Falling Off the Wagon?

Writing Tools

I have a problem with my writing.

(Those of you who’ve read my work are rolling your eyes and saying, “Well, duh!  You stink!”  But that’s not the problem I’m talking about, thankyouverymuch.)

The problem is, I broke my writing machine.  I did it by accident, trying to be a better writer, trying to tighten my prose, but I may have inadvertently destroyed something which could have been useful if used properly, and not abused.

See, when I set out to annihilate adverbs from my fiction writing, I did so with the express intent of forcing myself to choose better nouns and verbs so the descriptive modifiers ending in “-ly” wouldn’t be necessary.  I wanted to make them rare and potent in my writing.  I wanted them to be another tool in my tool box, something with a specific purpose which performs its function better than any other tool could.  A hammer’s good for driving in nails, but it’s a sucky screwdriver.  I wanted my adverbs to be like that.  Yeah, a screw might be able to be hammered in, but it’s the wrong way of doing that operation and does as much damage as good, if not more.  So I wanted to make sure I only used my screwdrivers for driving screws.

Unfortunately, I ended up discarding that particular tool from the tool box, and now, I have no idea how to replace it.

I know I can let adverbs back in my writing; they’re not evil or cancerous.  Heck, even Stephen King, whose influence on this subject caused me to abandon them completely in the first place, uses adverbs in his prose.  But I’ve done such a thorough job of eliminating them I haven’t a clue how to reintroduce them to my work and make them … well, work.  I’m afraid, if I do that even once, I’ll open a floodgate of weak writing and adverb-dependence and revert back to the monstrosity I was before I cut them out.  (Yeah, it did work if you want to know – I am a better writer than I was before I stopped using them.)

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, some say.  If my prose works the way it is, why mess it up by going back to what didn’t work?

I don’t know, really.  I just know to be a complete writer, I should be able to work with all the words necessary to make the craft into an art.  I’m not sure I’m doing that now.  So I ponder, and consider, and wonder, and try to think of some way to do this in easy, gradual, cautious steps, like walking a tight-rope.  At the same time, do I really want to work that hard to stay in balance?  Isn’t it easier to stick to what you know and make sure you do the best work possible?

I don’t know of anyone complaining about missing adverbs in my work, but I definitely am aware of it when I’m writing.  No, it doesn’t slow me down or make me do a ton of re-writing.  I’m just wired that way now.  I re-routed the wiring to get that way, but get that way I did.

So should I try and reintroduce them or just leave a sleeping dog to lie?  Lay?  Whatever?

Sound off, if you will.  I’m interested more than you know.



11 thoughts on “Falling Off the Wagon?

  1. As a non-writer, this is my advice… not sure if it will help.

    Write, get out the story, go back and revise later. If you’re really that freaked out by how many adverbs you have do a search for ‘ly’ once the piece is done. Maybe you have a set amount of adverbs per thousand words that you want to permit – although I think that’s putting yourself in a box – and only allow that many adverbs in.

    Adverbs are not the enemy. People who use them gratuitously are 😉

    Well, adverbs are a sign that word choices are weak. Nouns and verbs specifically. Yes, get the story out — no argument there. I agree completely; the adage is “write hot, edit cool”. Get the words out of your head as quickly as you can, then go back and slice/dice to perfect. But I’m talking about using adverbs in the final, and the more I think about it the less willing I am to surrender my position on them. If I absolutely can’t come up with a replacement — and that would probably be words like “probably”, “likely”, “really” and such as these — then make sure they’re not proliferating into a problem. That, my dear, is the issue. 🙂

  2. I know I’m of no help. I’m a clown. I have a compulsive urge to make with the funny.

    Pff, the world needs more clowns. Make with the funny, bud, it’s all right by me.

  3. Let the words fly as they may out of your brain. You have good instincts, and by making adverbs evil, you’ve made it so you can’t even have them in your first draft, right? So there’s a lot of pressure on you, and pressure is not good for creativity. Do what Kristy said, write and then take them out if you still want to. Give yourself some room to breathe.

