Telling versus Showing

Jun 17, 2015 by

I had an epiphany today.

With an increased workload, some days I have more to do than there are hours to accomplish the work. Because this happens on a regular basis, I look for ways to increase my productivity and my satisfaction in the writing I produce.

On Monday my instructor and my critique group said, “you’re telling, not showing…”

And we all know how big a mistake that is.

The idea is to SHOW . . .

. . . not tell.


I used to think so.

But now, I’m going to veer from the general caveat.


Those so-called experts are WRONG!


In order to get a lot of writing done as quickly as possible, it is absolutely OK to tell rather than show.

In fact, it is BETTER to tell than to show.


Because by telling, you get the story down and you get it down fast. You get all those essential bits in before they disappear…and we all know that when components of a story or bit of writing decide to disappear, they’re pretty much gone forever.

So the deal is this . . .

. . . write it down as quickly as possible.

And if you’re telling rather than showing, then good for you!  You understand the point of the exercise.

But wait, you may object, aren’t we supposed to show and not tell?Vintage typewriter

Sure we are!

But ONLY in the final draft.

When we begin to write something for the first time, the idea is to get it down as quickly and in as much detail as possible without worrying about getting all the “showing” just right. Get the action down. Get the message across. When you go back to edit, you can do all the showing you want. And you’ll be able to relax and actually write really well.


Because you are no longer worried that you won’t be able to remember what comes next.

When we spend all the time in the world to get those show words right, we come back to our writing and then wonder, “Where the heck am I?”

And that’s the death knell of the creative brain.

I know for myself, when my brain wants to be creative, it can boggle even my own mind. But that kind of creativity isn’t infinite. In fact, it only comes in spurts and blasts, and if I’m not smart enough to record my brilliance, or have people in my critique group remember what I said, it’s pretty much gone. That flash of brilliance that might have placed me in the hall of fame of writing brilliance is simply gone.

But when I just allow myself the luxury of telling, going step by step, point by point through a story…whether I’m writing a magazine article or a mystery, then the story and framework is there. I can sleep and come back to it the next day. I can go on vacation and come back to it in a week or a month…and the amazing point is that I REMEMBER what it is I was thinking at that point in the story.

The showing is the fancy work.

It’s where we can take the time to find the PERFECT word to describe that scene at the crisis point of your story.

Because I KNOW where I’m going, I have the luxury of spending whatever time I need to fancy up my writing and do all that “showing” not “telling” that we’re all told to do.

What they forgot to tell you in the first place is that sometimes it is in the telling that you actually FINISH the story…enough so that when you go back to edit, your showing words sparkle because you’ve told the story on paper and you won’t get lost.

The next time your critique partner/group says “That’s telling, NOT showing…” you can sit back and say, “Great!  Because I know where I’m going from here.”


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Getting Into the Subconscious Mind

Sep 26, 2014 by

We aren’t supposed to know this, but our subconscious/unconscious mind plays a huge role in our ability to be creative. Do you recall the last time you were involved in a creative project and when you “came to” you realized that the entire day had slipped away? That’s when our subconscious mind has hijacked our brain in a very good way. It can do so in negative ways too.

So, how does one go about taking care of that subconscious “juvenile delinquent”?

You start by being aware that it is there, and understanding what it is capable of doing. We daydream, at least most of us do. Where do you go when you daydream? Do you go to a past event where you failed? Do you relive that failure over and over?  Or, do you imagine all the wonderful things that will happen to you in the future?

Did you know that whatever you daydream about often happen?

So if you like reliving those moments of failure in your life, go for it. But if you’re more interested in looking to future success, you’re on the right track.

Here’s to that subconscious brain of ours. When you learn the proper feeding and caring of it, your life can change magnificently!

Use music, movement, self-talk…whatever it takes.

artist and her painting

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What Does it Take to Get Published?

Oct 16, 2012 by

The world of “Big Publishing” is shrinking!  For some, this is horrible news.  I was recently talking to someone who had a book contract for her non-fiction book, and she was on cloud nine…rubbing shoulders with other authors and would-be authors at cocktail parties, etc.  Then the economic slump hit and she got the bad news that the publisher was no longer going to publish her book.

What to do?

The book was essentially written, but it still needed editing, cover design, typesetting, printing and ultimately publishing and distribution.  This seems like a great deal of work for anyone, but especially to a writer who has just “birthed” a book and now has to face all these questions.

Fortunately the loss of some of the big name publishing companies is paving the road for smaller presses, and a concept called Print on Demand (POD) Self-Publishing.  There is still a little bit of a bias against self-publishing, but it is quickly diminishing.

People are finding that there are folks out there who want and need the information that they are providing. What was once called “vanity press” is now being viewed as “independent publishing” or “indie publishing”.

