Writers, are you showing off or sharing? A way to kill your darlings

fa5e3d4961d73a6701f7b74729d8ad29I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island and he describes a moment in an Edinburgh art gallery when he saw a father talking to his son about the difference between early and later Goya. Bryson says:

The man was describing the pictures with a fondness and familiarity that were truly heartwarming and the boy was raptly attentive to his every word. He wasn’t showing off, you understand; he was sharing.’

Showing off. Sharing.

It seems to me that this distinction could apply, not just to art appreciation or father-son conversations, but to art itself.

It’s hard to pin down what makes a piece of art effective, but one explanation could be this – an essential quality of transparency, of real communication. Whether it’s painting, dance, acting or writing, you forget it’s being accomplished through words on a page, or strokes of paint, or somebody dressing up and pretending, or performing a much rehearsed sequence of moves. It seems to be there completely without artifice or barrier or skin.

It’s sharing.

Where does this sense of naturalness come from? One answer might be in this post I wrote a while ago, inspired by an interview with Michael Caine. He was being asked about his relaxed performance manner, and how he made it look so effortless. he said ‘the rehearsal is the work, the performance is the relaxation.’ Put another way, to be effortless requires … hours of non-spontaneous effort.


It also means we have to get our ego out of the way. But this is a finely judged thing. We want our writing to hold the reader’s attention, so we have to be a bit bold. We need flair and panache. Characters who are memorable. Plot events that make us turn the page. For each of those qualities, we tread a fine line. A phrase might be startling and true, or it might strike a fake note. A character might be distinctive and unforgettable, or they might be unconvincing, or jar with the tone. Figuring out which is which is one of the eternal quests of honest self-editing.

Sometimes, we can get an answer by taking a long look at our motives. Often, deep down, we know if we’re keeping an image, line, simile, plot event or description that doesn’t belong. The reason is usually this – we’re pleased with them.

If that’s your conundrum, this question could be the clincher.

Was it showing off or sharing?


If you follow me on Facebook or get my newsletter, you might have seen this cryptic message:


Assuming you give two hoots, you’ll find more about it here. It all started with this.

399c89f5-67c6-477c-b2e7-5e2ac6e798b6And it finished like this



, , , , , , , ,

  1. #1 by Alexander M Zoltai on February 12, 2017 - 6:34 pm


    I give three hoots…

  2. #3 by mrdisvan on February 12, 2017 - 7:13 pm

    The sleep of reason produces monsters…. like that hat of his.

  3. #5 by henryhyde438 on February 13, 2017 - 1:23 am

    Train hard, fight easy, as the army says. Apparently effortless art is the result of untold hours of hidden labour.

  4. #7 by The Owl Lady on February 13, 2017 - 12:26 pm

    Reblogged this on Viv Drewa – The Owl Lady.

  5. #8 by Damyanti Biswas on February 14, 2017 - 12:29 am

    I’m editing my wip these days and the effort is to keep the flow, but also channel it well. Tough call, sometimes.

  6. #10 by Andrew on February 15, 2017 - 6:10 am

    NFASI is just such a good read and to observe ourselves (Brits that is) through the observant but sympathetic eyes of an outsider (American that is) becomes both amusing and heartwarming. Bryson’s sensitivity to our regions is also illuminating but I must tread carefully as I have friends and relations in Yorkshire.

    • #11 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 15, 2017 - 7:36 am

      Ha, yes, it’s a great read, isn’t it Andrew? I don’t think Yorkshire comes off badly. But some railway operators do.

  7. #12 by Alexander M Zoltai on September 19, 2017 - 11:27 am

    Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Re-blog today by the inimitable Roz Morris…

  1. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-23-2017 | The Author Chronicles
  2. Writers, are you showing off or sharing? A way to kill your darlings | Nail Your Novel | Odd Sock Proofreading & Copyediting
  3. Bigger on the Inside – Teddi Deppner » Whatever happened to collecting our Dead Darlings?
  4. The 12(ish) Links of Christmas 2017 | The Author Chronicles

Your turn!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: