THE RESOLUTION THAT SOLVES ALL PROBLEMS

I watch way too much TV.

And I mean, way too much TV.

remember when I advised that though authors absolutely have to read, and read a lot, and read in other genres and categories than we tend to write in, we should also consume other media including TV, movies, games, etc.? Well, I meant that, but in my case I let things slide entirely too much toward the TV end of the spectrum.

I work from home, primarily as an editor but also as an author, but in the past few years my own writing has taken a back seat to my editing/consulting business—and that’s fine. I love being an editor and educator. I love my online courses, and all my amazing clients. But I would also like to write more—lots more, actually. I also noticed over the past few years that while I was telling y’all to read more, I was reading less—and in this case I don’t count the books I read as part of my freelance editing business, but books for pleasure and personal enlightenment. So this time last year I set a goal on GoodReads to read 52 books in 2018—one a week. And guess what? I hit that goal! That effectively doubled the number of books I read in 2017. This is a huge positive—and shows that behavior can be changed for the better especially if you actually enjoy the thing you’re trying to do more of. I love reading, so reading more was not difficult to wedge into my life.

I also love being an editor—and I try to wedge in as much of that as I can. So then why am I always struggling to play catch up, always behind the schedule eight ball?

I love writing, but then why has my output been limited to this weekly blog post and the occasional poem or short story?

Circling back to the whole working from home thing…

There are great advantages to that lifestyle, and frankly, you couldn’t drag me back into a corporate office environment. But there are drawbacks, too, and the biggest one for me is distraction.

When my daughter wad diagnosed with ADD I read up on the symptoms and it was like a checklist that explained my own life since childhood. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, when kids weren’t diagnosed with stuff, but if they had been, I probably would have been.

Still, I have my little things I’ve learned to do to manage that, but looking back over at least the past three or four years, one thing has cropped up as the root of all attention deficit evils in my work-from-home life, and that thing is the television.

Thanks to modern technology daytime TV isn’t just game shows, soap operas, and I Dream of Jeanie reruns, it’s literally anything and everything you want at your fingertips. So many movies, the Golden Age of TV that’s unfolding daily right now, documentaries on any conceivable subject…

So I go downstairs for lunch and the TV goes on—no, see? I need to start changing my own language: I turn the TV on.

And sometimes I can keep it to a single one hour episode of something, and sometimes I can watch thirty or forty minutes of a movie then turn it off and get back to work, but sometimes I fall into what ends up being an afternoon “off.”

I’m not editing. I’m not writing. I’m not reading. I’m not even keeping up on chores around the house, taking my dogs for a walk, exercising, or anything else.

This is especially problematic when I’m under a deadline crunch (which is pretty much all the time, because I take too many TV afternoons off) and particularly demoralizing when I realize I just blew a work day rewatching something I’ve seen before—maybe dozens of times before.

But something about that screen, man, it just sucks me in.

TV is the one thing—not the device itself but my own relationship with it—that is at the root of all “evil” in my working life. This is the one thing I need to climb on top of right now to make 2019 a big year for me as an editor, author, educator… father, homeowner… everything gets pushed aside by the next full rewatch of a series I’ve seen all the way through at least three times. Why would I possibly do that? What does that actually serve?

Nothing.

But am I overreacting?

I wasn’t sure myself, actually, so I sat down and thought about how many hours I spent watching TV, after looking up the average TV viewing in America. According to Nielsen, the average is about five hours a day, or thirty-five hours a week. That feels already like too much time to me, so when I saw that I thought maybe I was overestimating my TV problem. Surely I was within a margin of error of average. After all, five hours a day in front of the tube (yes… I know they aren’t tubes anymore…) is a lot—too much, really.

But when I was finally honest with myself and sat down and really thought about it and added up each day—weekdays being different from weekends, etc., the number I came up with blew my mind:

75

That’s more than twice the average per week and it means that if I dial my TV viewing time back to average, I gain back exactly a full work week… every week.

