Don’t Tell When You Can Show

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Anton Chekhov

Normally, I don’t re-read a damn thing I’ve written here. I’m too scared to. Whilst I am a believer in obsessive, anal rewriting, that’s not how I do this blog – I’m all forward momentum. I write with desperation, I publish with desperation, and I move on with desperation.

On rare occasions, however, I have plucked up the courage to look over my shoulder to see what wreckage I left in my wake. I’ve dared myself to read something I wrote months after I wrote it. And each and every time it’s incredibly revealing.

I go throug a real wedding-buffet of emotions. A plate of pride, a dish of disappointment, a skewer of surprise, a cupful of cringe… I try not to beat myself up about anything I don’t like, and sometimes, I succeed.

On the whole, I don’t care about what I’ve done. I’m just glad to have put in the time. But if I could allow myself one single piece of constructive criticism – the admission of one single crime I’ve been guilty of over and over and over during the past 200 or so bits of writing – it’s this: I tell when I ought to show. Overwhelmingly so.

And I think I know why: it’s a bumload easier.

Look at Chekhov’s advice above. I can’t argue with the man. But whilst it might have a lot less artistic impact to tell someone the moon is shining, it requires a hell of a lot less brain than does figuring out an elegant way to show that the moon is shining.

But if that’s the only reason I’m committing this crime, I need to grow up.

If what I wrote came out a certain way and I really liked it and I felt like that was my true voice, and it just so happened that I was a teller and not a shower, then I’d say “Chekhov be damned…” and I’d carry on as normal. But it’d be a lie. Really, I’m just being lazy.

I’ve shown myself that I can turn up and write each day, when I can’t think of a single thing to say, when I’d rather be doing anything else. What I have to do now is step up my game.

I’ve told just about as much as I can by now. I’ve said just about as much as I have to say. But there are a million and one ways under the sun to show. And by hook or crook I promise I will find them.

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