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Successfully and Gleefully Adverb-Free

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Back when I set off on this journey to write a novel, I had an appallingly awful writing tick. I used to gaze adoringly at words that end in -ly, those deliciously clumsy things called adverbs. They’re supposed to be insufferably bad in the context of writing, though I was indecorously ignorant of that fact prior to beginning my little writerly adventure.

I felt horrifically inept when parsing the simplest of sentences. How could I constructively cajole thoughts together when I could not gracefully use words ending in -ly?

Hmmmmm. It was a hideously fatal conundrum for which I seriously had no solution. Other than to write a ponderously imperfect blog post in an effort to exorcise the glaringly bad adverb demon once and for all. I peppered them thickly into a post, hoping they would studiously avoid my main project.

Inexplicably, I now look for adverbs everywhere when lazily reading. Does this author randomly use them? Does that one patiently invoke one here? Or there? How am I supposed to graphically construct a sentence when I cannot casually use an adverb? Most definitely, I must possess falteringly simple imagination, or perhaps, I was unfortunately deprived of one entirely, rudely relegated to the back of writing class way back when.

Surprisingly, I still believe I can write, even with my harrowingly serious writing tick, insidiously infiltrating my sentence structure at every dastardly turn of phrase, every colorfully executed description of character or context, until I am perilously close to throwing up my hands and abruptly calling the whole thing resoundingly off. Once and for bloodily-well all.

………..

………..

Okay. I think I’ve put enough adverbs in one blog post to see that they’re clunky. And ill-advised. And downright weird. Hopefully, I will cease to use them in future.

Oh. Wait. ‘Hopefully’ ends in -ly.

*#$@%*&*#*@*$!!!!!!!

Back to the drawing board.

Again.

91 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sparingly, I guess. :)

    January 13, 2014
  2. Aha :D. Your post made me giggle. For me non-native speaker, I think natives are better at using adjective and adverbs than us. I often have issues with find the right adverbs when I write something in English. This post consisted of a lot of adverbs which was actually useful for me.

    January 13, 2014
    • English is a tough language, with all the rules that have exceptions. I’m glad this illustrated adverbs for you. (And, I could never learn Thai, though I think it is such a pretty language to look at. A sentence is like a piece of art.)

      January 14, 2014
  3. rod #

    Let’s hope you don’t develop an irrational hostility to verbs.

    And please don’t become a professional tennis player, or we will have to listen as you say things like, ‘I know I’ll have to play aggressive to beat her.’

    January 13, 2014
  4. i thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    January 13, 2014
  5. Heh. I shall say little here, as it’s 4:23am and I tend to spell not so well at this hour. Letting the music do the talking by tormenting you with this charming little ditty (Everyone sing along – if you’re old enough you all KNOW you know the lyrics!):

    January 13, 2014
    • I must be TOO old!! Absolutely, positively, unequivocally NEVER heard this little ditty, and now it will be firmly lodged in my ear all day! :) (I love adverbs, Andra! Good thing I’m not writing for a living!)

      January 13, 2014
    • I used to watch this every Saturday morning. There’s almost nothing like Schoolhouse Rock. I still sing the songs sometimes to remember things.

      January 14, 2014
  6. I have been wide awake for the last two hours and can’t go back to sleep. I had/have an ugly chest cold that set upon me with a vengance last night complete with a high fever. LUCKILY the fever broke and I now feel much better. UNFORTUNATELY I am not able to go back to sleep. That means I am sitting here reading and responding to e-mail and blog posts. One of the things I had to learn how to do is to stop talking in third person when I write. Is it the passive tense? I do not remember, been too long since I took those writing classes at TTC now. I also find that my writing is too wordy. I will go through a sentence and remove the fluff. I think that Twitter helped me with the fluff issue because it forced me to say specifically what I meant to say without a bunch of words. Someone once said that writing is like throwing up on the paper (screen) and then going back to clean it up afterwards. I tend to do that a lot. Thanks for the lesson about adverbs this morning.

    January 13, 2014
    • The only rule that works for me is to use the fewest words possible to make my point.

      January 14, 2014
  7. I like adverbs. Used sparingly, they add to a text. But like most things, too much of anything is never good.

    January 13, 2014
  8. Clever girl, Andra. However, I still clap my hands in childlike glee whenever one of my children uses an adverb correctly–I will take a clunky as long as it’s correct. Now, don’t get me started on colon abuse in writing….

    January 13, 2014
  9. Delicious post. But don’t give up on them ENTIRELY. COMPLETELY. ALTOGETHER. How else can you modify a verb? Think of them as VERY hot peppers and use SPARINGLY.

    January 13, 2014
    • I have a few in my book. A nine-year-old would totally use them here and there. :)

      January 14, 2014
  10. As the most recent reader of my manuscript kept writing in the margins of my mostly adverb free manuscript “adverbs are not always evil”. (Hence the appropriate use of mostly in this sentence.)

    January 13, 2014
    • Sometimes, they make the perfect accent to a sentence.

