Many authors lack confidence in themselves, especially if they are working on their first draft. I think we’ve all had those same doubts plague our minds.
Will we ever be able to finish our novel? Are we good enough writers? Will agents and readers even give our novel a chance?
But no matter how self-concise and doubtful you feel, your writing must sound confident. Readers and agents alike will be able to pick up on weak writing that stems from self-doubt, and it will hinder your chances of maintaining their attention.
So, how do you make your writing sound confident even when you don’t feel like it?
Get rid of “started to”
I see the phrase “started to” more and more in the novels that I edit, especially with first-time authors.
Adam started to stroke his beard. He wasn’t sure what to say to Trey. Adam started to head toward the restaurant, knowing the conversation couldn’t be avoided.
As you can see in the above example, there is no confidence—no definitive action—in Adam’s movements. When character’s “start to” do something throughout the novel, you don’t give yourself the chance to use strong, concrete verbs that bring your characters to life.
Sometimes, simply getting rid of the words “started to” is all that is needed to make your writing sound confident, like in the first sentence of the example.
Other times, you need action verbs or description in place of “started to.”
How did Adam head to the restaurant? Was he late and in a hurry, or did he take his time so that he could think more about what he was going to say? Did he walk, run, drive, or catch a bus?
When you answer these questions using specific verbs and descriptive words, your readers will know that you know what you are talking about. The reader won’t have to guess what Adam was thinking or how he got to the restaurant because you will have told them without any guessing.
Revised: Adam stroked his beard. He wasn’t sure what to say to Trey. Adam passed his car and walked to the restaurant. He knew the conversation couldn’t be avoided, but he needed more time to think than the five-minute drive.
How to find “started to”
The easiest way to find all your uses of “started to” is by using the search function in your word processor of choice. Often, command + F will bring up the search window, or you can find it under the “edit” tab of your program. Once you type in “started to,” your program will find every use of it for you.
Search your novel for the phrase “started to.”
Delete the phrase (and make sure your remaining verb is in the right tense).
Rewrite the action to make it vivid if needed.
Do you use this phrase or other words that weaken your writing and make you sound unsure? What do you do to combat this? Share with us in the comments below.