Caution: If you plan to just get a book published, you can do so, without an editor, without a graphics designer, and without setting up a publishing business. The question you should ask yourself, however, is whether or not this is the best way to represent yourself and your work.

Any future author wants a book that they can be proud of.  This means you should look at your book as a piece of marketing material.  You wouldn’t send out a brochure without having it proofread, edited, and professionally typeset, would you? Most of you will answer, “No,” because you understand how important it is to put your best foot forward.  What if this is the only thing a potential client will ever see?  You want it to be your best.

Let’s face it; everything we do is a business in some form or another. To put out a good book, you have to set aside some money for the production of the best work you can possibly publish. The people you hire are in business to provide editing and proofreading services, typesetting services, graphics design services, and printing services. All of them are in business to make money.

Beware the “free” or “low cost to you” printing and marketing offers. You really do get what you pay for. Most of those companies lure you in, making you believe that they are just like the “big guys”, but in truth, they’ll take your money, charge you a pretty high fee for a few copies of your book, and then leave you high and dry.  You’ll discover that they never intended to prepare any type of marketing or distribution program for you. You may even discover to your horror that you have signed away your rights to publish your book anywhere else.

Self-Publishing is an excellent way to get your book published.  Just make sure that you are smart about how you proceed.  Working with a business that specializes in printing, editing, graphics design, publishing, and hopefully marketing , fulfillment, storage solutions in addition to merely publishing your book.

It’s not enough to get it published.  It needs to get into the hands of your readers.  Search out a full-service solution that is financially reasonable for you, but provides the benefit of printing and distributing your book without requiring that you store 20,000 copies in your garage.

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Oct 12, 2012 by

Are you looking for a way to jump into your next writing project, but are having some trouble getting started? Here’s a tip that I learned years ago…just start writing.

Yes, it is really that easy!

Freewriting - Daily Pages

Freewriting – Daily Pages

But, when I say, “Just start writing,” I mean that you need to just start getting words down on paper…as fast as you can.  I tell my students, “Start writing as soon as the timer starts and you don’t stop putting words on paper until the timer goes off.”

Usually, I have the timer run for about five minutes. Even if you can’t think of something to write, you write the same word over and over again, or your write, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over until a thought comes to you and you start getting things down on paper.

Sometimes our brain suffers from a type of stage fright, and feels that whatever it is thinking isn’t good enough to be put down on paper, but if you keep writing a single word over and over, or state that you don’t know what to write over and over, then your brain will take over because it knows that you have things to write about, things to say.

Once you get over that initial period of not knowing what to say, most people can’t write fast enough to get words down on paper.

As with any other habit, this is one that really needs to be nurtured for a good two months before it becomes a habit, so for the next two months I want you to commit to writing in a “freewriting” style for a full 20 minutes every day.  Many people find that doing it the very first thing in the morning when they roll out of bed, you can often write about your dreams, your unformed thoughts, your deepest secrets that you may not even realize you have.  By writing in such a way, without consideration for a purpose, but to simply to write means that you are practicing to develop writing as an automatic process into a habit.

Some people like to use really expensive journals to write such thoughts, but I still find that most people have a resistance to writing “meaningless” drivel in such a nice journal. (Did you hear that? It’s a form of judgment, which is the biggest detriment to the ability to write that I know about.) Use a spiral bound notebook. You can make it special by gluing on a picture, or some type of cover that has meaning to you, but you can easily write anything you want in such a notebook.  I know this from experience. I have dozens of filled spiral bound notebooks. I have half a dozen really nice journals that only have a few pages written in.  I know better, and yet I can’t seem to break myself from that type of judgment.

We will talk more about judgment of our writing in a later article.  For now, I want you to jump into writing as an exercise.  You run miles and miles without worrying about where you’re going. Learning to freewrite gives you the same type of practice without any other goal but to develop the ability to do so.

I think that’s a good enough reason.  Don’t you?

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Use Keywords to Write an Outline for an Article or Book

Oct 10, 2012 by

Writing an Outline for a Unique Article or Book Using Keywords

Writing is an essential tool in communication, especially when you cannot always meet with your clients and customers face to face.  How do you get your point across to them clearly and concisely?

You write articles for on-line forums, blogs, trade journals, magazines, and in many cases, you write a book on what you know.  But how do you start?Outline

First, ask yourself, “What does my client or customer want to know?” I always try to visualize a single person when I do this because it helps me to stay focused on his or her needs and not on my struggle to get the words down on paper.

This is where I make good use of keywords.

A lot has been made of the use of keywords in SEO, websites, resumes, and advertising.  But did you know you can use the same tactics to help you with your writing? By focusing initially on the keywords or points you want to highlight in your writing, you can create an outline that is very focused and yet easy to follow.

