Television-Free Year Challenge

And she’s off! A year without television? Friends and family snicker and raise their eyebrows at my New Year’s Resolution to go for the entire year of 2018 without watching television. As a news and crime show junkie, such deprivation could lead to withdrawal symptoms. Shaking. Carrying the remote around. Pacing the room near the big-screen in the living room. Talking to myself…okay, I already do that. My reasons for abstaining from the blinking-box are simple.

TOXIC NEWS

News has been toxic, distressing, divisive, and unreliable. I fear what we once called news has degenerated into opinion and propaganda. As a graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism, I mourn the objectivity and ethics which were once the hallmarks of serious print and broadcast journalism. Info-tainment has supplanted real news. With the advent of high-definition broadcasts, being photogenic appears to be the sole attribute in hiring news anchors. The great Walter Cronkite wouldn’t even get a callback today. It is challenging to discern facts from opinion when newscasters drift into fiction and opinion instead of reporting. I am sick of it.

hand pulls electrical plug from the wallSO-CALLED REALITY SHOWS

Apparently, anyone can capture the celebrity spotlight through behavior once considered embarrassing and shameful. Entire shows specialize in treachery, deception, adultery, fornication, ruthless competition, bug-eating, and the like. The Romans had chariot races to the death and threw Christians to the lions, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much about the horrors of popular entertainment. Nonetheless, after watching Jerry Springer ambush yet another fellow with the results of a paternity test on live television, I fear for our civilization. Let’s not make celebrities of idiots who fling chairs and vulgarities at one another. I never rewarded my child for throwing a tantrum, so I won’t reward adults for the same behavior. Give me a story of depth and meaning instead, thanks. My life will be fuller without reality shows.

open book emitting lightsLOVE OF READING

Last year I missed my Goodreads challenge of reading 52 books by two books. Aaaaarg! I also want my darling grandchildren to get into the reading habit, so if they see me reading and ask me to read to them, well, they will associate books with love. Let them be life-long readers and not tv addicts. This will expand their vocabularies and their minds. Win-win.

device addictionBREAKING THE DEVICE ADDICTION

The selfie-stick generation is often seen hunched over their smartphones. I’ve seen a few of them walk into walls, signs, and into traffic unaware of their surroundings. Will they learn to appreciate the outdoors? Will they discover the art of conversing with someone in the flesh? C’mon, admit it, you’ve seen couples out to dinner and both are staring down at phones instead of into each other’s eyes. What a waste! Sadly, we drift from one type of screen to another. Cellphone, iPad, Kindle or Nook, laptop, television. Sigh.

GETTING AWAY FROM WORK

As an author and journalist, I spend much of my day in front of a laptop. Research keeps me trolling the internet. Outlining and writing wears out a keyboard a year. Editing and revision eat up vast amounts of time. Marketing and keeping up with technology are soul-sucking experiences but must be done. After facing a screen all day, I am burned out. I seek entertainment away from a screen. Yes, I have hundreds of books on the Kindle app of an iPad, but there’s something satisfying in holding a three-dimensional book. They can take the grit and sun of the beach. They can be loaned, traded, and given away. Nearby towns have those little freestanding book nooks that serve as free public libraries. Take. Give. Swap. I feed those with paperbacks.

stack of booksSo here I go. Into uncharted territory of peace and quiet, working through my 189-title to-be-read list, vicariously experiencing time travel and new adventures. I plan to travel more. Get out more with friends and family. The happiest experiences of my life did not involve television. I want more happiness.

I double-dog dare you to take the challenge.

No TV Week 19

This week TV will not be a temptation because I will be occupied judging two national writing contests: The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and the Tampa Area Romance Authors Contest. I am a first-round judge in these contests and a category coordinator for one. Writing contests help hone an aspiring author’s skills and provide bragging rights to winners. It’s been a long week of great reading and no TV.

Writing is such a solitary endeavor that writers crave feedback. For the most successful authors the feedback comes in long lines of readers seeking autographs at conferences and in big fat royalty checks. Feedback also comes through Goodreads reviews, Amazon reviews, newspaper and magazine reviews, and the joy of seeing a stranger carrying one of your books to the beach or through an airport. I suppose a similar joy would be for a musician to hear her song on the radio. stack of booksSometimes feedback will come from out of the blue.

After my airplane had repairs done on the radio system, a mechanic wiped off his hands and handed me the key with a bit of advice–he told me my novel had a typo in the second chapter. It took me a moment to process what he was talking about, because my book had just been published a week earlier. Even my mother hadn’t read it yet. I resisted the urge to hug him, but thanked him for buying my book.

Next, I dashed home, made the correction and uploaded the eBook again to Amazon. The majority of the feedback new writers receive comes from the critiques of family, friends, and colleagues. These can be harrowing, confusing critiques because while readers know what they like and don’t like, they often cannot articulate the specifics. One relative will say there is too much dialogue, another will say it needs more. Whereas a reader might say, “the ending ran too long.” Another writer is more likely to pinpoint that a scene is misplaced and would work better before the climax of the story. So contests serve that rarely-met need to get objective, detailed critiques with comments inside the body of the story.

And yes, contests also provide huge validation and bragging rights for finalists and winners. Beta readers, critique partners and agents provide feedback as well. In the case of critiques it is far easier to give than to receive. We can so easily spot the blunders, gaffs, and typos in someone else’s story, yet we struggle to see our own. A totally honest critique from one adult to another is worth years of wasted effort editing and rewriting. It takes courage and honesty to take a critique. That first time on that first big project any critique might feel like someone is calling your newborn ugly.

After deep breaths, a serious writer learns to listen, take notes, and consider how to use that critique to improve the story. Writers groups offer critique groups, but sadly, not all groups are created equal. Dare I say there are writers groups filled with hobbyist writers, dabblers, avid readers who don’t write, and folks who are exploring the idea of being a writer. You can generally spot them when they say they don’t read much, but they want to write a novel over the weekend. Others corner published authors with offers like, “I have this amazing story idea. How about if you write it and we split the royalties?” To such “writers” I explain the purpose and fees of ghostwriters.

Finding a group of serious career-minded writers usually entails joining a national organization. For a list of the largest ones, click on WRITER’S ORGANIZATIONS. Writer’s conferences can hone a writer’s skills through workshops and lectures and networking, and remind writers that there are others out there at the same skill level. Team up! The buddy system helps us slog through the hard times. So to writers, I say keep creating. To readers I say, thank you for turning off your TV once in a while. Thank you for supporting writers by buying books in any format. And thank you for your feedback, your reviews, and your encouragement.