I’ll Watch TV When I’m Dead: The Pressure of Creative Guilt

Want to play a game?  It’s really fun, I promise.  Here’s how it goes:

Think of a popular television show, then ask me “Hey, have you seen ________?”

Unless you were thinking of Game of Thrones or anything else on HBO, the answer is almost certainly no.  Outside of that, let’s see. . . I saw a few seasons of American Horror Story.  I’m almost caught up on Homeland, but that’s a recent development.

Netflix originals?  Nope.  Hulu exclusives?  Forget about it.  Every single show that ends up a trending hashtag on Twitter on Sunday nights?  Sorry, I missed it.

I even wrote about watching the series premiere of American Gods!  We’re now two episodes in, and I haven’t actually started it yet.

Believe me, I’m not bitter.  Well, mostly not bitter.  The truth is, while I don’t love television, I do like it.  I just can’t make time to watch it; the creative guilt sets in, and before I know it I’m feeling lousy and unproductive.  And then there’s the stress of keeping up!  But let me unpack the first part. . .

The Shadow of Creative Guilt

On our first date seven years ago, while we were laying all our baggage out on the table, I told my husband I was an intense person.  When I’m into something, or I’ve got a project, I devote all my spare energy to that endeavor.  He might have shrugged it off at the time, but seven years into our relationship he knows I wasn’t kidding.  He’s seen me cycle through a number of minor passions, and been right there to help me as I’ve come close to burning out.

The last couple years, as I’ve worked feverishly to launch my writing career, it’s been go, go, go all the time.  I start moving so fast, first I’m running.  Then I’m flying.  Luckily, he’s always there to patiently guide me back down to earth when my feet leave the ground.  I think he wonders what I’m running from.

Even Prince Luca gets stressed when he’s not being productive!

The answer is creative guilt, with its long, horrible shadow; the feeling that I should be doing more to achieve my dreams.  How could I justify watching Sense8 when I could be editing another chapter, writing a blog post, or platform-building on Twitter?  That new season of Grace and Frankie isn’t going anywhere, but neither is my writing career if I don’t get this book out.


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Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . . 

Somehow, I’ve decided that living in that shadow is so unpleasant, I fill every spare moment with more creative work.  Honestly, flipping on the TV while I’m drinking my morning coffee, or late at night after work, never even crosses my mind.  I’m too deep in the Twitterverse, or busy chewing an awkward sentence I’ve written.

And when I do take some time to just relax?  I’m either reading (which ultimately improves my writing) or listening to music with my eyes closed.

Perhaps the only exception to all of this is when my husband and I are together.  Our schedules keep us apart most of the week, so when we have the chance to be with one another, even my creative guilt takes a back seat.  This is the only time I get any TV watching in; we’ve got our shows we’ll watch together.  The problem is, TV shows today are so great and so compelling—

It’s Stressful Keeping Up

Just staying current on the few shows we watch together can be a chore.  I can’t wait to watch American Gods together—he’s going to love it—but I can’t justify the subscription to STARZ until we finish watching the current season of Homeland on Showtime.  I’m psyched about the current (and final) season of The Leftovers, but if we have to choose between catching up with Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst, or going for a nice long hike, the hike is going to win out.

I’d rather be in the woods with my husband than watching The Leftovers. Click the image to view this and more of his amazing photography.

I guess we find time for what really matters to us, and for better or for worse, television doesn’t make the cut.  I’ll watch TV when I’m dead, because the shadow of creative guilt is a lot longer, and a lot colder, than the shadow cast by my Sony Bravia.

I promise I’m only a little bitter.


Later tonight, when my husband and I discuss this post, he’ll remind me for the eight-hundred ninety-eighth time that balance is the key to happiness.  I’ll listen, and I’ll agree, and I’ll be so thankful.  I’ll come home from work tonight and watch the second episode of The Santa Clarita Diet, which he recommended highly.  I’ll feel a little guilty, but my brain will be grateful for the break.

I’ll set a goal of watching an episode a night.  They’re only 30 minutes, right?  I’ll make it through the week and think maybe I’ve turned a corner.

But by next week I’ll be thinking of everything I ought to get done, even at 1AM.  That old shadow will spread over me again, and in short order the escapism the television offers will be forgotten.  I’ll start drifting up into the atmosphere until my loving tether pulls me back down again.

Once more, I’ll strive for a little balance.  The cycle will start over.

Ultimately, I’m fine with it.  This rhythm is comfortable, and I’m happy.  Every day I’m a little closer to achieving my dreams.

Television can wait, and maybe so can balance.

I’d love to know your thoughts!  How do you balance being productive with letting your mind rest?  Do you get stressed trying to keep up with television?  Are there any shows you can’t stand to miss?  Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks as always for reading.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

stoneronarollercoaster - May 8, 2017

well i dont think concept of balance applies to any creative work. i myself am working on a book and there are days when i cant stop writing. then there are days when i cant write a single word. u cant plan this thing it just comes to you. if u force yourself you may end up with something shallow.

and about tv.. i dont watch tv i posted about it a few days back https://stoneronarollercoaster.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/the-idiot-box/
i just dont keep up with the tv at all.

