November 9, 2009
I’m not saying you can’t edit your work. I’m saying you can’t edit and write at the same time. Some writers like to ramp up to their daily writing by doing a little revising of what they wrote the day before. You tune your ear a bit and get yourself back to the point where you were when you quit yesterday and then you are ready to move forward. It also gives you the strength to leave prose unfinished since you know you are returning to it tomorrow to polish a bit.
Where do you start editing? That’s up to you, but here’s a simple place to start. Look for forms of the verb "to be". You know you should avoid the passive voice—here’s a concrete exercise. Whenever you see a form of "be" look for the action in the sentence and put that action in a verb.
Here’s a simple example. (By the way, that was and this is a perfectly reasonable use of "to be".)
"Your action tends to be hidden when your action is placed in words that are not verbs."
Blech. How about "You tend to hide your action. Use verbs."
Or, "Stop hiding your action. Use verbs."
Or … [you do a couple]
You can paint so many pictures using so many colors. Stop restricting your palette to shades of gray. You can add a bit of color here and there to yesterday's writing and then keep that in mind while doing today’s.
This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.