Writing Tips

“Was-ifying” and Other Words to Ban from your Writing

Hello Bookworms.

Open a book, any book, and look for these words:

  • was
  • had
  • there are
  • like
  • so
  • cry
  • beautiful
  • very
  • really
  • in fact
  • just
  • pretty
  • actually

You won’t find many of them. These are a writers curse words, and if you use them, Mother and Father publishing house will be angry.

There is nothing wrong with them when used sparingly, but you can do better. In professional writing, it is better to think around the easy word. Of course, I break that rule all the time in this blog, but I think of this as more light hearted writing. Unless there’s someone out there trying to publish me. Anyone? Please come forward.

In my own process, I call this “wasifying” or “was-ifying” if you think the first one looks as weird as I think it does. After I have done all the big editing, the plot, adding scenes, deleting character, changing timelines, I get down to the nitty-gritty stuff. And now is when you get to use the best tool that Microsoft Word has to offer: Find and Replace.

When I used the Find and Replace function on the manuscript I’m working on, it generated 584 uses of the word ‘was’. YIKES. That’s a lot of one word (try looking for ‘is’ or ‘have’ if your manuscript is written in the present tense, the same general feeling applies).

I then begin the tedious task of reading through the lines around each ‘was’ and re-wording it to sound better. Most often, when I’m using the word ‘was’ I’m guilty of telling and not showing. Look at this:

  1. Not only was Ed stunned that any Fields neighborhood boy would even attempt to be noticed by the Jessica David, he was also disappointed.
  2. Ed shook his head, James came up with great ideas, but this idea could never work. Ed knew that no Fields neighborhood boy should even attempt to be noticed by the Jessica David.

You can see the second one can’t you? Stunned looks different to different people, but no one can argue the visual imagery of shaking a head. Notice the ‘was’ are no longer there. We also implicate James, which is good because it’s James’ bad idea!

Using the word ‘was’ is also an open invite for an -ing verb to make an appearance. -ing verbs are the transient, unambitious, day drinking young adult that your parents pray you don’t bring home after three semesters of college. Please leave the -ing verbs and ‘was’ at the side of the bar and buy your own drink. Look at this:

  1. Her Grandma was taking Camille and her brothers on vacation
  2. Her Grandma took Camille and her brothers on vacation

Do I sound enough like a high school English teacher yet? I hope not. I hope you bookworms find this interesting and valuable. Oh no, it’s now isn’t it? Now I sound like the High School English teacher.

Don’t believe me? Take the advice of some well known writers who have commented on the use of these writers curse words:

“Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox” – Stephen King, “On Writing”

“Well, ok, go ahead and write them- I don’t want you tripping over your pencil every time you compose a sentence- but, having written them, go back and dispose of them.” – Benjamin Dryer, “Dryer’s English”

Anyway, this process works for any of the writers curse words I listed above. Try it out and comment with your results. I love seeing the progression of people’s writing.

Keep Reading Bookworms xx

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