    Gregory Josephs - May 8, 2017

    Right. Ultimately I agree. To create art of any sort often puts us at the mercy of the craft. Funny timing on the television post. . . I’ll head over and give it a look.

    Thanks for reading!

Get in My Head - May 8, 2017

I would go through strange seasons.. where I would binge watch one show.. all the seasons for a week or two.. then do nothing but write and edit for weeks at a time.. Now I think I am working on more of a balance, though I don’t do a lot of watching these days.. Probably because I associate hours of watching from when I was really depressed and unproductive. It almost feels ‘icky’ to sit and watch TV for long periods of time.
But if I am completely honest.. My friend sucked me into Grace and Frankie recently.. though it is the only thing I am currently watching, and it’s only an episode here and there when it’s too late to do any thinking or reading. The hubs isn’t a TV watcher either, but he’ll sit and watch an episode of Grace and Frankie with me before bed. 😉
I would rather spend my time writing and editing.. because I finally feel like I’m going somewhere and I like feeling productive. 😉

    Gregory Josephs - May 8, 2017

    I suppose I’m not that different with my past television habits. I used to binge while I was in-between projects. Now it seems like I’m never without a project. . .

    Also, Grace and Frankie is so great! Not only are Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda hilarious, it’s also only a half-hour; perfect guilty pleasure sized. 😀

Paul Sunstone - May 10, 2017

It’s fascinating how driven you are, Gregory. I suppose it’s quite advantageous, too, if you’re going to achieve your dreams. But what do you do about burn out?

TV is something I tend to approach as if it were a vacation, and I rarely take vacations.

    Gregory Josephs - May 10, 2017

    Hi Paul,

    It seems to me you might have some great advice at avoiding burnout; I am inspired by how expansive your blog is. In my case I think the drive to reach the dream-du-jour eclipses the fatigue, at least for now. I do take short breaks, and try to shut down my creative mind on the weekend.

    I’m still loving all of it though so it doesn’t feel much like work. I will probably write a piece about endurance in the next couple weeks (I’ve got some things coming up that will test me). Also, check back after I get my book out this summer and I may have a different perspective on burnout!

    Thanks for reading!

itsmyhusbandandme - May 11, 2017

I watch Scandi dramas with subtitles. They are my guilty pleasure. But with my terrible eye sight it takes a lot of effort so I ration it!
Balance in anything (creative or otherwise) takes practice. I think your husband sounds very wise. I have one just like him at home. Annoying, isn’t it?

    Gregory Josephs - May 11, 2017

    So annoying! 😜 I wouldn’t trade him for anything though. Without his anchor I’d have floated off into the atmosphere, clear out of earth’s orbit, and be halfway to Mars by now!

Paul Sunstone - May 12, 2017

Thank you for your kind remarks about my blog, Gregory. You know, I don’t really know how to avoid burn-out other than to take a break when I feel it coming on. That usually works for me, though.

Aimer Boyz - May 12, 2017

LOL! I watched the whole second season of Sense 8 in one day! My justification for such sloth? I was sick.
I was living beside my Kleenex box true, but I could have sat myself down at my laptop are banged out a few sentences. I could have, but I didn’t 🙂
I read about authors who set rules for themselves, 2000 words a day, 1000 words. I’d like to say I write 500 words a day. I’d like to say it, but I can’t. Some days, I’m lucky if I end up with one paragraph I’m happy with. Some days, I end up rewriting things I should have left alone.
Do I feel guilty when I procrastinate? Yes. Do I feel like crap when I don’t write? Yes.
Will I get my act together, stick to a schedule? No. Not going to happen.
I will get my book finished…eventually 🙂

    Gregory Josephs - May 12, 2017

    My book is currently with a freelance editor and due back at any time. It’s funny; I’m really impatient about it right now, but I spent six and a half years writing it, and then another year editing before I decided to self publish. These things take as long as they take!

    A big part of why it took so long is that I’d go through these crazy productive spurts where I’d crank out 20,000 words and then walk away for a year. The last half of the book I wrote in four months once I really got ‘serious’ (I was always *serious* but couldn’t always force it). The next one won’t take nearly as long.

    You’ll get your book finished. And if you feel like crap when you don’t write? That just means you’ll feel that much better when you actually get around to doing it.

    I’m really looking forward to the second season of Sense8. I just need to cool my jets long enough to sit down and watch it!

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Aimer Boyz - May 12, 2017

Waiting for your book to come back from the editor is the worst…next to the changes you have to make once it comes back 🙂 Good luck!

    Gregory Josephs - May 12, 2017

    Thanks! BTW, I’m going to check out ‘A Little Blood.’ Sounds amazing and I need something new to read. Thanks again for reaching out.

Aimer Boyz - May 12, 2017

If you want to offer any feedback before I screw up the second book in the series…feel free 🙂

estellalynch - May 18, 2017

‘Creative grief’ indeed–great piece!

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