My novel-in-progress Strange Bedfellows weighs in just over 68,000 words right now. I’m quite pleased with it. At least, if you define ‘quite pleased’ as ‘savagely ripping chunks out, rewriting them, sticking them back in, smoothing the edges, and fixing all the details that just changed’. I’m basically performing open heart surgery on this innocent, unsuspecting piece of writing. It’s for its own good. I recently rewrote all 6000 words of the climax – in pen, no less. Carpal tunnel is headed my way.
You might be wondering what my strangely ungrammatical title means. I shall explain. I was happily paging through a writing advice book when I came across this tidbit:
(paraphrased) I’m a publisher, and one of the things I hate to see is overuse of the word ‘was’. To be, in all its forms, is a weak verb, and I’ve sent manuscripts back if there’s too much of it.
Hmm… I thought. I’ve probably used ‘was’ somewhere in there. I should go take a look and replace all of them.
I cheerfully and naively pulled up the Word document, imagining that this would be the work of ten minutes, tops. Using the Find and Replace function, I decided to get a rough estimate of how many ‘was’s I needed to cull.
A single click, and the message that would cause a spike in my blood pressure arrived. “‘was’ appears 1,059 times in this document” it informed me.
I believe my response was a combination of “Ack” and “Nng”. Honestly, I’m surprised a headdesk was not involved. Oh dear. I just used two ‘was’s in this line. …
As you may have gathered, this is not going to be a ten minute job. It’ll take me ages before I remove all the ‘was’s – and some really can’t be removed. Sometimes that’s just the best word for the job.
And if a publisher rejects me for that, I guess he wasn’t the one for me.
(Now excuse me as I chip away at the current 935 ‘was’s remaining.)