How to keep a great series from ruining your life.

How to keep a great series from ruining your life.

Between Gilmore Girls hitting Netflix streaming and me hitting the Outlander series, I’ve had many conversations over the past month about how a great series—on television or on the page—can take over your life, and not in a good way.

I tried everything

Last week, I confessed to being a speed reader: one who plows through great books as quickly as possible (at least on the first reading) because I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Unsurprisingly, I do the same thing with the great tv series we watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stayed up too late to watch just one more episode, for the same reason: I need to know what happens to the characters, and I need to know now.

I know from the comments here and from personal conversations over coffee that I’m not the only one who struggles with “just one more” syndrome. Numerous commenters and real-life acquaintances have admitted it’s a serious problem; some even go so far as to say they refuse to read fiction because they’re unable to cope with daily life while they’re enmeshed in a good story.

As much as I love to speed through my books, I don’t stay up till 2:00 a.m. reading anymore, and it’s not because I’ve tapped into a fountain of self-control. Instead, I learned more about how authors create page-turners—and I’ve put that information to good use so that I can (albeit, I’ll admit, unwillingly) put down books that used to be un-put-down-able.

nerd girl problem

To the reader, a chapter break seems like the most logical place to put down a book, if only for the night. What the reader doesn’t know is that the author is doing everything within her power to make the end of a chapter the absolute worst place to stop. When the dramatic tension ratchets up a notch or three at the end of a chapter, it’s precisely because the author wants you to turn the page. If you can close the book there, she’s failed.

There are two things you can do with this information: you can 1. recognize the author’s tricks for what they are, and close the book anyway, or 2. deliberately resolve to “pause” your reading mid-chapter, instead of making the seemingly logical but ultimately fatigue-inducing decision to read to the end of the chapter.

(I stop mid-chapter, myself. I may know the authors’ tricks, but I still don’t have the willpower to put the book down at the chapter break, especially not at 10:00 p.m. when my willpower tank is empty.)

Despite my relative self-control when it comes to the written word, we haven’t watched any good shows around here since we moved. We’ve been busy, yes—but we’ve also been well aware of the hazards of getting sucked into an addictive show, and that’s kept us from watching the first episode of anything. (Even though I’m eager to dive into Parenthood and Call the Midwife, Scandal and Dr. Who, and a half-dozen more I’m sure I’m forgetting.)

good book

But I read something last week that opened my eyes to the rules of screenwriting. News flash: just like novels, tv shows escalate dramatic tension at the end of each episode so you’ll tune in next week—or, in the days of the Netflix binge, so you’ll just press play on the next episode.

If we want to avoid staying up till 2:00 a.m. watching just one more episode, there are two paths we can take: we can understand the game is rigged, and turn the tv off anyway. Or we can pledge in advance to turn off the tv at the lull in the action that comes about 30 minutes in to a 45 minute episode. The choice is yours.

There are other ways to curtail our binging tendencies (and I’d love to hear what works for you). In her recent love letter to the first Outlander book, Andrea Cumbo said she’d promised herself to listen to Outlander only in the car, because otherwise she won’t get any work done. And I know several Gilmore Girls addicts who promised themselves that even though the show is now streaming on Netflix, they’ll only watch it when they’re on the treadmill.

If you’re a story junkie, the struggle is real. But there are ways around it: I’d love to hear yours.

How do you keep a great series from ruining YOUR life? (And if you have a great series—for the screen or the page—that’s binge-worthy, feel free to gush about it in comments.) 

68 comments | Comment

68 comments

  1. This is good advice. Stop before the cliffhanger. I read less fiction than I might for precisely the reasons you describe — inability to do other things while I’m deep into a story. But there are pleasant reads that aren’t quite as much cliffhangers, and you read for other reasons. One reason I’ve been into Haruki Murakami novels lately is that they aren’t like Harry Potter/Hunger Games/etc. There seems to be a place for stories that you can put down. That’s actually a good thing in some ways!

    • Anne says:

      I’ve been mentally reviewing my recent reads, and it does seem that much terrific literary fiction—at least the Berry, Stegner, and Robinson I’ve been reading recently—is easier to put down at the chapter breaks than popular novels. I’ve only read one Murakami work, and it wasn’t hard to put down. But I was happy to pick it up again the next day.

  2. Kelty says:

    Of course! Stopping before the end of the chapter on purpose. I hadn’t thought of that. Except, I’m wondering if I have the willpower to even do that sometimes. Oh the woes of a good story!

