{Guest Post} Writing Tips from a Crotchety Old Editor: To Be Or Not To Be

Writing Tips from a Crotchety Old Editor Part 3: To Be or Not To Be

Friends: This is the third and final post in this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning from Sarah, and I hope to resume posting here myself in the new year. ~ Pamela

The verb “to be” is probably one of the most used verbs in English. (See? I just used it.) You may be more familiar with this verb’s conjugated forms: I am/was/will be, you are/were/will be, s/he is/was/will be, they are/were/will be. While vital to our language (how could we “be” if we didn’t have “to be”?), overusing this verb in your writing will weaken your statements, removing focus from the real action.

Do we need to ban to be from our writing altogether? Not at all. But, I challenge you to significantly reduce using it. When you find yourself using this verb, take another look at the sentence to see if you can discover the real action word.

Examples:

  • Good: When Sanjay was running through the hall, he tripped over the rug.
  • Better: When Sanjay ran through the hall, he tripped over the rug.
  • Better: Sanjay ran through the hall, tripping over the rug.

 

  • Good: Coming up with example sentences is hard.
  • Better: Coming up with example sentences challenges me.

By reducing your dependence on to be, you give life to your writing. Active verbs imbue objects with purpose, action, and movement.

Examples:

  • Good: The paper was on the desk.
    Better: The paper rested on the desk.

    • or
    • The paper covered the desk.
    • or
    • The paper hid the desk.
    • or
    • The paper stuck to the desk.or

 

Next time you find yourself engrossed in a work of fiction, take a mental step back and note how infrequently the author uses to be. (Yes, I totally do this when reading. I am who I am.)

Sarah J. Wilson is a freelance editor and writer, as well as editor in chief for Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. She writes at Watch Out For Gifted People and Homeschool Review.

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3 comments

  1. Some people internalize a therapist’s voice, or remember the call of a coach. Your high editorial standards nettle and inspire. Cut and simplify.

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