And I know that number seems impossible, that that averages out to almost eleven hours a day—and yes, I do sleep with the TV on. If I sleep about 49 hours a week that leaves only 44 hours a week for everything else.

Just. Not. Okay.

Especially since that though there are a few tasks I can do while the TV is on, the one I end up doing the most is eating. I’m not eating right now while I’m writing this. I never eat while reading or editing. But sit me in front of a football game, a movie, or a Game of Thrones marathon, and you better watch your fingers because it’s eat and eat and eat and eat.

So, then, what are my usual resolutions: work harder, write more, read more, lose weight/eat better/exercise at all…

TV is the thing getting in the way of all those things.

So then 2019’s real resolution: Break the TV addiction, and break it hard.

There are things that get in our way as authors—as people in general. We all have challenges and they come, sometimes, in the strangest form, in ways that seem perfectly mundane. TV? Really? That doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Just turn it off and get back to work. I have maybe a dozen servings of alcohol a year—I’m just not a big drinker. Would say, “Alcohol? Really? Just don’t order a drink,” to an alcoholic? That’s not helpful. It’s not good enough. I have identified this as a real problem, and I need to address it as such.

Anyone else out there dealing with something similar? Some force that gets between you and your work?

Identifying it can be half the battle. I named my demon, and now it’s Phil vs. TV for the rest of 2019.

Wish me luck!

 

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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9 Responses to THE RESOLUTION THAT SOLVES ALL PROBLEMS

  1. Van Merwe says:

    Hi Mr. Athans. That’s a difficult one. I myself have that exact problem but with videogames and twitter.

    Since the free to air tv here is horrible, I haven’t watched in ages.
    Maybe break the TV? Cut the cable? Would love to read more short reviews you write on books you’ve read on Goodreads. Good luck with reading another 52!

  2. JM Williams says:

    I feel you. I’ve been spending too much time with games, being a bit burned our from work. Gotta get back into writing!

  3. Craig says:

    I worked from home for five years… it’s not an easy thing to do. Often I’d have my tablet open next to my work comp, with whatever distraction running on it (usually some sort of video game). Worse though was having my fridge/pantry right at hand… It was so easy to get up and get a snack, and another, and another. A couple years ago I went back to an office job and it was a challenging transition, but in a lot of ways it’s healthier. There’s a good physical separation of work and home too.

    Did you watch so much TV when you worked in an office? Watching that much TV may be the symptom, not the problem…

  4. Pingback: No Wasted Ink Writers Links | No Wasted Ink

  5. Joy Pixley says:

    Hoo boy, I hear you! I came to much the same conclusion a few years ago, and cutting back on TV made a huge difference. I was doing the same thing you’re talking about (except only on weekends and evenings): sitting down to watch “just one show” while I ate lunch or dinner, and then… Hmm, how did that many hours slip away? So I broke the habit, and went from reading fewer than 20 books a year to reading 59 last year. Now, if only I can translate more of that “extra” free time into writing, I’ll be golden!

    • Joy Pixley says:

      Having JUST said this, what did I do last night? I sat down in front of the TV at dinner — for the first time in months — and ended up binge-watching the last season of Adventure Time until past my bedtime. Sigh. I guess I haven’t completely broken the habit after all. Ah well, tomorrow is another day!

  6. It’s funny that I came across your post when I did today. Just last month I read Stephen King’s book “On Writing” and there was a part where he said to get rid of the TV in order to be a better writer. I watch a lot of TV, too – a lot. After I read that in his book, I took my TV’s down and replaced them with stereo equipment and committed to reading and writing more and watching far less TV. Since just before Christmas, I believe I’ve watched about 2 hours in all. I even wrote a bit about that on my own blog last week, too.

    Good luck to you and reducing your TV time as well.

  7. Randi Anderson says:

    Good luck! I don’t even have a TV…my problem is social media (and various other Internet rabbit holes).

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