Netflix is cutting into my reading time

As of 2013 there were more than 100,000 hours of streaming content on Netflix. Assuming you went overboard and spent an average of 5 hours a day watching Netflix, it would take you 54 years to watch everything. Who would have thought the day would come when, for ten bucks a month, we could have access to more screen content than we could consume on a screen in a lifetime? And that’s to say nothing of the almighty DVR, constantly recording between three and seven things I really must watch.

When I was growing up I worked for a week around the house to raise the money for a movie, and then got on my bike and rode five miles to the mall in order to see it. I waited very impatiently for Tuesday night’s episodes of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. If I could have watched five seasons of Fantasy Island in a handful of marathon sessions, I would have done it. Twice. And like any enjoyable habit, I would have repeated this entertaining process with more and more content.

Is it just me or have shows have gotten better at drawing us in, paying off cliff hangers faster, making us gasp, making us want to come back, pointing us to the next thing we’re going to love? It’s hard to quit a show once you get sucked in, and the habit of always having a show waiting for us at the end of the day is a real thing for most kids and teens and adults.

The only way this habit shifts to a book is if I have the willpower to choose a different path and stick to it over the long haul. It’s easier and more natural turning to my phone or my iPad for a show or a movie, and it’s all basically free and at my fingertips. Reading for an hour every day is way tougher than watching one episode of Breaking Bad.

So far in 2014 my habit has been to crawl into bed after two episodes of Dracula and crack open a book for the first time as my head hits the pillow. I fall asleep approximately 7 minutes later.

If reading is a priority in my life, a moral imperative, then I can’t get into a habit of making it the last thing I do at the end of an exhausting day.

I think I’ll make my 2014 resolution now: don’t watch a TV show or a movie until I’ve read for an hour every day.

This is going to require some planning! The Bachelor is on tonight and I have a date planned with my wife to watch it. Juan Pablo, you’re killing me.

If anyone else has thoughts on the Netflix DVR paradigm, I’d love to hear them.

Word Pictures

A teacher contacted me this week and asked if I could write a note she could read out loud in her class. The note was supposed to encourage her students to try their hand at doing a word picture, something I do a lot of when I’m writing because it makes everything so much easier. Here’s what I wrote in case, you know, you were thinking of doing a word picture or something.

Hello young writer peoples!

When I write a book it always starts the same way: I look at other books and think: whoa, that looks like a lot of flippin work. All those pages! Covered in words! My face starts to feel like a garbage can and I slump, hard, in my chair. It’s the kind of slump where I could practically touch the floor with my garbage can face.

But then I remember how I start every single book I write and I feel a lot better. I stop slumping! My face feels like a normal face with a nose and eyeballs and other stuff that belongs on my face!

I take out a piece of paper and I ask myself: what the heck is my story about? And then, like a little piece of magic, I have the courage to begin. What I do is very simple and it makes me stop feeling afraid of all those pages that will come later. I draw pictures of what my story is about – lots of them – and I make little notes next to my pictures that remind me of the big moments in my story. Pretty soon I have a whole page covered with simple drawings and a bunch of little notes that guide my way and quite a bit of orange cheeto dust (I don’t know how the orange cheeto dust got on my paper).

Once I have a word picture, it’s so much easier to write my story. Now I have a road map that tells me where to go and how to get there. I can zero in on the most important parts, I can see what the story looks like. I can totally write this. I can!

And so can you.

Write on,

Patrick Carman

Writing Tips Video Series

I’ve been getting a lot of email lately asking for help with various aspects of writing a novel. When I wrote the Atherton trilogy I created a series of nine short videos that describe the two year process of writing those books. If you’re a teacher or a librarian, these might be helpful for the young writers in your schools. And if you’re a writer yourself and you’re feeling a little bit stuck, I hope these help! Write on.

Roald Dahl and the Rewrite

I do a lot of rewriting before sending a first draft to an editor, and based on the below letter to his daughter, so did Roald Dahl. First time novelists remember: even for the best writers, it’s a long process getting to a publishable manuscript. And I love that writing chair he used!

“The reason I haven’t written you for a long time is that I have been giving every moment to getting a new children’s book finished. And now at last I have finished it, and I know jolly well that I am going to have to spend the next three months rewriting the second half. The first half is great, about a small girl who can move things with her eyes and about a terrible headmistress who lifts small children up by their hair and hangs them out of upstairs windows by one ear. But I’ve got now to think of a really decent second half. The present one will all be scrapped. Three months work gone out the window, but that’s the way it is. I must have rewritten Charlie [and the Chocolate Factory] five or six times all through and no one knows it.”


Carl Spitzweg Painting

This is a painting that used to hang in the house where I grew up. It’s by a German painter named Carl Spitzweg, and apparently this is one of his more obscure paintings.

I must have stared at it a thousand times and wondered what the story was. carl

Have you ever seen a picture and either wondered what story it was trying to tell, or made up a story for what you saw?

For this Spitzweg painting, I remember thinking it was the central scene of a fairy tale. This was the basement of a castle, and whenever the princess met someone she wanted to marry, she would send them down to this room to meet the poor poet of the house and his wife. And his monkey.

Visiting the poet was a test to see what the prince would do, because in my imagination, the poet sitting there (and his wife) would tell the prince all about the rarest gem in the world, which was worth a fortune. It was hidden somewhere in the room and it would fit in the prince’s pocket – it would be all his because they hated the princess.

All the prince had to do was take the ball and chain off the monkey and put the ball and chain on himself – then the monkey would show the prince where the treasure was hidden.

But of course once the prince put the ball and chain on, he turned into a monkey. The guy walking up the stairs is the last guy who fell for this trick, walking out in shame after having been held captive for a few years.

Now the monkey in the painting had only been that monkey for like five minutes! Right before I showed up and saw the painting, that monkey was a prince. And the guy walking out the door was a monkey.

If you have a picture and a story, I’d love to see it and hear it. Comment!


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New Comments

  • kezia
    is there going to be a third book for the pulse trilogy ...

  • evelyn
    Dear Mr Carman, I am almost finished reading your book thirteen days to midnight and so far its AMAZING. ...

  • evelyn
    I love you book thirteen days to midnight ! ...