I like to create outlines using only keywords without writing complete sentences.  I even use this technique when I take notes at a convention, or when I’m listening to a speaker either on a DVD or CD.  This way, I can pinpoint the most important points, and then when I go to write about them, I am only using the main keywords or key points that I found to be pertinent to my purpose.  This way, when I write, I am not going to copy or plagiarize in any way.  This is very important.  You never want to take someone else’s idea and claim it as your own.

If someone, however, comes up with a very unique method of doing something, so unique that they almost define it, you really should give them credit.  I have to give credit to Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing for the use of a Keyword Outline.  I have modified his approach to some extent, but I learned how to write using keywords when I was homeschooling my kids and having trouble teaching them writing. (Yes!  Even a homeschooling writer can have trouble teaching writing!)

The use of writing using keywords has been around for a very long time, but Mr. Pudewa made it so simple that I cannot lay claim to the technique.  Anyone can use it and be successful at it. I have no connection with the Institute for Excellence in Writing, but believe that anyone who is looking for just such a teaching tool should know about them.

This technique of taking keywords and turning a source article into an original one is vital to anyone who makes their living as a writer.  We are all inspired by things we hear and see. Here’s how it works:

Take a source article.  Here I am going to take paragraph 6 I wrote for this article.

I like to create outlines using only keywords without writing complete sentences.  I even use this technique when I take notes at a convention, or when I’m listening to a speaker either on a DVD or CD.  This way, I can pinpoint the most important points, and then when I go to write about them, I am only using the main keywords or key points that I found to be pertinent to my purpose.  This way, when I write, I am not going to copy or plagiarize in any way.  This is very important.  You never want to take someone else’s idea and claim it as your own.

Taking notes using keywords, all you do is pull out three to four words per sentence and write them on a line like this:

1.       Create, outlines, keywords

2.       Conventions, speakers, CD/DVD

3.       Important, points, pertinent, purpose

4.       Write, not copy, plagiarize

5.       Never, take, idea, own

Then, what you do is you do not refer to the source article again! You use only your keyword outline and rewrite that paragraph. The beauty of this is that each person is going to choose different words, and as a result their resulting paragraph is going to be different.  This is one of the most brilliant techniques I have ever learned and I wanted to share it with all writers out there who struggle with coming up with outlines and ways to rewrite material in their own words.

Feel free to visit Andrew Pudewa at

I have no affiliation with him or his excellent organization, but his work has done much to further my career as a writer and as an editor.

Happy Writing!

Kathleen Birmingham

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The Fastest Way to Write an Article or Book

Oct 8, 2012 by

What’s the Fastest Way to Write an Article or Book?

I’ve been working with writers and authors for a long time, teaching writing and coaching authors and I’m often asked, “What’s the fastest way to get something written?”

For me, I have determined that once I come up with a topic, I will then create an outline.  See my article on the creation of outlines. Then I blueprint the article or project; again see my article on blueprinting an article or book.

With the outline and/or blueprint in hand, I will then write one idea down on a 3 x 5 card and arrange them according to the categories designated by the outline or blueprint.  Each category I clip together, either with a paper clip or a rubber band and carry a stack of them around with me.   I frequently have lengthy commutes, and I use those precious minutes to dictate ideas and thoughts on a key point into a tiny hand-held recorder …i.e. the single idea on a 3 x 5 card.  I can often talk for up to 15 minutes on a single point, and I find that most people who are pretty knowledgeable about their field can do the same thing.

Once I return to my office, I take those dictations and download them onto my computer.  From here you can either transcribe the notes yourself, hire someone to transcribe them, or invest some time and money into voice to notes software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.  (Note, you must get the professional version as the home version will not perform this function for you.)

By focusing only on a single point at a time, I don’t get confused about where I want to go with that topic.  I am able to deal with it in a great deal of depth, and once the notes are transcribed I am able to pull most of it from the transcription and use it exactly the way I dictated it into my article or book.

This is a slight aside, but having experienced it myself, and having edited a great many transcribed dictations, I have discovered that we usually take a few minutes to really get into our topic.  Much of what we utter in those first couple minutes are stuttering stops and starts on the topic.  Don’t worry about this.  Allow this to happen, because if you do, then you will suddenly become very, very involved with your topic and the material that you then dictate will be really good material.

Another hint for this type of writing…if you have trouble starting, try to visualize a friend, or better yet, a customer or client who needs the information you are going to share.  Think about the questions they may ask, and you may even pose those questions out loud into the dictation.  By keeping your end target, your audience, in mind while you dictate, you will stay focused, and you will be able to write an article or chapter in your book with the greatest speed ever.

This is my favorite tip for getting words down on paper fast.  Write the way you talk. People are more inclined to read what sounds like friendly suggestions or advice. Try it. You may even discover that you have a knack for speaking that you never knew you had!  Regardless, this is one way to make the task of writing faster and easier than ever before.

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