This is one of the greatest tenets any writer has drilled into them at an early age.
Show, don’t tell.
Show us the action. Do not describe the tree, show us the verdant ferocity with which it lived -through calm, sunny days as well as through the darkest storms with sopping rainfall, making its roots cling even deeper into the earth beneath it. Make the tree’s yellow and spotted leaves tickle your reader’s cheeks even though they sit wrapped in a soft blanket in the safety of their living room devouring loquacious artistry. Convince them to scour the landscape to find this tree as it sheds its leaves for the last time, weeping that it will not survive to burst forth into a new spring.
Breathe life into your scenes. Do not describe them. Instead, cradle each word, hold it to your mouth, and make it rise and fall with your breath. Quicken the pace of your reader’s pulse as their knees buckle and they fall to the ground when your story reaches it denouement. As your reader leaves your words behind, you want them dizzy with passion, filled with a yearning for more of your spirit.
Show, don’t tell.
One of the most difficult tenets to put into practice yet one which is absolutely necessary to transform any piece of writing from mundane to spectacular. It is far easier to tell someone to “Show, don’t tell,” than it is to put it into practice.
When we show instead of tell, we bring our readers into our world. We create a connection with them which allows them to utter the words, “Me too” aloud to no one in particular. The best writing may not be the most critically acclaimed or the most perfectly executed but that which fosters a strong connection because the author has been where the reader now finds themselves.
Why is this important?
When we write, we invite readers into our lives through words. Particularly as mental health advocates, offering up our words of experience is much like handing someone a map to a secret maze under a dank castle. The door creaks as we pull it open, cobwebs stretching across the yawning darkness sprawled in front of us. Our readers may recoil at first but the darkness is familiar to them too so they plod forward with us, holding onto our words as if we were right there with them. We are their torches, their warm familiar hands, their guide through the maze through a long-forgotten dungeon. Or we are hope, holding a long sought after key which may free them from their cell.
Our words, in mental health advocacy, weave an intense but tensile tapestry. We are weavers of freedom, of hope, of compassion, and of knowledge. It takes great skill to weave a tapestry which reaches out to so many. Our stories are all different. There may be a common theme to our tales but the details in our own personal tapestries so greatly enrich the overall picture that none of us should be silent and deny our threads to the final scene. Just as when we gaze at a piece of art – one person interprets it completely differently than the next. This is why it is so important for us to show and not tell our stories.
It is important to foster a “Me, too” community. To refuse to allow other mothers to falter in the darkness all alone. To reach back, grab their hands, and whisper to them, “Come with me, I know the way out.”
This is why I write. This is why I fight. This is why I went through hell. So I could reach back and help others find their way out as well. No mother deserves to fight alone.
Together, we shall raise a mighty “YAWP,” refusing to go gently into that good night which threatens so ravenously to swallow us whole. We will take the road less traveled and make all the difference, burning behind us a fierce path for many others to follow.
Tell a Mama to fight and you might inspire her for a day.
Show a Mama how to fight and she will fight fiercely for herself, others, and pass the strategy down to those who need it most.
Show, don’t tell.
(Photo Source: “Writing with Ink” via flickr by urbanworkbench)