Daily Dojo

Don’t Tell Me, Show Me . . .

That’s one of the many truisms about writing, especially screenwriting . . . they don’t want you to TELL me what’s happening within a story, they want you to show ME . . . And it’s good advice.

Don’t tell me your hero is a rascal, show me he is. Don’t tell me your heroine is plucky, show me.

It’s real good advice.

And it works both ways, it’s good advice for a career in writing as well. Lisa has a great post up called Dying of encouragement.

Here’s an excerpt . . .

“I used to get really excited when my agent said things like “They’ve read you over at Warner Brothers and they’re big fans of your work.” But season after season, this never seems to translate into actual work. I don’t think he’s lying. I don’t even think the studio folk are lying. I just think it’s a lot easier to say something nice than it is to follow up with action. So you can end up getting a lot of compliments and promises of work and remain just as unemployed. The trick is take nice words as simply words and not count on them leading anywhere. You can certainly hope so, but getting your hopes up too high about any given promise is an easy way to get disappointed, and ultimately, grow bitter about the whole business.”

Go read it, it’s a healthy perspective . . .

That happens, with agents and producers and actors and a whole bunch more, they may tell ya how great you are, but telling and doing are two different things, in scripts and in life. So if someone says they’re gonna produce your play or screenplay, just nod and say “great” and go on with your other project.

If someone says, “I’m taking your show to Broadway,” don’t buy a house or a car until the show is actually on the boards and the check is in the bank.

Don’t quit your job because an agent thinks you’ve got what it takes to make millions.

Quit when he or she has proven it by taking you there.

Wait for success to actually happen before you throw a party, otherwise that way lies misery.

Believe things when they happen and not when you’re told they will happen.

Action, not words.

Because so much can derail a project.

Or people can tell you you’re gonna be huge, you’re so talented and great, and . . .

then nothing happens. Because this thing or that thing, which has nothing to do with your thing, has distracted people. Or for reasons that you can never know, the timing just ain’t right yet.

I’ve certainly had my share of this, a lot of folks telling me how good my work is, how talented I am . . . and don’t get me wrong, I likey to hear that stuff, Josh likey, he do . . . Tell me you love me, heh.

I appreciate any and all appreciation, make no mistake. I’m a complete compliment whore, it’s such a nice change from the gym coach I had in junior high who told me I was a complete loser who’d never amount to anything, it really is.

And I love that I’ve totally proven that prick wrong. Plus I’m NOW like a head taller and fifty pounds heavier than him, so if we ever run into each other, he’d best be on his very best behavior, otherwise things may get ugly.

But I’ve digressed.

So yeah, I like hearing that people like what I do and appreciate my work, I totally do.

And you will, too. You will.

But it can be a bit frustrating when someone tells you how great you are and they then go on to produce a shitty play that’s twenty-five years old and been done a gazillion times, they produce THAT play rather than your great new one . . .

or instead of your screenplay, the indie-producer decides to produce this other screenplay that truly reeks, it’s gonna suck as a movie but it has a car-chase in it and yours doesn’t . . .

I’m not gonna lie to ya, that can get frustrating.

Even as a young scribe, compared to a lot of my peers, I’ve already experienced this.

You got to find your zen. You do.

I have an actor friend who found that zen. He’s been pitching that zen to me for a few years now.

It really works for him.

He walks into a room for a big audition, it doesn’t matter to him in the slightest whether he gets the job or not. It doesn’t. He works hard at it, he doesn’t phone anything in, and he takes real joy in that process, he does.

And he’s up for big gigs, too, he reads for roles on projects that is the stuff actors dream of. Seriously.

But he doesn’t need the job as validation. He gets value from just walking in the room, working on his own, he takes joy in the process and doesn’t put too much weight on what “could happen,” because that will drive you crazy, especially at that level.

People tell him he’s gonna be a big star and he goes “cool!” and goes on about his life.

He takes the compliments, smiles and says “Thanks” and goes on to do what he does.

He’s got that zen.

And he gets jobs without tearing his hair out over who beat him for this role or that role, how much better he is than this actor or that actor (and trust me, he is better than anyone else, if he won’t say it, I will) and he never worries.

I think it’s one of the reasons, besides the fact he’s awesomely talented, that he’ll be a huge frackin’ star.

He works hard, does what he does and figures life will show him what it needs to when he needs to know it.

I had a personal break-through when I finally tasted that zen of remove, when I let go of that frustration and took joy in just writing what turned me on, even if nobody reads it or ever produces it.

And when someone tells me how much they like my work, I smile and say “Thanks!” and go on with what I’m doing. If someone tells me they’re gonna buy something of mine, I say “excellent” and believe it when the check is in the bank. Until then, I try not to worry about it. I try, anyway. It’s hard when you have bills to pay, but it’s worth it when you can find that zen and so I try.

I try to enjoy the job as much as possible, even the rejections.

It’s tough, and you have to be vigilant . . . it’s easy to slip out of it again.

But life is so much better when you got that zen, it really is.

There are three or four different people I know, they each have an interest in producing a play of mine, different plays, etc . . . Each time they go, “I’m gonna produce this, I’m just waiting for such-and-such, but it will happen, you’re a great writer,” and I go “Great!”

That’s what I say. And then I move on.

I like compliments. I like action even more.

But in the end, I am very fortunate just to enjoy what I get to do for a living, and if this particular play or that particular play of mine never finds its audience, I’ll take that for what it is, smile and say “cool” and go back to work on my newest thing.

Life will show me what I need to know when I need to know it, I figure.

Life’s like that.

It never tells, it only shows.

5 Responses to “ Don’t Tell Me, Show Me . . .”

  1. jasonusry Says:

    Excellent, excellent post.

  2. Moviequill Says:

    I think Cameron Crowe wrote it the best “show me the money.”

  3. Ian Says:

    Show don’t tell. This is great advice and worth hearing often. I guess it’s why they say strong writing keeps it adjectives to a minimum – because adjectives are the ultimate “tell” words. After all, an “angry” man is a whole lot less interesting than a man whose “screaming matches with his wife can be heard from the barber shop down the street.” The writing tells me that the man is angry, but he hasn’t shown me any proof.

    I’ve actually never thought of the “show don’t tell” rule outside of the writing context. But I think it really holds up. This tension between show and tell is a battle we fight on many fronts: in meetings, in day-to-day conversation, creative work. And it seems to follow that people who are more consistently able to live in the “show mode” are probably a lot more likely to have a higher degree of artistic control over their work . . . and, perhaps, their lives. Which sounds like a good deal to me.


  4. Joshua James Says:

    It’s a good one in writing, but it wasn’t until I got it in real life (and I’m still working on it, heh) that it really started making a positive impact on my career . . .

  5. Empirical Pleasures » Jump Scare Says:

    […] his screenplay The Living and the Dead. Josh is an excellent writer and has some great writing on writing on his blog. Actually, here’s some more of this […]

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