The Honorable Supreme Court Justice Ima Writer sequestered me over the weekend and ordered the bailiff to unplug my Internet. Hence, you haven’t heard from me in three days.
You see, while giving advice on eliminating needless words in your writing to create robust sentences, I am guilty of not following my own orders. (See here if you don’t know what the heck I am talking about.)
When I ran across a problem word, I would fix a bunch in my manuscript and say, “Yup, that is a problem.” I would set aside my editing because I was excited to tell YOU about it. As a result, “justs,” “gots,” “wents,” and the like, continued to sit in my manuscript like the ugly stepsisters snubbed by the prince and forced to stayed home instead of attending the writing party.
The half-taken advice was haunting me. I closed myself off to the world at our cabin and snuggled with the sneaky little words “had” and “have.” The romance faded when I realized it would take me all weekend to do the edits on those two words alone. The argument that ensued wasn’t pretty.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I learned an important lesson while editing out dead-weight “hads” and “haves.” I became better at it the more I did it. It started out slow and painful, but two-thirds of the way through the process, I was flinging the words out with ease. I learned how to spot the easy “just hit delete” “hads” and “haves.” For the trickier ones, I became adept at seeing how the sentence could be reworked. In many cases, the entire offending sentence was dumped because it did nothing to advance the story. Yeah! More dead-weight eliminated.
At first, I was afraid I was over-editing and making my writing sound stilted. Was I erasing my “voice?” However, when I removed the excess baggage, my voice had room to come through the white noise.
Emboldened, I hit “seek and destroy” for a second round. I found sentences I thought were fine on the first round, but armed with the lessons learned while working my way through the manuscript, I knew how to dust, tidy, and freshen them.
My point? “Hads” and “haves are especially sneaky and they snarl when you first attempt to eliminate them. Sharpening your knife with practice eases the process.
Bonus tidbits I discovered. “Had” and “have” hide in the conjunctions “I’d” and “I’ve:”
I’d liked my manuscript until this weekend.
Clunky example, I know. Sorry.
I thought I liked my manuscript, but it became a masterpiece over the weekend after I edited out the “hads.”
I’ve got to spend more time editing.
Yes, you do.
I must dedicate more time to the fine art of editing.
“Had” and “have” also skulk around disguised as “hadn’t” and “haven’t:”
He hadn’t realized Robin the “Had Cop” was after him.
Isn’t she about as effective as Barney Fife?
He realized Robin the “Had Cop” was after him when she slapped the usage-cuffs on his scrawny wrists.
I haven’t seen Robin the “Had Cop” so angry in years.
In anger, Robin the “Had Cop” fed his lousy manuscript to the grammar police.
For those of you scratching your head about “had” and “have,” take heart. It gets easier the more you exorcise them out of your writing. Trust me, I know.