Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Anatomy of a Freelance Writer’s Life: Turning Off the TV

Bob's Television Dream Image

Bob’s Television Dream. Photo by Robert Course-Baker (Creative Commons)

During my first full week of working at home, I decided that I should go on a 30-day fast from television. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of watching television all day instead of concentrating on work. Plus, as a new freelance writer, I needed to focus 100 percent of my energy on writing, pitching, researching and other duties to get my business booming. If I had time to watch TV, I reasoned, I had time to do something to further my writing career.

Unfortunately, the fast didn’t last very long. I hadn’t considered the role that television had taken on in my life. I haven’t subscribed to cable for nearly a decade. So, rarely do I just plop in front of the TV and veg out for hours. I watch most television content online, and the move toward digital programming has meant that I can pick and choose when I want to watch my favorite shows; it also means I can choose precisely, and by which program, I am able to avoid doing something that I don’t want to do, like write.

But why would I want to avoid writing? After all, didn’t I choose to do this? It’s not as if someone is forcing me write full-time. These points illustrate the fundamental paradox of being a writer—though we live and breath for this work, it frequently scares the crap out of us. Do enough Internet searches on “freelance writing” and you are bound to come across a countless number of articles counseling writers on how to get over writing fear or beat writer’s block. It seems odd that people who call themselves writers have to engage in constant self-coaching just to write.

The only answer to this conundrum I can provide is that writing is hard, and all human beings try to avoid things that are difficult, unclear or inconvenient. The rub of writing is that it doesn’t get easier the more you do it. Every story, every article, every blank piece of paper or flashing cursor represents a new test of one’s creative limits. Writing is a constant reminder of one’s artistic immortality—what if today is the day the words don’t come?

People don’t like to discuss their immortality in life so why would writers want to discuss ours in art? We don’t. So we avoid it. Some of us turn on the TV. And making the formal leap to full-time writer doesn’t make the urge to avoid any less nagging; it just means the stakes for doing so are higher. Which is why I had to make the decision to reduce my television consumption, not just as a practical matter, but also as an emotional one. Writing, the art and the profession, is scary, and it requires not just bravery, but also a resolve to experience the exciting and excruciating emotions that come along with it.

In other words, I am learning to embrace the comfort and discomfort of being a writer, because the work requires all of it. This post doesn’t mean I won’t watch TV ever again, or even today. It is a recognition, a public acknowledgement, that pain in writing can’t be avoided. If I want this life, I have to want it all.


  1. “…all human beings try to avoid things that are difficult, unclear or inconvenient.”

    Very true! And writing proves no different as you know.

    What are you writing about now?

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