Show Don’t Tell

You may have had college professors preach to you to “show, don’t tell.” The ironic thing about that statement is that it contradicts itself.

Take the video I’ve embedded below, for instance. In the video, a blind homeless man is begging for change. A young woman comes by and changes what he has written on his sign–and in response, many more people begin to give to him. Now watch the video (I’ll wait) and I think you’ll see it’s about a lot more than that.

Originally an ad for a web marketing company, the piece is about how much words matter and about creating a shared experience.

Being a Better Reader Makes You a Better Writer

Telling you what the video was about didn’t accomplish the same ends as you watching it; telling you how to be a better writer doesn’t achieve the same ends as you learning yourself.

There are many ways to learn to be a better writer–you can work to improve your grammar, you can improve by practicing (the more you write the better that writing is likely to be)… or you can learn by reading.

I feel like my writing has improved drastically in the last 6 months or so. During that time two major changes have occurred in my life that have presented me with learning opportunities.

First, last August our managing editor left our magazine; consequently, we got a new managing editor. The two women have very different writing styles; being exposed to the new managing editor’s style has taught me a lot about how to write–she’s been in the industry for quite a while and her writing reflects that. She uses a variety of introduction styles and techniques that I never would have considered had she not exposed me to them.

Second, I stared Moxy Magazine–and in addition to being the publisher, I am the primary editor. While I’ve had professional training on how to properly edit other people’s writing, creating Moxy required me to develop a magazine’s tone and has offered me an opportunity to work with a variety of writers and writing styles.

Learning From Others’ Mistakes

While reading may expose you to new ways of writing, and consequently you learn new techniques, it can also help you learn to correct your own mistakes. It’s always easier to see mistakes in other people’s writing than in your own–and noticing those mistakes (or imperfections) makes it easier to identify them in your own work.

For example, one of my weak points as a writer is writing transitions. When I travel from one point to the next, sometimes it feels like your on a wooden roller coaster ride–your head jerks all about as you try to reorient yourself. I’m aware that this is my weak spot and actively work to improve my transitions when writing by watching for poor transitions when editing my own work.

However, working on pieces written by other writers who are also bad at transitions has helped me to better identify when one thought doesn’t move as smoothly into the next as it could. By editing other’s pieces I’ve also learned techniques to smooth out that bumpy ride a bit. Reading pieces I wrote three years ago when I first started my day job and reading recently written pieces, there is a huge difference in the raw quality.

Now when I write I am better at recognizing when a piece has gone from thrill ride to nausea-inducing scream machine. While my pieces certainly aren’t flawless, they need a lot less editing–and I’m better equipped to do that editing during my own revision process instead of requiring someone else to do it for me.

So next time you notice there is an area where you could use some improvement, look for others who write particularly well… and those who don’t… and give them a read.

Have you improved as a writer over time? What allowed you to grow/learn new techniques and skills?

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