  3. Jenn says:

    I often stop halfway through the chapter– now I know why!:)
    My other thought to add to this discussion— how do I resolve the “grief” I feel when a great series is over?? Am I the only one who feels like I’ve lost a good friend when the author decides the story is over?? 🙂

    • Sara K. says:

      No, you are not the only one! Sometimes I struggle to connect with my next book because I’m still attached to the previous series!

    • Courtney says:

      Nope! I feel the same. I just lost a series recently {A Modern Witch, for those interested}. It’s not deep, but fun, and the characters felt very real. And now they are gone. My go-to for grieving a series is to pick up the next “In Death” by Nora Roberts {Gritty, detective series}. I can’t binge read more than 2 at a time, but it feels like going to an old friends house. And since I’m only on 10 or so, and there are 30+, it’ll work for awhile!

    • Brenda says:

      No you are not the only one who gets hooked on characters. Sometimes I am so hooked that I have to quit reading for three or four days to morn the character. Then I can move on.

    • Pauline says:

      No you are not the only one. Happened to me recently when I finished “Still me” by Jojo Moyes. I’m still thinking about Louisa Clark and wonder how her life will go on. And secretly I’m hoping for another story about her!!

  4. Sara K. says:

    Chapter breaks make it easier to find your place when you go back to a book, but it has always amazed me that at least 90% of the time, when I open a book, my eyes automatically fall on the right spot on the page. Even if I stopped in the middle of a page! It’s funny how the brain works 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Yes! That’s one thing I don’t like about ebooks. Remembering that the great quote I wanted was “on the right side of the page, halfway down” doesn’t do me a bit of good with my Kindle.

  5. Anne says:

    Yes, Sara, I am amazed at that, too! Not even using a bookmark and can find where I was….

    I’m still reading Hannah Coulter, and a chapter ending is a good place to stop, fortunately. I don’t think I’ve gotten into a series since Hunger Games, and that was very hard to put down. You read so fast your eyes start to cross, wear out, and you are skipping parts…..whew! 😉

    • Anne says:

      I’ve been mentally reviewing the list of books I’ve read recently, and it seems like a good bit of literary fiction (Berry, Stegner, Robinson) does have hard chapter breaks that truly seem like pauses. I’ll be mulling that over.

  6. Desiree says:

    I have to confess I’m on a Gilmore Girls bender! And now Netflix is only encouraging me to stay up and it plays the next episode automatically. I don’t have to do anything 🙂 After a long day it’s nice to know Netflix understands and just wants to make my life easier…if only it could program my kiddos to sleep in since I stayed up too late! Happy Tuesday!

  7. I binge watched every single episode of all the seasons of Gilmore Girls through the first 2 months after my son was born. I nursed him in Stars Hollow. I have now fallen down the Parenthood rabbit hole (beware! beware!), but I don’t think it is as binge-watch-worthy as the Gilmore Girls because the themes are so much closer to home, and thus more emotionally intense. I can’t watch 3 episodes in a row because it just raises too much STUFF.

    Dr Who? I’m not even tempted. Despite my great love and admiration for Whovians, I can’t bring myself to “catch up” on something that I am already 50 years behind on…

    And as for books? This is a great suggestion. I’ve been binge-reading YA lit recently and I need. to. get. more. sleep.

    • Erin says:

      I am right there with you on Parenthood. I love it so much and I am really bummed that this is the last season, however, I am already behind this season because I have yet to feel emotionally capable of watching the second episode. I learned the hard way not to watch that without shoring myself up!

  8. Jennifer says:

    I love this post! I often get pulled into books of series of shows on Netflix. I never thought of myself being a girl who loves good stories, but that is EXACTLY what it is! I just told my husband the other day that Netflix makes it SO easy to just press play for the next episode! So funny…I love your blog! I just recently found it.

    And as of right now, I am not allowing myself to watch anything on Netflix. I just finished a series that I loved and it was taking over my love of reading. So for now, at least, it’s books only again for me. 🙂 I’m currently reading Janet Evanovich.

    • Anne says:

      You’re right about Netflix making it easy: they have it set up so you don’t even HAVE to press play, they’ll just start the next episode for you!

      Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

  9. Heather says:

    I’ve always thought my husband and I were weird for often stopping shows in the middle. But this makes so much sense now. I can’t wait to tell him about it. As far as books go, I find that on my Kindle I am more likely to binge read but also more likely to stop somewhere random rather than waiting for the end of the chapter. I don’t know why that is. Thanks for this explanation!
    Does anyone find they sometimes enjoy the book less by reading it too quickly? This occasionally happens to me when I get too lost in a book. There’s a right amount of fast reading for me, and if I neglect too much and get too swept away by the book, the combination of the sadness and all I failed to do in real life can side swipe me and affect my view of the book.

  10. Faigie says:

    I have a great way of not getting caught in a series…we don’t have a television 🙂 and I am one of those people who stopped reading fiction because once I start I cannot stop.

  11. Laura says:

    I am 3/4 of the way through the first Outlander right now and find myself irritated that I have to do things llike work and sleep and care for my children when all I want to do is read my book! I also find that when I finally manage to tear myself away, I have that foggy feeling of unreality, like when you have a very vivid dream and find you can’t seem to shake it for a few hours after you wake.

  12. Kimberly says:

    I’m kinda glad I’m not the only one who had to stop reading fiction (and really limit my other reading) so I would not neglect my children (or just get angry they were talking during a good part!).

    But I want to know how to read and attend to my life. It was so easy as a single person eons ago.

  13. Breanne says:

    We’re currently into Once Upon a Time, great show! Our ‘rule’ is a couple episodes on the weekend but only one if we’re watching it on a weeknight.
    The whole stop before the chapter is over is a brilliant idea, I’ve been doing that but not knowing why it works better. 🙂

  14. I don’t read fiction right before bedtime because I know I’ll want to keep reading. I figure out a good place to pause 30 minutes to an hour before I go to bed and then I’ll read non-fiction or memoir until it’s time to turn off the lights. If I do take a novel to bed with me, it’s with the knowledge that sleep is not in my near future but I rarely do that anymore. I’m not a good binge TV watcher but when I am starting a series, I usually only watch on the weekend and generally in the afternoon. That effectively limits my consumption, even as I’m curious about what happens next.

  15. Tim says:

    My wife and I call it The Point Of No Return when you hit that place in the book where you have to read to the end no matter how late it is. Like you, I’ve learned to stop mid-chapter rather than try to exercise will power to refrain from turning the page at the end of one chapter to get to see what happens at the beginning of the next.

  16. Jensen says:

    Great advice! But how do you get over a series “hangover”, so to speak? I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. I just finished all the available episodes of “once upon a time” and I don’t know what to do with myself now.

    • Anne says:

      I completely relate to the series hangover. I don’t know what everyone else does; I’m usually sad for a day or two and then move on to something else. Soon enough I’m absorbed in a new series.

  17. Shauna says:

    There is a way to indulge guilt-free: breastfeeding! Admittedly, it gets a little more difficult once they can make sustained eye contact; then those sweet smiles are irresistible. As to a more practical solution, though, I am typically reading three books simultaneously: a novel, a nonfiction book, and a spiritual book or memoir. If I’m unable to put down any one of them, the other two just fall by the wayside for a while. It’s relatively guilt-free, and I still get to bed at a decent hour.

  18. Grace says:

    I’ve been a long time mid chapter book-closer. I’ve always found that to be easier than at the end of the chapter, but I could never stop watching a TV show mid episode. I give myself a limit to the number of episodes before I start watching and stick to it. My husband and I are currently binge watching Veronica Mars thanks to you talking about it. We love it! With regard to book series, I actually try to stay away from them. There’s so many amazing books out there, I struggle against the idea of getting stuck in one set of them.

  19. Dawn says:

    That is exactly what I am doing with Gilmore Girls: watching an episode while jogging on the treadmill. I just finished Friday Night Lights (the entire series) doing the same thing.

  20. Leanne says:

    Geez, I write fiction myself, and it never occurred to me to stop other writers from manipulating me with end-of-chapter suspense! I’ll definitely be using the mid-chapter stopping point from now on.

  21. Allison says:

    Oh alright!!!! I will put the Outlander series on my Christmas list!!!! 🙂

    I DO like a series, as I usually am not ready to give up on characters and their story after investing myself in one book. However, I have learned to stop in the middle of a chapter (generally at a transition in the plot, or at least at the end of a paragraph), and only b/c I can’t keep my eye open anymore!

    Thanks for the good conversation. Love your posts Anne; keep up the good work!

  22. I love this post so much!

    I don’t know that I’m necessarily aware of the author tricks but I definitely can tell myself when it’s time to stop. I’ll stop mid-chapter or at the end of a chapter; it changes with my mood.