      January 14, 2014
  11. I think you’ve just drawn my attention to something that I will look for in every piece of writing I’ll ever read for eternity. X-(

    January 13, 2014
    • This could be one of those things that bugs you when you read, but you don’t know why it bugs you.

      January 14, 2014
  12. I like adverbs, although not excessively ;)

    January 13, 2014
  13. I bet writing that made your brain hurt. It felt a bit Seusish even without the rhyming.

    January 13, 2014
  14. Everything in moderation, right? I feel like adverbs and tequila belong in the same category — if you have just a little too much, everything gets really weird.

    January 13, 2014
    • Oh my. The next time I have a margarita, I’ll be toasting with adverbs. Ha.

      January 14, 2014
  15. Global search of m/s for “ly ” and and “ly,” and “ly.” lights up most of them for a last chance assessment.

    January 13, 2014
  16. Liesl #

    You had me laughing, while reading you prolifically laced adverb post. Good morning, Andra.

    January 13, 2014
    • Hey, Liesl. It’s good to ‘see’ you. I see your girls all the time on FB, and they’re such cuties.

      January 14, 2014
  17. As one suffering terminally from adjectivitis, I appreciate your post this morning, Andra.

    January 13, 2014
    • Several manuscript critics spanked me for excessive adjectives, though I fear I now don’t describe things enough as a result.

      January 14, 2014
  18. Cracked me up, but now I have to go back and read everything I’ve ever written to discover if I how hard I should laugh at myself. Adverbs are useful, if not overdone. In my prose, I like them medium-rare.

    January 13, 2014
    • I’m probably in the same boat as you, Jim. It’s impossible not to use them at all.

      January 14, 2014
  19. It will drive you nuts, won’t it?! Now you know what I mean when I tell you I am a slow reader because I read like the English major I am. As I read I analyze word choice, parts of speech, phrasing, pacing, underlying means, and everything else that should be subliminal but to me is glaring. I must have run afoul of some early English teacher who then cursed to do this forever. It is downright painful at times.

    He said solemnly . . .

    January 13, 2014
    • I’m a writer, and I’ve written two books, and I don’t read that way. Reading is pleasure. Stop making it work.

      January 14, 2014
  20. I especially relate to this post, because I am particularly partial to adverbs ending in -ly. Basically, my world revolves around them. . . . Ugh. I see what you mean. :-)

    January 13, 2014
    • I’m sure you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, Linda. His section on adverb usage was one of the best things that’s happened to my writing.

      January 14, 2014
  21. For years I’ve had the same love hate relationship with gerunds. They are *very bad* for poetry. As is the first person voice…and I’ve said basta to rules. Since I’m writing for myself and anyone who desires to read, I use them as I need to…though do try to avoid gerunds because they take the punch out of the present tense.

    Writing, like marketing, is a skill and ability that many think they can do. However, just let them at it and they fail. The fact that you’ve persevered and have crafted a well written book once (yes I continue to tell you #1 was well written) and then gone on to author a second book is nothing short of a miracle to me.

    January 13, 2014
    • I can’t wait for you to read the second book. It’s what I always dreamed of reading. I hope a few other people will feel that way.

      January 14, 2014
  22. Absolutely Loverly.

    January 13, 2014
  23. Maybe the adverb demon is asking you to establish a style where he can play and be happy, probably not the main part of the narration cause it would stop the flow of the story, but certain parts where you can go deep into scenes and moments.

    January 13, 2014
  24. How delightfully you consciously use adverbs. I bet that this post was more difficult to write than one might think. Well done.

    January 13, 2014
    • Sarcasm/satire is very hard to do.

      January 14, 2014
      • Yes it is, but you did a great job. Still smiling about your post. :-)

        January 14, 2014
  25. “I love reading about all of our bad writing ticks,” Phillip chortled.

    January 13, 2014
    • I try not to think about them when I sit down to write, though. I can make it pretty later.

      January 14, 2014
  26. I will sheepishly review my own writing now. Thanks a lot, Andra, Nancy snarkily* huffed.

    *Extra points for that one, given it’s a made-up adverb/non-word?

    January 13, 2014
    • I haven’t noticed you using too many adverbs.

      January 14, 2014
      • I actually went back to look at recent posts, all paranoid. :-)

        January 14, 2014
  27. Love it, love it, love it!

    January 13, 2014
  28. tarakianwarrior #

    Lovely…oops. I think I need to go back to an English class. :-/

    January 13, 2014
  29. I use them but I hear a voice in the back of my head admonishing me each time I write . . . adverbially.

    January 13, 2014
    • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with rule-breaking. One of my characters likes to start sentences with a certain word that’s a no-no. When I tried to change it, she screamed at me. I can hear the critics now……”Andra Watkins doesn’t know how to write, because she breaks this rule over and over and over again.” Sigh.

      January 14, 2014
  30. I love it and realise how many ties I slip into that ‘error’. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m not writing a novel at the moment? