If You Want to be A Writer, You Should be Watching TV. Here’s Why.

Shaunta Grimes

My daughter Ruby and I have this ritual. Twice a week, as we drive home from soccer practice, we listen to Delilah on the radio.

Last Wednesday Delilah said something on her program that caught my attention. She spent 90 seconds or so talking about how she hasn’t had a television in her house is almost 20 years.

If she or one of her (many, many) children want to relax, they read a book.

That sounds virtuous enough. It was thrown out there with a tone of virtuosity, certainly. And, since books are my jam, I’m all for more reading. I’m a writer and a teacher. You’ll definitely never hear me say that anyone needs to read less.

But seriously, if you are a creative person — and especially if you’re a writer — skipping television all together is a big mistake in my opinion.

I could list a ton of reasons why I think that at least limited access to a boob tube is essential for writers, but I’ll stick with my top five.

Some of the best stories being told right now are being told on TV.

Seriously, I get giddy when I open up my DVR on a Sunday night and see that I have an episode of Outlander and an episode of The Game of Thrones and an episode of Call the Midwife all waiting for me.

It’s like an embarrassment of riches.

I’ve read the books that all of these series are based on. Watching them on television lets me immerse myself in incredible writing, in a different medium.

Some of the best writing is happening for TV.

Movies are kind of mediocre to me lately. There are maybe two or three that really speak to me every year. But television is on fire. It’s cheap and easy to immerse yourself in a story on the small screen. And for the first time, we can watch shows that aren’t being produced anymore with ease.

Pay $7.99 for a subscription to Netflix or Hulu, and you can watch every episode of my favorite television show of all time, Jericho. Rewatching that series gave me the chance to really think about what I loved so much about the series, and why not enough people were into it to give it life beyond a season and a half.

Last summer I spent a month re-watching the entire series of Beauty and the Beast — the 1980s version — and was able to spend some time ruminating on why Catherine and Vincent still capture my imagination after nearly thirty years. And considering how I can build that kind of chemistry into my own characters.

Writers need to have their fingers on the pulse of popular culture.

I can’t imagine trying to write for a modern audience while skipping out on one of the three major sources of storytelling (the others being books — of course — and movies.)

Some people don’t watch TV. I get that. But have you ever had a conversation with one of those people where they have to explain why they have a big gap in their cultural knowledge?

As a writer, I don’t want to have that gap. And if you’re a writer, I don’t think you should either.

Watching TV is a quick way to get a story injection.

TV is kind of a dichotomy.

You can watch a single episode of almost any show in less than an hour, if you fast forward through the commercials. Little, elegant sips of stories.

You can also immerse yourself for hours, weekends, weeks, or even months in episode after episode of a show. Big, bingey gulps of stories.

Television is both short-form enough to fill the hour before you close your eyes at night and long-form enough to let you into the lives of the characters.

TV is the modern equivalent of oral storytelling.

Stories are my mojo. They are the thing I love more than anything else in the world.

I often wish I lived in a time when sitting around a fire telling stories was a regular, everyday way of passing them around. Something that isn’t just saved for Girl Scouts and the occasional camping trip.

Television gives you that experience of listening to someone tell you a story. You get the chance to lose yourself for an hour and go where someone else is leading you.

Oral storytelling is still important. Television is the way we usually get it now.

Stephen King‘s advice is this: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

And he’s right of course. He’s Stephen King. And he wrote my favorite book for writers. And just my favorite books, period.

But I’d argue that readers need to be immersed in stories in all the many forms they come in. For heaven’s sake, read a lot, please. It’s necessary. But spend that $7.99 for Hulu, too. (Stephen King has a new Hulu original series right now, so I’m sure he’d approve.)

Be judicious. Be a TV snob. Only watch the very best. But if you want to be a writer, don’t cut yourself off completely from one of the Big Three story mediums.

So, your turn. Leave a comment and let me know how you feel about television. Especially if you’re a writer.

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Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and is the original Ninja Writer.

Follow Shaunta on Twitter @shauntagrimes.

If you want to be a Ninja Writer, too, start with the Ninja Writers Academy. You’ll get a lesson every Saturday, share your work for feedback, and Shaunta holds office hours on Sunday afternoons. And it’s all free.

Shaunta Grimes

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