    Because I know I’m a binge watcher or reader, I set time limits to control myself. Essentially I say I’ll read or watch until X o’clock and then stop. I usually adhere to it but there are definitely days I don’t.

  23. Dana says:

    I am definitely a binge reader when it comes to series. Right now I am rereading Harry Potter and I finished the first three quickly and find myself “mad” at Goblet of Fire because it is so thick. I cannot justify reading it in one sitting…I do have to cook, eat, and so on. I do remember binge reading them all the first time around too. The difference was they came out gradually and I could focus on other things in between ; ) .Now they are all available and calling to me. I do remember reading “Deadly Hallows” all in one sitting but I realize I do not remember a lot of the details. I am planning on reading it more slowly this time.

    I am not a binge TV/movie/show watcher…I watch very little of anything…except “Chopped” on Food Network!

    • Liza Lee Grace says:

      I stayed up way too late last night reading Harry Potter (year 3). I was so discouraged when I saw I was only halfway through! For some reason, I thought I could finish it yesterday. When I realized there was no way I’d finish it, I put it down. It was easier for me to put it down than usual…probably because I’ve read it so many times, I don’t have to be as invested in the story.

      • Anne says:

        “When I realized there was no way I’d finish it, I put it down.”

        I do this, too. I’m not sure why that realization is so helpful, but it definitely is.

  24. Ginger says:

    Why had I not thought of this before??

    I usually for this very reason read history or cultural books, sometimes even theology (something “good for me” but that I’m not too tempted to binge on at another time of the day anyway) at bedtime.

    I find it has the added benefit of allowing me to digest what I’ve read, which I often need from reading a few pages of thought-provoking, dense non-fiction.

  25. Sarah says:

    I’ll read all these comments later (honestly, I will, because you have the best commenters!), but I learned long ago to stop mid-chapter. In older books, it’s ok sometimes to stop at the actual chapter end, but not in newer books.

    I don’t struggle so much with TV. At least most of the time. It’s hard to beat LOST, right? I’m watching Firefly right now, and just knowing there are so few episodes is helping me spread it out. But the TV sirens are calling…

  26. Liza Lee Grace says:

    I really need to learn to stop reading when I first realize I need to stop. I often say “one more chapter” but I don’t notice chapter breaks. I sometimes read two or more thinking I’m still in the same chapter!

    For TV shows, I watch while doing laundry. I’ll finish an episode if I get finished with the laundry, but I don’t keep going after that. I love watching Doctor Who on the treadmill because the episodes are about 45 minutes and 45 minutes are all I can handle treadmill-wise.

    When I have trouble stopping, I remind myself that my life was just fine before I ever read that book or watched that show and life will still be just fine after I stop. It’s not critical to my well-being.

  27. Virginia says:

    We are not tv watchers, but there are a few shows we’ve stumbled upon that have caught our attention. One of those is Dr. Who. However, we keep from binge watching (which is so, so tempting with that show!!!) by including our 11 year old in our watching of it. So, we can’t watch it until the little one are asleep, which means we don’t start watching it until 9pm. That leads us to making it a weekend only show because our daughter has school and can’t stay up late during the week watching Dr. Who with us. Now we consider it a Friday night date night with her. We anticipate it all week and even treat ourselves to two episodes a weekend if it’s a long weekend or the show was a two parter. Honestly, if it were just me and my husband watching, we’d have watched it every night waaaay too late until we’d caught up.

    • Anne says:

      I love your Friday night date idea! Hmmm. I have an 11-year-old. I haven’t seen the show yet, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but quite a few people have mentioned their 10-and-up kids love it.

  28. Andrea says:

    My sister and I live 500 miles apart and recently did our own over the phone book club. We read a new book we had been waiting for in the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny. We set limits as to what we read before our next planned discussion. It was fun and kept us both from devouring the book! It is an excellent series that keeps getting better.

  29. I’m really not into TV at all (pre-kids I watched Oprah and Dr Phil though :)) but reading, oh my!

    I have a personal rule for my reading – I read non-fiction Sunday – Wed, on Thursday I start a fiction book (because the beginning won’t have hit the point of no return yet – except for Linwood Barclay – beware :)) and I totally indulge Fridays and Saturdays, which is usually enough time to finish it and then continue the non-fiction.

