Show don’t tell. This well used term is just as important in life itself as it is in the writing world.
Years ago I began writing a novel, a children’s story, a story that would bring me back to my own magical childhood on the hills of Howth, Ireland. I began creating a setting like the barn we grew up around riding horses across stormy headlands and sandy beaches. I began with enchanting memories and a whimsy to write.
Lacking a college degree, confidence, and a voice (singing or otherwise), I began stepping into the writing wilderness.
I was fortunate to be part of a writing workshop here on Martha’s Vineyard with John Hough Jr. and made a daily goal to write, and a weekly two-hour class that provided the feedback and edit I needed to keep going. It was hard, harder than most things I have set my mind to, and the nagging questions lurked. Why waste your time? What are you doing? Is this going to be of any value whatsoever?
But the habit was already formed, I was in too deep, to far to turn back, yes; I went to the point of no return and then one day, like a graduation of effort, I had a final draft.
If I were to arc my writing journey as I did my characters, they would be similar and look something like this.
Novel: Young girl has lofty dreams of riding a wild stallion. Magic is apparent. Girl slammed with challenges in the shape of a land grabbing developer and greedy aunt threaten to destroy farm/home/animals.
Life: Mother of three has lofty dreams of becoming a writer. Magic is at play. Mother must shed, time, hair and tears to understand the complexity of writing and continue to write. (Focus, little steps, focus, little steps…)
Novel: Girl realizes it is not going to be her father or horse that saves the mountain. She alone must make a difference. Girl calls on inspiration from another strong, independent female, Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s Pirate Queen and decides to put on a show about Grace to save the farm. Climax approaches. Girl has crippling fear of failure that keeps her awake. What if she falls off her horse and becomes the joke of the whole of Howth?
Life: Mother begins draft seven in year five and realizes that no one is going to do it for her, no editor, no friend, nobody! Mother happily writes "The End" and looks for a dusty draw. Daughter number one, tells her in a more determined, newly grown sassy voice, “It’s not finished till it’s on the bookshelves of the local bookstore!” Daughter’s higher expectations inspires Mom. Mother queries agents. Mother has crippling fear of failure that keeps her awake. I mean…what if people don’t like it?
Both realize failure is not an option while reading a book about strong female role models.
Novel: Girl becomes strong leader, overcomes her fear of failure and rejection to win the day and earn the respect of her peers.
Life: Mother rallied a brilliant children’s editor, Emma Dryden, and illustrator, Chris Beatrice. Polishes final (really, it’s the final) draft for a small publisher to create a book (a baby I should say, it really was like a bookbaby) and on December 16th at the Noepe Center in Edgartown, MA, Chesca and the Spirit of Grace was born.
Both Mother and girl are doing great. The book is beautiful, we (team of support, including kids) are proud.
The End (it never is!)
I can tell my children to have courage, to be determined to overcome their fears, to persist when they are on their path of choice in life, to be strong, independent children, but how effective is this? Do they even listen? I can hint, I can choose movies, books and music that I love with strong themes and inspiring stories, but what I have come to learn day by day, is that I can most effectively show them by being a strong, secure, independent woman.
Thanks for reading.
Purchase O'Brien's novel Chesca and the Spirit of Grace on our Vineyard Authors page.