Netflix and Write? 5 Logical Reasons Writers Should Watch More TV

Netflix and Write? 5 Logical Reasons Writers Should Watch More TV

Confession: Sometimes, I close a book just so I can open my laptop to watch Netflix.

Yes, I’m a writer — and yes, I often prefer watching TV to reading books.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy reading. Is anyone arguing against writers reading books to provide us with creativity and inspiration? The more you read, the better you write.

But sometimes I grow weary of reading yet another blog post preaching that writers should constantly be reading in our free time. Even if the points those bloggers make are legitimate, people are beating a dead horse when they remind me to read, read, read.

I grow even more testy when I read pieces advising Americans to just stop watching TV in general. Let me do what I want!

I watched the entire first season of Stranger Things in one night. I have a hardcore crush on Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks. Thanks to Parks and Recreation, I have a Leslie Knope and/or Ron Swanson quote for every life situation.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it’s good for writers to watch television. Maybe doing so can actually benefit you. Here’s why.

1. You can write about what you watch

That’s right, watching TV can actually lead to getting published. And hopefully publishing those pieces can lead to making moolah!

There are numerous online publications that pay freelancers for pieces focusing on TV programs, including Buzzfeed, Bitch Media and Paste Magazine.

You aren’t limited to publications that focus on media, either. Think outside the box. If you’re a personal finance writer, pitch a piece about how to access discounts on monthly network subscriptions. Travel writers can write about the best foreign programs on Amazon Prime.

Start counting all the dollars you earn as a direct result of your TV obsession.

how to improve your writing

2. You can use TV to add color to your pieces

A vital aspect of writing a strong piece is connecting with your readers. And guess what? Most of your readers probably watch TV, just like you.

While you may not necessarily write about TV shows, you can throw in a reference to a program that will automatically connect a reader to you, the writer. For example, if you type, “We were on a break!” then countless of 90s kids who rooted for Ross and Rachel all those years will understand your reference and crack a smile.

You may want to be careful, though. Throwing in absurd references may actually isolate you from your readers. Always take your audience into consideration. If you’re writing for a publication aimed toward teens, few of them are likely to understand your Touched by an Angel shout-out.

3. You watch shows to unwind

Yes, I write every day. And, yes, I read every day.

However, reading doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to some people. I’m a slow reader, so while I enjoy it, in some ways it still feels like work. Reading for an hour doesn’t necessarily relax me, so I need to find an alternate way to unwind after a long day.

In order to be as productive as possible when you write, you need to create margins in your life. If you constantly work, stress, sleep for four hours per night, then wake up and start all over again, you will burn out. You need time to decompress.

Relax. Do something for yourself. Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch the episode of Jim and Pam’s wedding. Again.

4. You learn about character development

It’s worth mentioning that writing for TV shows is vastly different from writing novels, memoirs, blogs or magazine articles.

However, watching TV can definitely provide you with insights about storytelling.

TV writers have the advantage of extended time to develop people’s personalities and backstories. This may not always be the case with film writers, who have to pack everything into two hours.

Like TV writers, authors usually have space and time to allow characters to progress. Maybe that’s why movie remakes never seem to be as good as their book counterparts. Come to think of it, should we be making more books into TV programs?

5. Anything is worth writing about

Your everyday life may not always feel interesting, but nearly every aspect of your day can be written about.

You shouldn’t just sit in your office and write all day, every day. Your daily life becomes your writing material. From getting your kids ready for school, to shopping for bathing suits, to troubleshooting your computer, to watching TV.

Everything is writing material, even if you don’t know it yet.

No, sitting on the couch to binge-watch TV four hours per day probably isn’t the healthiest habit. (Although, I’ll admit, that’s exactly what I did last night after a terrible day at work.) However, there are plenty of reasons to finally give in and jump on the Game of Thrones bandwagon.

How has watching TV helped you with your writing process?

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18 comments

  • Tom Gould says:

    Hi Laura

    I am what is known as a discerning viewer and I completely agree with everything that you are saying here. Watching television can be informative as it is very good for inspiration. I took watching period dramas as inspiration for a lot of my writing, from what I watch on television. Watching documentaries can also be a good form of research as well, irrespective of what genre you write. Although I have read somewhere else that it is not a good thing to do if you have writers block and I think that it is because that sitting in front of the television can demotivate people a little as well as inform and inspire them.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    Tom Gould

    • Hmmm, that’s an interesting thought that watching TV wouldn’t help writer’s block! I have mixed feelings about that. If watching TV becomes a way to procrastinate writing, it’s definitely not helpful. If you just need to clear your head for a half hour, I think that can be good. Thanks for your comment!

  • If you’re writing contemporary fiction (especially YA), you need to keep up with current expressions, speech patterns, attitudes, dress. TV is even better than film for that, because it’s more immediate. As my millennial daughter-in-law would say, “I know…Right?”