    This is, of course, because I’ve had way too many late nights in the past when I can’t get up for work the next day…

    It’s not a perfect system because I break my own rules sometimes but generally that works for me.

  30. This is definitely a real struggle. I’ve employed the stop-mid-chapter tactic before, but I also take purposeful breaks from reading fiction in seasons when I know I just have too many other commitments. I know myself too well, and I know when I can and cannot afford to give up late hours to the latest novel.

  31. Guest says:

    I’m guessing this will be an unpopular suggestion but it’s been working for me for over 30 years and I’m a voracious reader. Read the end of the book. Pretty much without fail, I read enough to get to know the main characters and the portion of the plot that will be unresolved for awhile and then I read the last few pages of the book. My friends and family (who don’t do the same) think it’s absolute craziness but it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. I actually enjoy it MORE because I’m not overstimulated wondering what will happen. I love getting to enjoy the unfolding and the twists and turns without the suspense. I do the same for movies, too. There’s a website called ruined endings that allows me to do the equivalent of reading the last few pages.

    I recognize this isn’t a solution that everyone would enjoy but if you’re not a fan of surprises or suspense (like me), it just may be right for you. 🙂

  32. Tessa says:

    Another binger here. My husband and I watch tv series together but he usually needs to go to the barn at 11pm so I go to bed then. As for fiction, I allow myself no more than one novel per month and give myself a reading vacation. Housework gets put on hold for a few days and all I do is read and feed my family. I’ve been reading Phillipia Gregory and it is so hard to stick to my “diet” of on per month but my home and family can’t handle more than that.

  33. young says:

    Wow, it’s so comforting to know I’m not the only one who reads voraciously through their books (to the point of slightly neglecting the kiddos, lol!). Thanks for the tips on how to handle it, and from the comments too!

  34. Pam says:

    Why did this never occur to me? What terrific advice for someone who too often finds themselves still awake at 2 or 3 in the morning because I HAVE to finish the book! THANK YOU!

  35. Diana says:

    I am so relieved to hear I am not the only addict in this world. Funny, when I get home I am so tired and sleepy that I think I will be able to go to sleep really early. This tiredness magically disappears when I get in bed and open a book.

    I really had to do something because I wasn’t getting enough sleep, with a job and three kids, that can be a disaster recipe. I have a limit hour at which I hold from opening Netflix (I’ve left it for weekends only). I haven’t been able to figure something that radical for books, but luckily it depends on the book.

  36. Barbara Callwood says:

    I read the Outlander series when the books were first published. Loved, loved, loved. At that time I worked as a teacher and was a new Mom, so I speed read them. Now, retired, I am “re-reading” them at a leisurely pace via Audible and only as I get in my one hour walk on the high school track. I used to try to walk at least three days a week, but often found excuses not to. Now, as I listen to Outlander, I walk every single day and wait impatiently for the next day so I can continue! I know the other walkers must wonder what I’m listening to as I frown, mutter, and laugh my way around the track!

  37. Rachael says:

    This post speaks to my binge reading soul. I start work at noon and have had to take to setting multiple alarms to ensure I leave for work on time. I am a serial “one more page, one more chapter” kind of reader. My latest binged series has been The Expanse novels. The authors are masters at leaving you in suspense every single chapter with intermingled plot lines that will not be answered for several chapters.

    As for binging TV series, I have found that if they’re taking too much time out of my life and I know that I will still enjoy watching the show, I will read a recap ahead to keep the suspense level down which allows me to feel less anxious about not watching the next episode immediately.

  38. Gail says:

    I have found my Kobo ebook reader helps me to set time boundaries. It will estimate how long it will take me to read the current chapter and the next one. I can look at the time and set myself a time limit and stopping point. I do generally try to work out my end time at a chapter break, but not always, especially if there is a scene break at my stopping time. But it’s not uncommon that I will fall asleep reading, and then my ereader will turn itself off.

  39. Nikki says:

    This is an old post, but I just stumbled upon it. I’ve unknowingly been doing this recently! I have small children and so these days, most of the books I “read” are audio books. With audiobooks I’m totally unaware of where I am in the chapter or what charter I’m even on, so when I get to snoring part, I just stop the book and pick it up later!

    On another note-a short story about my inability to set a book down- I was reading an ebook of ‘Dear Mr. Knightley’ while on a bachelorette party weekend for my sister. I had to breastpump in the car while driving somewhere and hid under a blanket pretending it was easier to hold the blanket that way to cover myself when I was actually reading my ebook on my phone!

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