improve as writers and thinkers. And maybe even as people. That's right; King argues that television is not just affecting the quality of our writing but the quality of our lives. He writes,

I'd like to suggest that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing. And how much of a sacrifice are we talking about here? How many Frasier and ER reruns does it take to make one American life complete? How many Richard Simmons infomercials? How many whiteboy/fatboy Beltway insiders on CNN? Oh man, don't get me started. Jerry-Springer-Dr.-Dre-Judge-Judy-Jerry-Falwell-Donny-and-Marie, I rest my case.

Okay, okay. I get it. An excessive consumption of terribly trashy television is neither healthy nor good for any of us. But what about a pinch of terribly trashy television here and there, say on a drizzly Thursday afternoon at 5:10pm while one is writing a blog post? Presumably, said blog post might be better written or conceived of if not crafted against a background of chirpy reality stars, but does this matter? What about the hour of television in the evening when sweatpants are worn and parents/professionals/people are bone tired and in need of something positively mindless? And what about the good shows with the good writing or the exquisite educational programs? Isn't possible that watching these shows might improve our writing or enrich our lives?

Clearly, I'm a bit defensive.

In all seriousness though, this is an important question. For me. For all of us. We all know that there are only so many hours in the day and those we spend watching television are those we do not spend doing other good things - like reading or writing or talking or thinking or...

My feeling is that this is yet another example of the good old everything-in-moderation adage. A moderate amount of television, just like a moderate amount of most things, will not kill us or our pursuits. This sounds about right, huh? Or am I being naive? By watching television - and I honestly do not watch too much - am I filling my brain with junk when I could be stuffing it with beautiful phrases and stories or writing my own?

I could go on and on, but the (ridiculous) wedding is over and now Dirty Soap just came on. Even I have my limits :)

Off to microwave some organic nuggets and contemplate turning the cartoons off. (Kids and television is another huge issue, no?)

{PS - Just so you know, I do not usually (or ever) write while the television is on. Interesting, given the topic here, that this is the first time. Hmmm...}


How much television do you and your family watch? Do you agree with King that television detracts from the quality of our lives? Do you think that if we are serious about writing we must really wean ourselves from the "glass teat"? Oh, and do you think there is something inherently tasteless about throwing a ten million dollar wedding?

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