  • Let me add another:

    Every single movie or series episode on Netflix started with a WRITTEN script, and just as it is good for a writer to be familiar with books, it is good for a writer to be familiar with scripts and the performances they underlie.

    Storytelling in our society has moved largely from books to screens (big and small). There’s nothing wrong with that. In a way, it is a return to the days of Euripedes or of Shakespeare. Partake of what the scriptwriters of our age have to offer, without guilt.

    For that matter, video games, much more than in the days of Pong and Asteroids, are an interactive form of scripted story telling. Partake of that, too, but as a writer appreciating the story. It can only strengthen your own storytellling, in any genre.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    epiclesisconsulting.com

  • I’m with you there about relaxing in front of the TV guilt free if that’s what unwinds and inspires me. Many of my readers love my dialog skills and I know that this is a direct result of watching and learning through the years how good quality TV scripts can make such an impact. Thanks for another great and entertaining post, Laura.
    Tanya Freedman w/a Gloria Silk

  • Heather Marsten says:

    Thank you for this article – your points are helpful. Here’s another way they also can help in our writing.

    In my memoir, TV shows play a big part – it shows the passage of time (old TV shows I used to watch), and provides background to some scenes. There are a few times when I’ve fantasized about TV characters to show my hopes and wishes – for example imagining Dr. Kildare getting me to tell him about my father’s abuse and Perry Mason prosecuting him which leads to my father apologizing and promising never to hurt me again. Needless to say the fantasies didn’t come true, but they gave me hope in the midst of despair. So TV shows can also advance a plot.

  • Therese Ralston says:

    Absolutely, I used to love period dramas- they gave me happy tears and had me blubbering. Now I watch ‘This is Us’ and ‘Sense8’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’. I adore movies, but the new Netflix series get into characterisation and the nuances of personality as well as action and plot. TV is the new movies, only better; like really good books have always done-only with live action pictures to boot! I love, love, loved ‘Stranger Things 2’ and am still a little freaked out by ‘Mind Hunters’ which I saw the last ep of three weeks ago. I read and write and am soon to blog everyday (or twice weekly at least) everyday, but I watch TV too. I just try to make sure it’s good TV and not too trashy. I’m shameless in saying I love TV, but I also read Jane Austin’s Persuasion last Monday and I cried and blubbered three times, even though I’ve read and re-read it many times before. Drop the guilt writers, we don’t have to be literary ALL THE TIME. Love your post, so well done Laura. Oh, and how has it helped my writing process: I have shamelessly absorbed the themes and repercussions of events in ‘This is Us’ for use in my own memoir. This TV show, which also makes my chin wobble and has me bawling regularly, gives me insight and resonance and depth of emotion. Watching does all that and much more even though I am not adopted or one of triplets.

  • That’s awesome! You’re living proof!

  • Morgan says:

    Thanks for this!
    I’ve used background TV to write for years. It’s not great when I’m doing something I really care about, but it’s been a valuable ally that keeps me in the chair. Appreciate not being shamed for it. 🙂

  • Hi Laura! I was looking for validation into my binge-watching Netflix habit, instead of writing and found it! The connection to making money by watching and writing about it, is a good point as well. Although, perhaps you want to secretly be a screenwriter. Lol. Thanks for making me feel good about not writing cuz it’s feeding my writing!

  • Tiffany says:

    I thought I was the only one who saw value in how movies and television can help with education, writing, viewpoints, thinking, etc. You make some excellent point about how it can be helpful. Each medium books, comics, magazines, tv, internet, video games can all be helpful depending on how they are used or can be brain drain- that is including books. I’ll be following you now on twitter. 🙂

  • Lee Ann Cressman says:

    love to write!! and love netflix!! thanks for the ideas lots of time on my hands these days truly gona see what I can do. happy writing day!

  • Ana says:

    Thank you for this!! I completely agree. Though I love reading and writing with a fiery passion and do both everyday, TV & movies are something I enjoy so much as well. I just love a good story! For some reason books are for smart, competent, and successful people and we equate tv watches to only lazy bums who have no goals in life. It’s really extreme and unfair, and this is especially prevevalent in the writing world. I do enjoy reading more than tv, but sometimes I just need my brain to take a break and dig into something visual and beautiful that doesn’t require a ton and that’s where tv comes in in such a powerful way. It can be such a good tool to avoid burnout when used in moderation, just like everything else.

    This article reminded me of this story: I recently watched the Netflix original “Chef’s Table”, and it really inspired me to go and write, which was so strange because 1. I do not like to cook at all. And 2. I have no desire to become a world famous chef. But I realized watching other people pursue and accomplish their greatest dreams inspired me in doing the same with mine! Yes yes yes to this. Anyone who tells you otherwise about what’s best for YOU is wrong.

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