Show, Don’t Tell

Becoming  part of a writing group was a smart choice. Since I joined the group about three (?) years ago, I’ve learned about going easy on to be verbs and passive voice. I now make a conscious effort to add variety to my word choice, and I’ve become more thick-skinned when others make suggestions and recommendations about my work. The latter was the toughest lesson of all. In fact, I haven’t mastered it yet despite working on it for decades.

In 1989, Prentice-Hall (now Pearson Prentice Hall) published my one and only textbook, Human Relations in Industry: People at Work (Jayne P. Crolley). It was an arduous process that seemed interminable at the time. There were occasions when I considered throwing in the towel (excuse the cliché please), but then I remembered what a book rep told me when first discussing the project. We were sitting in my little closet of an office, and after telling me about what a prospectus was and how to write one, he advised me not to get my hopes up.

“You have a good idea, and yeah, there’s a market for it, but well, there’s a lot of competition out there.”

“So are you saying to forget it?”

“No, no. Not at all. I’m saying that about one in ten would-be authors get a contract, and out of those, not all make it.”

“Make it? What does that mean?”

“Writing a text is hard work, and most people don’t realize what they’re getting into. As time goes by, I’d guess that over half just quit.”

“That won’t happen to me. If I commit to something, I’m in.”

I learned a few weeks later that I had the contract and soon began the laborious process of writing the fifteen chapters. When I received the first set of corrected proofs, my heart sank. Seriously. I remember staring in disbelief, discouragement, and downright anger at the editing marks and remarks on my precious work.

How dare they make comments about my verb tenses or pronoun antecedents?

I remembered the words of the book rep, swallowed hard, sat up straight, and went to work. If I wanted to publish the book, I had to do it their way—the right way. I was the one with the human relations expertise, but the editors were the ones with the writing knowledge. I got over my wounded pride, and together we went on to produce a text that had a good run. However, I vowed to never tackle such a mammoth project again.

Fast forward to my critique group where we mark all over other members’ work. We begin by saying something we like about the piece before proceeding to make what we perceive as helpful comments. If one person recommends a change, the writer is free to ignore it. However, if two or three members comment on a passage, a word, or mark of punctuation, then the writer, though she still has a choice, is more likely to take a second look.

What I’ve learned is that as humans, we all want validation. However, that’s not always how it works. If we want to be better writers, then we need to find people to help us achieve our goals, and sometimes that involves listening to some “stiff words.” Very little of what’s accomplished in this world is done without the help of others. We have to have thick skins and the willingness to learn and improve.

That said, I’m trying to work on a little something to submit for the group to critique at Thursday’s meeting. Sure, I’ll feel a little anxious when I press SEND, but if they don’t help me, who will? They’ve pushed me to work on “show, don’t tell,” and I hope they notice a little improvement.

What are you working on? What’s been your experience with critiques groups? 

About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
This entry was posted in critique groups, writing, writing groups, writing tips and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Show, Don’t Tell

  1. Hi Jayne-I’m working on the musical part of my non-fic project. It’s great to be immersed in my (he)art! 😉

    I think the single most important aspect I look for in a critique group is: trust. That encompasses a whole range of other characteristics like- respect, knowledge, thoughtfulness, and honesty.


    • jayne bowers says:

      I think you’re right. Trust is essential in any relationship of value (in my opinion). And in our group, we all genuinely care about one another and their progress, success, and improvement.


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