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Why is Showing More Important than Telling?


Courtesy mikebaird @Flickr. Artist Barbara Rosenthal in Los Osos, California.

Writing is like painting

Fine art that is.  There are some key similarities.  I started painting watercolors years back.  And in my youthful enthusiasm I over-detailed everything in my landscapes. My paintings wound up looking surrealistic. I had to learn to backoff in certain areas.

One key lesson

It can be a serious mistake to paint every area in a painting in sharp focus. Now if a painter is into photo-realism that’s not true. But I find I get quickly bored looking at paintings that imitate photos because everything is spelled out for me.  It can also be tiresome because of all that detail. And there’s not much to do beyond admiring the technique.

So I learned to leave some things for the viewer to do.  Some areas in the painting that challenge her to ask, “What is that?” A little creative visual interpretation work for her. That’s not mean or purposefully cryptic but instead engaging. The viewer becomes co-creator of the painting experience and the resulting emotion is more powerful.

Writing is like that too

Telling the reader everything she is supposed to get from your text can be insulting to her intelligence.  Inviting her to witness the body language of the characters in a story is more powerful than telling her about them.

Telling: Marjorie was angry, disgusted and feed up. She threw down the manuscript and left the room.

Showing: Marjorie’s face lit up like a red-neon light. I could see the pulse throbbing in side of her throat.  She grabbed the manuscript and threw it on the floor and stomped out of the room, glaring at me all the way.

Which example above worked better for you? Which painted a more vivid picture? Which convinced you?

Showing verses telling pertains to nonfiction writing too.

Granted there is a lot more telling in nonfiction writing than in fiction.  But it is all-too-easy to tell too much, provide too much detail, too many explanations because we’re afraid  that the reader won’t get it.

Don’t Spoon-feed the Reader

A couple years ago a writing instructor, critiquing one of my pieces of writing, came right out and told me: “You’re spoon-feeding the reader!”  She was right. In my eagerness to make my writing clear I was explaining too much.

The line between showing and telling is thinner with Nonfiction

It’s a judgment call.  What helps is having a clear idea of who your intended reader is keeping that reader in mind as you write. Then ask yourself questions like “What does she need to read next to get my meaning?”

How do you show and not just tell with nonfiction?

Instead of just giving your opinion, you cite statistics, give case studies, provide analogies, tell anecdotes, quote an authority, relate your personal experience.

Telling is easy.

Certainly showing is harder work than telling.  Telling is seductive because it’s easy. Opinions are cheap. It’s like using the first word that comes to mind, rather than pausing to consider finding a verb with more punch or that specific noun makes your writing sizzle.

The effort can  pay big dividends in reader involvement and enjoyment of our writing.

Just last evening I read one of A. Victoria Mixon’s posts (link below). She pointed out, regarding contemporary fiction, that there is a lot of exposition, way too much telling that seems to be a current trend:

Fiction lives and breathes through scenes.
So, as the greats have been saying for over a hundred years: “Show, don’t tell.”

And nonfiction stays alive that way too.

Your turn: What do you think about showing verses telling?


What I learned on A-list Bloggers Club about pitching a guest post

Do you want to get a lot of people to come to your blog and check it out?  Guest posting is a great way to alert potential visitors about your blog.

For the big blogs, though, the competition is tough. So how do you go about it?

Here are some Preliminaries: 

  • Find the blogs you want to guest post on. Blogs in your niche.
  • Read them and, ideally, subscribe to them.
  • Comment on them too. The best case scenario occurs when the blogger gets to know your name.
  • Analyze the blog. What topics have been covered there and what topics have not?
  • If the blog has guest posting guidelines/requirements, find them and read them carefully. Then…
  • Write an excellent post that will contribute to the content of your targeted blog and kindle its readers’ curiosity.
  • Then write your pitch.

A Hard Fact

Most bloggers whose blogs have large subscriber lists want to read your pitch first.  They simply do not have the time to read all the emails and potential guest posts they get from eager would-be guest-post writers.  For example, Mary, chief editor at the Write to Done blog, gets over 300 emails at day from hopeful writers.

The Bottom line

Your pitch needs to be just as good as your proposed guest post.  Just like with a post’s title and first few lines that you need to get your reader’s attention, so your pitch should capture the blogger’s interest–and keep it.  If that first sentence doesn’t do the trick and  keep her reading, what do you think will happen?  Right. She’ll toss it.

Don’t Do What I Did!

I had written a blog post that I was saving. One of my best, I figured.

Then one day, a couple months ago, I got the bright idea to offer it to the Write to Done blog editor for a guest post.  I didn’t even pitch her.  Just wrote an email, saying words to the effect, “Hi Mary, here’s my proposed guest post. Hope you like it.” And attached the post.

Rejection is so disappointing

Mary promptly answered my email and told me that my post read more like a magazine article than a blog post and that it was not a good fit for Write to Done.  Ouch!

Some hard-core mentoring in front of forum members

Now Mary is tough as a third-degree black belt (actually she has earned a black belt). She’s one of the best bloggers around and an excellent instructor. And, fortunately for me, she’s also generous. She offered to work with me on improving my proposed post on the A-list Blogger Club forum (I was a member at the time and still am).

Long story short

It was like a gauntlet. Mary doesn’t pull her punches. At times it was harder that basic training in the US army at Ford Ord, California.  Mary was pleasant and polite and supportive, but when I got it wrong, she flat out told me. But she wound up helping me learn pitching as well as blogging.  I’m indebted.

Writing a Guest Post Pitch like a Pro

So what goes into an effective pitch?

9 Key ingredients…

1. Write it for your reader–your proposed host blogger.  She’s your reader-of-one. Let her know (A) that you read her blog and like it (assuming you do, of course). (B) That you have written your proposed post especially for her blog. And (C) be sure to point out that it has not  been published anywhere yet.

2. You can also mention that you have noticed that her blog hasn’t recently had a post along the lines of your proposed post.

3. Tell her how your post will interest and benefit her readers.

4. Briefly list  your proposed post’s main points.

5. Provide some links (say 2 of them) to your best blog posts so she can further check out your writing style.

6. Also, mention any credentials you have, including other blogs that have published your guest posts and/or your expertise in the area your writing about.  It’s a good idea to include brief bio info too.

7.  Thank her for her time, as you would any professional, and express the hope that she will find your post to be “a good fit.”

8. Invite her to let you know if she would like to use your post, and point out that you can email it to her quickly, with the post in html and some images attached.

9. You might also point out that if she finds that your current proposed post does not suit her needs, you can easily write another for her consideration.

That’s the outline, but it’s not “written in stone”

That’s a rather full list of ingredients.  Please feel free to modify and include as many of them as you deem wise.

Tess Marshall’s Morale Boost

At one point in my “suffering student” experience with Mary, Tess, a moderator at A-List (and author of  The Bold Life blog), jumped in to encourage my limping morale.  What she told me stayed with me.  She wrote that those fortunate to go through Mary’s instruction have gone on to guest post at the large blogs.  Her engouragement was not only well-timed but helped.

So, me? I’m fairly new at this blogging effort, not to mention at guest blogging. But Mary and Tess are highly successful bloggers and coaches.

I offer their advice with confidence.  By the way, my guest post went up at Write to Done a few days ago.  It’s title is “Reader to Writer: Hey Dude, Clear it up!”

How about you?  What guest blogging tips have you found helpful?

Recommended Resouces: [Note: for subscribing to Ali Luke’s newsletter, you can get free must-have ebooks on writing stronger blogs and on attracting readers to your blog.]





Hey, relax, will ya?

Are we having fun yet?

I remember hearing that question a while back quite a few times. Like the group at work that went to a restaurant for lunch. Someone would ask that?  Kind of sarcastically though.

Tired of cranking it out?
It’s easy to get on a treadmill with our writing, cranking out blog posts, posts for guest blogs, ebooks, comments on forums and other blogs.  It can easily get too much like the job we want to leave or have left.

This whole entrepreneur thing lately is: Find your passion, find a way to make a living at it, be your own boss, the pathway to the good life, right?  Then comes the day-to-day reality, the hard work, the struggle.  But are we having fun?

The question at my retirement
I remember at my retirement party, a friend asked me to share some wisdom. I thought for a moment and then said, “Don’t wait until you retire to do what your really want to do in life.”  What does that mean for us?  It means learning to enjoy what we are doing daily.

Going for the gold
Most of us writers are goal seekers.  We work hard, sacrifice some things–like watching that TV show or going to bed early and sleeping in–for the future we envision, getting published, more subscribers, being truly financially independent, or even sharing something valuable with our fellow human beings.

And it can become a treadmill, or at least seem like it.  But it’s doing what we love, agreed?  Then we should be enjoying ourselves.

My thing is, enjoy the journey. Don’t let ambition rob you of enjoying the writing, the learning, the adventure and excitement of discovery.  I think Zen has a good attitude on this: Be in the moment.  Savor the daily routine, even the interruptions that force a much-needed break.

“Build joy into your work hours.”  —Robert Genn, Canadian Artist.

And remember family
In a post titled “How to write about God” at The Write Practice blog, Joe Bunting reviewed the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. In it Robinson,  a hospice chaplain, shared her many experiences hearing peoples’ last words. Her point? They don’t talk about God, they talk about family. She concludes: “We don’t live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories.  We live our lives in our families…”

So hey, relax, will you?
It’s so easy in the hustle to make a living at writing to just flat ruin it for us, rob it of its potential joy in a feverish rush.  Take a break, enjoy life, and then keep writing!

How about you?
What are the important things in your life?   Are you giving them the time they deserve?  And are you enjoying your days at the keyboard?

Some related reading…

Do you wonder if you have enough writing talent?


Courtesy parishiltonjustme @Flickr

I say, forget your doubts about writing talent and go for it!
I value desire and hard work over talent any day?

The question is not Do you and I have enough talent?  But How much do we want to be good at writing, really good?

