When you’re editing your own writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, there’s a lot to look for.
Editing your own work can be tricky sometimes. When you’re so deep into the world of your story, sometimes it’s hard to look at the words and sentences themselves.
But ultimately it’s a part of writing you should learn to do well sooner rather than later. Especially if you don’t want to find yourself having to pay other editors thousands of dollars to get your work into proper, professional shape.
You want to make sure the pacing is solid and that your sentences flow. You want to make sure your grammar is up to par and that there aren’t any embarrassing typos anywhere.
One pass you take at your work during the editing process should be to look for all of these things. Go sentence by sentence and fix as many errors and awkward sentences or phrases as you can.
But I do believe there’s another pass you should take during the editing process that’s super easy and not very time-consuming that will make your writing shine its brightest in the long run.
You want to remove as many “ing” verbs from your writing as possible.
I didn’t learn this until recently, but it’s absolutely true. Your writing becomes so much stronger when you eliminate most or even all of the “ing” verbs from your manuscript.
Your writing becomes cleaner. It becomes more engaging. Sentences read better. It’s something you should start thinking about, for sure.
Let’s look at three examples and discuss why each sentence is better without the “ing” verb or verbs…
Larry is standing in the middle of the swamp.
Imagine this is the beginning of a short story. You’re intrigued why he’s in a swamp and also how he could be standing in the center of it. It’s not a bad idea to start a work of fiction here.
But look at how the sentence improves just by doing this…
Larry stands in the middle of the swamp.
See how much cleaner that is? You get the same idea across. You maintain the present tense. And you also eliminate a word in the process.
Now let’s look at an example with dialogue…
“Go make me dinner,” he said, pointing to the oven.
This example might read fine on first glance. Some of your readers might even be okay with it.
But I still think it can be improved by eliminating the “ing” verb.
He pointed to the oven and said, “Go make me dinner.”
“Go make me dinner,” he said and pointed to the oven.
If you really, really, really want him to say the line while he’s pointing at the oven, I would do this…
“Go make me dinner,” he said as he pointed to the oven.
Sometimes you might think there’s no other way for the sentence to work without the “ing” verb, but in almost every case you can find a better way to write the sentence, I’m telling you.
Finally let’s look at a more complicated example…
Pulling my chair forward and rolling my eyes, I ask my mother why she’s leaving town for so long.
Super awkward, right?
In this example we’re going beyond having “ing” verbs. Now we have verb modifiers that tell us something the character is doing before we get to the heart of what the character is really doing.
Now, one positive of that above example is that, yes, you can ask your mother that question while pulling your chair forward and rolling your eyes. You can do all three of those things at the same time, so in that regard, the sentence makes logical sense.
Unlike say, “Pulling my chair forward and turning on the television, I start cooking dinner.” See how that doesn’t makes no sense? You can’t do all three of those things at the same time (unless you have three hands, I suppose!).
Still, that above bolded example isn’t great. And it screams of amateur writing.
Look at how the example above improves by doing this…
I pull my chair forward, roll my eyes, then ask my mother why she needs to leave town for so long.
Now I would still change a few things about this example. “Roll my eyes” is a cliche, so I would cut that. And I would probably make that second part of the sentence a line of dialogue.
But again, see how much better that second example is? It’s easier to read. It flows well. Your reader will be thankful for a change like this one!
So take a little time to look for “ing” verbs before you send your work into the world.
Okay, okay, you don’t have to change every single one. You can leave the occasional “ing” verb in a sentence if you truly believe it sounds best that way.
I just looked through my latest novel manuscript, and I have a few “ing” verbs scattered here and there. But instead of having five or ten on any given page, I have one every twenty to thirty pages. Each use of an “ing” verb is so far apart from the previous one and the next one the reader will barely notice them.
What your reader will notice, however, is the constant use of “ing” verbs in each paragraph of your writing, especially when you use them as those awkward modifiers like in the third example above. You can get away with the occasional “is standing” but using them as modifiers at the beginning of a sentence will bring the level of your writing way, way down.
You want to improve your writing with each new project. And one easy way to do that is to at some point during the editing process eliminate most, if not all, of your “ing” verbs. You’ll be glad you did!
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