Showing vs. Telling and other writing mysteries

Show, don’t tell. Kill your darlings. Let yourself make shitty first drafts. When you can’t write, write. You can’t write if you don’t read. Never use adverbs. Always wear an overcoat when you write.

We’ve all heard various bits of writing advice that sound so simple, they must be some secret writer zen mystery we just can’t comprehend yet. The other day, mostly on a lark, I searched out the tag “show vs. tell” to see if anyone could shed a little light. I found a lovely post by Brittanyekrueger that finally captured what I’d known all along. Show vs. tell isn’t hard, until you start to over-think it. Many of us have perfectly good writers’ instincts that we simply don’t trust. The best writing tools are those that get us out of our own way.

We all know what good writing looks like. We’ve all read something that simply took our breath away. Something we couldn’t wait to share with the world, something that everyone needed to read because it was just so perfect. We know what it looks like when we see it, but when we try to make it, we start to get hung up.

Most writing advice, at it’s core, is to remind you to just write, and to trust what you write. That’s not to say that whatever comes pouring out of you the first time is a masterpiece, but it does mean that you have to simply write, without over-thinking. When you edit, just editing, without overworking. When you read, just read, and you’ll see where the problems are, because all good writers are readers, and all readers love good writing.

I think show don’t tell has always been a particularly hard one for me to understand exactly because of over-thinking. I feel like it can’t be as simple as it sounds, and so when I think I see it, I start to doubt. When I think I understand it, I tell myself I can’t possibly understand it because it sounds too easy.

But good writing is easy. Because good reading should be easy. If it’s a labor to get through a scene, it needs work. So work on it. Trust yourself. You can always go back and say “What was a I thinking?” later. But not if you don’t allow yourself to make the mistake in the first place.

The best writing advice, truly, is to let yourself be human when you write. That’s all we’re really looking for in books anyways- some human spark we can relate to, that tells us we’re not alone in our skulls. Be human, and it will show.

Happy writing,



3 thoughts on “Showing vs. Telling and other writing mysteries

  1. A really great post. Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the advice and rules, it’s nice to be reminded to trust ourselves and what we can produce 🙂


  2. Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. I feel like overthinking is the death of some of my work, and have actually had to make myself stop reading some writing advice because it just contributes to the over-thinking, and was running counter to my writing instincts.


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