And, do we want it enough to work and keep on working until we get there?

From the field of psychology
We are all born with a certain degree of intelligence.  Sounds limiting, doesn’t it?

But so many times people have shown that they can beat the odds and draw on strength and aptitudes they never really knew they had.

We’re all learners.
A human being is a learning “machine” of sorts. But We’re made to learn.

Have you seen a young child learning to walk?
It takes time. It’s not easy.    She learns how it feels to walk on the soles of her feet, how walking feels in muscles of her legs, even how that sensation of balance feels in her head.

We’re learners.
Inside we have an incredibly complex nervous system, sort of like an inverted tree.  Your hands learn the way it feels when lob a basketball that goes through the hoop.  You can learn how to sing like an opera star (though you might not sound as good 🙂 !).

An almost infinite capacity
Bottom line:  we humans have an almost infinite capacity for learning, for improving skill–and while I’m at it, for happiness too.

Have you known people that seemed to have a lot of “talent,” like drawing, dancing, writing but never seem to do much with that ability?

I knew a guy at work, years back, who could draw beautifully and easily, much more easily than me.  Through the years I noticed, though, that he never did much with that natural ability.

Some things we’re born with
Now I don’t doubt that, like intelligence, people differ a lot in aptitude.                  I’m good at abstract thinking, but I have to work at noticing details.               When I paint, I’m good at coming up with dramatic ideas and color, but I have to work at drawing well.

“You win in your own universe…the bad news is “It’s all up to you.” But the good news is “It’s all up to you.”  –Eric Michaels, artist and teacher, from his  newsletter the Plein Air Zone, 4/1/2008.

This talent thing
Talent is known after the fact when it shows up in its results, anyway.

Margie watched Jane perform a perfect pirouete. “She’s so talented,” Marjorie said, her eyes shiny with tears, “I wish I were talented like that. I would dance my life away!”

Okay. But is it a good idea to worry over whether or not you have talent or not?  How are you going to know for sure?  By comparing yourself to others?  Not! And, anyway, how much talent is enough?

I’ll bet you’ve got what it takes.
Hey, if you’re reading these words and understanding them, you’ve got enough innate intelligence anyway.

 “Talent is what your mother talks about.  Work is how you get around the bases and score!” David Lyle Millard, More Joy of Watercolor.

So how do you become an excellent writer, maybe even a great writer?

Three little words, work at it!  But that word “work” entails a lot.

Nine ways to improve your writing:

  1. Read a lot, and include different kinds of material.
  2. Read books on how-to-write.
  3. Use your remarkable mind to figure out how to learn more efficiently.
  4. Do exercises suggested by other writers.
  5. Invent your own exercises and do them.
  6. Stretch your craft by taking on challenges, take on the task that scares you a little (if it scares you too much, take on an easier challenge first).
  7. Get feedback from friends, relatives. Hire an editor. Learn from both.
  8. Take courses if you like, and especially if they motivate you to learn and try new things.
  9. And, of course, write every day—at least 99% of them!

“If people knew how hard I worked to achieve my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.”   –Michelangelo

Oh yes, two more words–don’t quit!  Quitters don’t score.

“…if you go all out for excellence and don’t worry about that bad writing that comes with it, before long you will be able to produce some writing that people will really want to read—even to buy.”   –Peter Elbow, Writing with Power, Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process.

 So to answer my own question in the title above, Yes, I think you do have enough talent.

Your turn: How do you battle your writing talent doubts?            

Don’t Miss Melissa Donovan’s Warning of Potential Censorship of the Internet

You can find her sobering blog post here:

It is brilliant, well-researched and, as usual with her blog, well-written.

It’s something all writers should be aware of.  Everyone really. I, for one, will be taking action in the form of letting my congressional representatives and the President know what I think.

I am a serious Christian, but I am against all forms of censorship, even by well-meaning (but unwise) Christian organizations.  The end does not justify the means.  Bad means –> bad ends.

Give up on that Piece you’re Writing!

Actor George Peppard, at right, with actress V...

Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

It just wasn’t going well.  I had been struggling away with a post I planned to offer to another blog for a guest post.  I had written it and re-written it.  It wasn’t bad. It was okay.  But it definitely didn’t thrill me.  There had to be a better approach.

So I put it away, yesterday.  Today I was reading a post by Ali Hale (, and some of her words got me thinking about my post. Suddenly a whole new approach occurred.  Fortunately I was near my computer and it was on. I started to type and it just flowed.

And I can say along with George Peppard, his favorite expression in his hit TV show A-team (a few years back, I might add) “I love it when a plan comes together!”  I love it when my writing comes together–and sings.

So when you find you’re struggling with a piece of writing, I suggest you put it away, over night maybe, and then try the “mental approach.”  Mull it over. But keep a notebook and pen or a digital voice recorder or your iPad handy, just in case–then when magical words start flowing, get crazy, playful and audacious.  And have fun!

P.S. This was a “mini-post.” Most will be longer, but I liked this one so much I decided to lead of with it.  Hope you find it helpful.