I recently sent a manuscript to my agent/editor and she wrote back with some eye-opening information. How many times could I use the word “was” in one story? And to prove a point, she highlighted all of them throughout a 70,000-word document.
I’d read and reread the manuscript before sending it to her. We’d critiqued it in my writing group, my husband (also known as chief proofreader) didn’t mention it. I’d become blind to my own passive writing. It is easy to fix a sentence that says “He was walking down the street.” Simply change it to “He walked down the street.” It shows more action. However, sometimes it is not as easy. I had to rewrite entire sentences and then the one above it didn’t work. Then the one below it didn’t work. But the final draft moved more smoothly and showed more action.
One of my friends writes everything in first person, present tense. It is beautiful when she is done. The writing is up close and personal – you are in the moment. I cannot do that! About half-way through I find I’ve switched to past tense and my characters have how no idea where they belong. And I’ve lost count of how many times I used the word “I.” But it is an exercise that makes you pay attention and tighten up your writing.
You can also check your writing with the “find” feature in Word. Look up your favorite words (you’ll be surprised how often you use them) and then discard or change them to something else. Look in the thesaurus if you can’t think of something yourself.
Writing is an art. It is a baring of the soul, but sometimes your soul is boring. Give it more action so the reader will want to turn the page finding what comes next.
Now I look for overused words and passive verbs after the initial draft is finished. I have grown as an author. Something that is, has become something that . . . was.