As a writer, I tend to write my first drafts quickly and without too much thought to craft. The stories about greats writers agonizing over each word? Yeah. So not me.
The good news is I’m not alone. There’s a large contingent of us fast drafters out in the world, throwing our words, and our ideas, and our plot lines onto paper as quickly as we can type. We shape the broad outlines of our stories as we create out first draft. And when we type the end, it isn’t really the end. Or, it shouldn’t be.
Because that’s when the hard work begins.
Edits are where we sharpen of our prose, and highlight the gems we unconsciously threw out onto the page during our first draft. It’s where we identify the shallow parts of our manuscript, and deepen--deepen until we have fully rounded characters and razor edge motivations. It’s where we trim the fat from our sentences, cutting the useless words away from the necessary ones. And it’s overwhelming. Finding a place to begin can be paralyzing.
So, here is a suggestion on where to begin.
Start with a search for passive verb construction, and more specifically, for the big, bad, daddy of all passive verb construction: WAS.
Highlight each instance of the word.
Try not to pass out upon finding thousands of uses of the word was in your manuscript.
You can do this, I promise.
Take a breath, and then try to figure out how to write that sentence more concisely, and without the word was.
Here are some examples from my unedited work in progress:
The small room felt like a cell, settled deep below the arena like it was—cinderblock walls covered with a slick coat of white oil paint.
How can we fix this so that it has more impact?
The room sat deep below the arena and felt like a small cell, complete with cinderblock walls glossed over by a coat of white paint.
Play with the words until you have the feel you’re going for concisely expressed in the sentence.
And remember—"was" is almost never concise.
Ramon Garcia was the only thing standing between him and a shot at the championship and he was better than Garcia.
Okay, to be fair, was isn’t the only thing wrong with this sentence.
But how could we fix it?
Only Ramon Garcia stood between him and his shot at the championship. And he could kick Garcia’s ass.
One final easy tip for trimming the word "was" from your manuscript:
Any time you see "there was" in conjunction, you can almost always eliminate it painlessly.
You want examples? Here you go:
And beat up or not, there was no need for him to be an ass.
And beat up or not he didn’t need to be an ass.
Another? Here you are:
He had no reason to care, but there was no way he wanted Nick there when he picked it up.
He had no reason to care, but he didn’t want Nick there when he picked it up.
It will take patience and persistence, but eliminating the great majority of your uses of the word "was" will help make your writing stand out and resonate with the reader.