Here's a short passage from a book I'm reading at the moment - Sabriel, by Garth Nix, arguably one of the greatest fantasy authors alive today.
A small figure was busy climbing over the gate, nimbly avoiding the spikes that were supposed to stop such activities. She dropped the last few feet and started running, her pigtails flying, shoes clacking on the bricks. Her head was down to gain momentum, but as cruising speed was established, she looked up, saw Sabriel and the dead rabbit, and screamed.
... here's another, this one from a bloke called Tolkien ...
A nice pickle they were all in now: all neatly tied up in sacks, with three angry trolls sitting by them, arguing whether they should roast them slowly, or mince them fine and boil them, or just sit on them one by one and squash them into jelly; and Bilbo up in a bush, with his clothes and his skin torn, not daring to move for fear they should hear him.
... and a third, from a lady named Jo ...
Harry tried to turn back towards the gryffindor goal posts; he had half a mind to ask Wood to call time out - and then he realised that his broom was completely out of his control. He couldn't turn it. He couldn't direct it at all. It was zig-zagging through the air and every now and then making violent swishing movements which almost unseated him. Lee was still commentating.
To get these quotes, I stood up and grabbed three books from my shelf, then flipped to random pages until I found what I wanted. It didn't take long, maybe twenty seconds.
Recently, I've noticed a pattern in some of the reviews I've been reading on OWW. Someone, somewhere, has put it in people's heads that words ending in "ing" (technically known as present-participles) should be avoided at all costs, and that any sentence featuring the word "was" is automatically passive.
Now, I'm certainly no expert, but I don't need to be. All I need to do is point to the above three quotes. By my count, there's a total of 13 "ing" words, and 5 clauses with the word "was", just in this little selection, the one that took me all of 20 seconds to find.
Here's my understanding, and the quotes above back me up. No word is, in itself, bad. Every word in the English language is there to be used, nothing should be avoided. What should be avoided is overuse - where a word rattles around so frequently it becomes an irritation, a buzzing in the reader's ear. That doesn't just relate to "was", or words that end in "ing" - any word can be overused, and most writers have their pets (mine is "just").
Present-participles are used to express parallel, as opposed to sequential, action. "John picked up the book, looked around, then scratched his head." is sequential. It contains no "ing" words, but if you ask me, it's artificial and stilted. "John picked up the book, looking around and scratching his head." is parallel, three actions are happening together at the same time. In my opinion, the sentence is more alive, more natural. To discourage the use of such helpful verbs, simply because they end in "ing", is (as a teacher of mine used to say) really rather silly.
As for "was" - I think part of the problem is a general misunderstanding of the definition of a "passive" sentence. In a passive sentence, the subject has something "done to it", rather than the subject itself doing the action. Example - "The book was read by John." The subject (the book) has something done to it (it is read by John). Therefore the subject (the book) is "passive" - it just sits there and allows itself to be read. "John read the book." Here, the subject of the sentence (John) is performing the action (reading the book), the subject is therefore "active" - and so is the sentence.
Note (and I think that herein lies the confusion) that the passive version contains the word "was", whereas the active version does not. But it's not the presence or absence of "was" that makes the difference - it's who is acting and who is being acted upon. A sentence can feature the word "was" and still be perfectly active - as in: "A small figure was busy climbing the gate" or "It was zig-zagging through the air".
I don't normally clutter up these blog-posts with writing advice, simply because I don't feel qualified to give any. But I think this is a good encouragement for us to be wary of what we hear, and to think carefully before taking on board advice that could well be deeply flawed. There's nothing worse than a writer becoming hamstrung - their natural style restricted by a fear of using "forbidden" words. Writing is hard enough as it is.
So, if in doubt, go to the greats. Pick up the books on your shelf and see how the so-called rules you have heard stack up. With the likes of Garth, John and Jo on your side, you can hardly go wrong.
Update - I sat down tonight to read more of Sabriel, and this is the first sentence that greeted me.
Gray mist coiling upwards, twining around him like a clinging vine, gripping arms and legs, immobilising, strangling, merciless.
I am resting my case.