That Three Letter Cuss Word and SARAH DESSEN


For years, I’ve worked at improving my writing. I was taught to use passive verbs sparingly and switch them out for active ones. So I did. I hunted down the WASes in my scenes. Each time I did I WAS frustrated because I had TOO MANY.

So, I’d delete them and start over, changing the whole structure of my sentence. Eventually, this infringed on my productivity and stopped my imaginative and creative flow. When I’d see the word my spontaneity halted, my sentence crashing with it. I felt like I was changing my wardrobe every fifteen minutes, which made me tired.

Then I read, JUST LISTEN, by Sarah Dessen.  (You know she’s an awesome writer if ROBIN ROBERTS–my FAVE anchor show host–invited her on the show.)

JUST LISTEN is a young adult (YA) novel. (The genre I love to read and write.) In the first chapter, I was totally sucked in. Author Sarah Dessen made me care, piqued my interest, dropped breadcrumbs of suspense, and made it almost impossible for me to stop reading.

But guess what? She used WAS many, many times. (No, I didn’t count them. Sheesh, I’m not that rude.) I saw them because I’d been programmed to see them for so many years. But I didn’t care about them when I read her story! They became INVISIBLE because I was totally immersed.

What did this teach me? It taught me what I’ve heard before, but this time I “got”: The most important part of any novel is THE STORY!

Now when I write, my imagination flies across the keyboard, tapping out the story, and I don’t stop to police that three letter word. Was, was, was!

Sarah–if you’re reading this blog–please understand and help me celebrate. Your WASes liberated me. They freed me from the WAS bondage, and I’ve been wearing the same clothes ever since. No more changing around. No more hunting for active verbs that don’t fit. No more stopping midsentence.

Thank you, Sarah.

To check out Sarah’s novel at Amazon click here:  JUST LISTEN.

(I dare you not to buy it.)

What word holds you in bondage?


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  1. Good point. A gripping story does trump all writing rules. Keep it up.

  2. You know, sometimes was is just was. If we make ever was an action verb the reader will be awfully tired at the end of out book! lol.
    Great post, Michelle.

  3. Okay, so that’s supposed to be every was…not ever was.

    • Hi Dee and Pat- Thanks for the comments. I’ve read stories that had only active verbs and it felt forced–like the author tried too hard. I’m over the WAS thing now. Have a great writing day!

  4. Beth Steury says:

    Great post and how liberating to not have to be the ‘was’ police every second! I’m switching from long-time editing mode back to ‘fresh’ writing mode and it’s hard to not labor over every word! Got to get the story down first then worry about the other stuff.

    • Hi Beth! I call your mode the FAST DRAFT. I love, love, love this. I did it in November for NaNoWriMo. I wrote over 50,000 words in less than a month. I had an idea, characters, plot, and knew who was who and what their “stories” were. I sat down and wrote the book without stopping for WAS words or anything else my inner critic wanted to say. Here’s the hard part: I’m rewriting it now. Ugh! Not my fave thing to do, but hey, I have bragging rights that I wrote the book in less than a month so that’s something, right? Thanks for sharing this and I hope you keep writing FRESH. Hugs.

  5. So true! I’m held back by my fear of adjectives–I do believe that using excessive adjectives is a bad thing, but obsessing over them cuts my creativity–as you said. Thanks so much for sharing this experience! I absolutely adore your blog!

    ~Bri (from Creative Teen Writers)

    • Hi Bri!
      I’ve been looking for you!
      Will you share (here at my blog) HOW to make vlogs? I need to know. (And I need to have more confidence to do this!)
      I love, love, love yours! I laughed out loud in my kitchen watching it while I made choc chip cookies with my 16 year old. (She rolled her eyes at me. She doesn’t get the whole “writing” thing.) You’re awesome! Thanks for stopping by.

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