Banish passive writing

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Hello Writing Etc. Subscriber!

We spend our entire careers banishing passive verbs. “Great writing is ultra-specific,” we repeatedly hear. Heck, I’ve told my coaching students the same thing on more than one occasion.

I tell them this story:

Pretend you’re writing to me. “I have a car,” you say.

Sadly, the image in my mind is quite different from the image you hold. You specify.

“I have a red car.”

OK. We’re a little closer, but I’m still betting my bottom dollar that we hold two different images.

“I own a red Geo.”

Little closer, but still no cigar.

“I hold a two year lease on a cherry red Geo Metro convertible.”

Yup. We’ve hit it. In all likelihood we’re on the same page right about now. I not only know what kind of car you drive, but I can also make a number of inferences based on that choice. A convertible? That tells me something. Red? That tells me another. These assumptions may be incorrect, but that doesn’t matter. Readers/ fellow communicators always make inferences. That’s just the way we’re wired.

So, you write… as specifically and lively as possible. After all, if you’re an effective communicator, you will always strive for as much clarity as you can.

Correct? Perhaps…

Overall, the same holds true for your verbs. “Saunter” is far more visual than “walk.”

Some words simply pack more punch than others… and these words tend to be active, vibrant, and quite vivid.

I’m always talking about waking up. Living fully in the moment. In fact, the most profound action you can take all day is to simply “be.”

It’s when you’re in this state of “being” that you’re the most “awake.” It’s in this state that you can live life at its fullest.

You aren’t planning the future. You aren’t mulling over the past. You’re simply “being.”

Ironic then, that we writers continually strive to write in the active voice yet the best place to achieve this is in the form of the verb “to be”… probably the most passive of all verbs.

Think this sounds easy? Give it a whirl. Today, make note of every single moment you’re actually living in the present tense… when you’re actually seeing, tasting, experiencing the now.

It’s amazing how we tend to live life in default. Take eating for example. Many people, particularly Americans, have never experienced true hunger. Did you know our bodies turn off our taste buds if we’re not hungry? Yup. It does.

If you’re not hungry, food will not be as tasty. So, when we eat before we get hungry, we barely taste our food. If you come to the table in a non-hungry state, you’re not only less apt to taste the food, and more apt to over eat.

But in our hurried lifestyles, we tend to rush, or worse yet, multitask, through everything, including eating. We eat watching TV. We eat planning our tomorrow. We eat discussing subjects over which we have no control. We pretty much do everything but eat mindfully.

This is just one example of how we tend to not live in the present tense. I’m sure you can come up with a bunch of more.

What to do?

Take the reins. Control your life. Carry a little notebook with you and take note of all the times you aren’t living in the present. You’ll be amazed.

What you’ll find (if you’re like me) is that you spend a good portion of your day in the past, trying to avoid a mistake you’ve made before, rewording your last argument, boiling over someone who offended you, enjoying pleasant memories.

On the other hand you’ll also find yourself spending a lot of time living in the future. Fantasizing about getting “even” on someone who slighted you; dreaming of a bright future where you’re honored, your advice is gold, and you’re always right.

But living in the moment? Existing in the now? Precious little time spent here.

And it’s in this exact moment that everything gets done.

It’s here that dreams become reality. It’s here that all the legwork to achieve your goals is born and matures. Everything wonderful happens in this moment where you currently live.

This moment lasts an instant, yet it contains the TNT to ignite all your plans, all your aspirations, and every single one of your dreams.

It’s the gasoline for your engine. It’s the wind under your kite. It’s the pressure that turns a chunk of coal into a diamond.

And yet so few people live here, let alone harness its power.

So, how do you live in the present?

You just have to do it.

Start small. Take a moment each morning to just be. Sit in a chair, walk outside, doesn’t matter. Simply be. Don’t make plans. Don’t “think.” Turn off your brain, just for a while (this feels scary at first), and just observe.

What do you see? What do you feel? What do you smell? Do you taste anything? What do you hear?

Use all five senses to experience your world. Then document it. 🙂

Now, go out and start living (and writing).

Beth 🙂

P.S. This was an excerpt from my latest project, Advice to Freelance Writers: Insider Secrets to Effective Shoestring Marketing, Managing a Winning Mindset, and Thriving in Any Economy. This title will give you all the tools you need to start writing and build a great freelance career. We’re talking three volumes of hard core freelance information in one handy download.

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Writing Etc./Filbert Publishing News – February, 2013

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