    Yeah, that’s great advice. I don’t allow them in my prose at ALL anymore, and I can’t say if it’s added pressure, but the question remains: can I let them back in and let them flow out of me anymore? They just LEAP off the page at me now, and I don’t even know if I’m ABLE to let them come out. That’s the main issue here, even in first drafts.

  4. Knyt

    Truthfully and quite accidentally but happily figured I would peruse your perfectly and smoothly written post today knowing eventually I would pass out and fall down but honestly great post…is the writing machine is that the computer !!!! Zman sends

    HA! Nice use of adverbial prose, Zman! And no, the computer’s working fine. Just the one between my ears that’s broken. 😉

  5. I think we went to far with the OtF. I have found that some of my work is partially lacking because we DON’T user adverbs. They are a part of speech that in some situations belong in our work. I DO NOT advocate replacing description with -ly words UNLESS it is needed.

    Well, I guess you and I have different opinions on this, bud. I don’t believe they’re EVER needed. I think they can be useful, but aren’t EVER needed if one’s willing to grow the vocabulary skills to a sufficient point. And “-ly” adverbs aren’t able to REPLACE description, they’re actually descriptive enhancers. But using them indicates a weak verb/noun choice which requires modification, hence the use of the modifier.

    Remember those exercises we used to do without adjectives and adverbs? They were great exercises in being more descriptive but I think we may have gone over the edge by ripping out all adverbs. Let the words flow. Re-read it. If it sucks, edit it!

    And I think that’s fine for a first draft, to plan on revising and let the words flow, but I — and I speak ONLY for me here — am unwilling to let my search for better descriptive nouns and verbs be weakened by my reliance on adverbs. I know of what I speak — just go back and read the early drafts of Ghost Hunters or Witch Hunt and you’ll see what I mean. They’re both PUTRID with adverbs. Ugh. So working to eliminate them and find better nouns/verbs is always going to be my FIRST choice. I’m just wondering if I’ll ever let myself have the SECOND choice, which would be appropriate use of adverbs. And WHEN are they appropriate? That’s where I’m falling down. I think.

  6. I still love the example you gave me once about adverbs:

    He walked softly through the garden … He tip-toed through the garden.

    He walked quickly through the garden … He sprinted through the garden.

    I became a believer that day. Adverbs should be like peppers – used with restraint.

    I can do even better now, love.

    He walked softly through the garden … He crept through the garden; He sneaked through the garden; He padded through the garden; He stole through the garden.

    He walked quickly through the garden … He raced through the garden; He hurried through the garden; He plowed through the garden; He darted through the garden; He paced through the garden; He rushed through the garden.

    Thanks for believing. They SHOULD be restrained but … WHEN is it okay to use one? Under what circumstances? Now I can’t tell anymore. Hence the dilemma that isn’t … Do I really need them?

    • I’m going with no. I now think adverbs are like training wheels. They give support when something is weak, but when that something is strong, they aren’t necessary anymore.

      Interesting analogy. 🙂

  7. I say fix it the same way you broke it: practice. Write a few paragraphs of the purplest purple prose you can get yourself to write. Then go back to writing whatever you really want to write.

    Remember, the more you run over a dead cat, the flatter it gets.

    Sweet! Sail cats and purple prose! What’s better than that? 😀 A good idea; maybe I’ll do just that — practice using them. Thanks!

  8. I’m not sure about the adverbs and stuff, I’m not really a writer, I just write whatever I feel like saying in the most beautiful way or the most appropriate way I could describe something.

    But hey, it’s your style. You write whatever you feel like writing in the best way possible.

    Not sure how you’re gonna do it but good luck with that.

    Thanks. When I speak of adverbs here, I’m speaking of word which typically end in “-ly” and are used to help describe an action, usually. Just so ya know. 🙂

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