Writing Tip: Don't be an ING-er

I’ve talked about this before on the writing forum, but it warrants repeating: the inappropriate use of ‘ing’ verbs. Using gerunds, that is, words that have verbs as the root word, with ‘ing’ added to make the word act as an adjective or a noun in a sentence.

Adjective gerund examples:

The running man, the barking dog, the bathing beauty

Noun gerunds examples:

I couldn’t sleep because of the barking. He’s in the running for governor. She held up well during the bathing.

Then there are instances in which ‘ing’ words are used that some people think they are being used as verbs (action words), but they aren’t. If they still talk diagramming sentences in school, it would be much easier to recognize that a gerund is a verbal noun, that is, a noun that has an action property to it.

What I really want to talk about, I’ll get to in a moment, but before I forget about it, I do want to point out something I see incorrectly used quite often.

When using a gerund after a pronoun, because a gerund is technically a noun in that instance, the possessive form of the pronoun should be used.

For example:


I appreciate you waiting.


I appreciate your waiting.


Did you hear me singing?


Did you hear my singing?

Of course, the ing word can be used like this too: Thank you for waiting. I’m singing.

Isn’t English fun?

But this isn’t what I wanted to discuss today. When it comes to ‘ing’ words, I have found when editing novels that novice writers have a tendency to use ‘ing’ words in ways that sort of don’t make sense. I’ve even caught it in my own writing sometimes too. For example, in my work in progress, ACCEPTING AIMEE, I had written this line:  Pulling on a pair of sweatpants, he picked up the basket and…

Well, unless the guy is a contortionist, it’s nearly impossible for him to pull on a pair of pants at the same time he is picking up a basket, and yet, that’s what this sentence indicated. I changed it to: After he pulled on a pair of sweatpants, he picked up the basket…

When using ‘ing’ words in your writing like this, you are generally indicating that the action is being done by the actor at the same time something else is performed. For example, “Smiling, she took his hand.” In this instance, she’s smiling at the same time she takes his hand. I still think this can be written stronger with more imagery than the way I’m using it in the example, but it makes the point.

Some recent uses of the ‘ing’ being incorrect in writing I’ve edited include:

Walking to the door, he turned the doorknob. ~He can’t walk to the door and turn the knob at the same time.

Reaching into his pocket for a cigarette, he lit one with a lighter. ~He can’t light what he hasn’t retrieved yet and is still reaching for.

So whenever you use an ‘ing’ word in your writing to have a character in your story do two things at once, make sure they really are supposed to do them at once, and not one after the other –even if it’s immediately afterward.

Also, ‘ing’ing around in your story can really make your reader tired. I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but if you can use the more active forms of verbs, it’s more engaging to your readers and a lot less tiring then having them running around, drinking, singing, playing, writing, etc’ing.

Looking at the note, he saw the bold font.

He looked at the note and saw the bold font.

The second is just stronger and doesn’t require the reader to keep the first verb in their heads until they see what else is going on. If you have a piece of fiction you’ve written, try changing all the ‘ing’ words you can to more active forms and then reread it or ask someone else to compare the two and see which one stands out. One of the reasons ‘ing’ing gets tiring to the reader is because of the general linear function of the brain. We read left to right and like it when things go in a logical progression.When starting a sentence with an ‘ing’ phrase, the reader has to continue reading to see who is performing the action and then go backward and attach the action to that person or thing. When that happens, even when the reader isn’t consciously aware of it, it makes them have to work harder to read it and get submersed into the story.

You’ll also note that to put it in more active voice, the subject of the sentence is moved before the action, making it easier for the reader to know who did what before it gets to the action. This makes the reading intuitively easier for the reader to get into the story.

Ultimately, the best writing is the type of writing in which the reader doesn’t really notice the writing, but instead gets immersed in the story. For an editor, this is the hardest story to edit the first time through, because the story is so good and easy to read, the little writing faux pas easier to miss. Ultimately, that’s what you want to do — to make the writing so easy and intuitively interesting that

Generally, the stronger, more active writing sticks better with the reader and engages them more in your stories.

So when you finish your novel (remember, write first, edit later), be sure to go through and look at all the words that end in ‘ing’ and see if 1) they make sense without making characters do more than one action at a time that they physically couldn’t do and 2) that there’s not a stronger, more active way to say the same thing.

Happy writing!

Love and stuff,

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