“Was” Gets A Bad Rep

Do you use the word “was” often when you write?  I do.  It’s a cute little word.  It only has 3 little versatile letters, one with straight lines, one curvy, and one with line or curves, depending on how you write it.  I love the little word, but publishers don’t seem to like it as much as I do.
The word “was” is often attributed to passive writing, which is a major no-no in the literary world these days.  What’s wrong with passive?  I’m passive.  But, publishers believe passive writing is a sin, and they prefer stronger more assertive words.  Instead of saying “He was sick,” we now must say “He felt sick.”  Ok, it sounds better, but must we hurt “was’” feelings?  The guy is still sick either way.
I just had the opportunity to go through my novel before sending it to the editor.  My mission was to rewrite as many “was” words as possible.  This often meant rewriting an entire sentence and sometimes a whole paragraph.  If “was” is such a lazy verb, then why did my whole paragraph depend on it?
Publishers know that we can’t eliminate all the “wases” from a story written in past tense, any more than we can eliminate all the “is” words from a present tense story, but we as writers do need to reduce them.  While I wrote my story, I thought I had used the little “was” word as sparingly as possible.  I surprised myself when I saw how often I used it.  Sometimes it popped up twenty times on one page.  Sadly, removing the “wases” took almost as long to do as it took to write the story the first time.
Poor little “was.”  I’ll miss you.


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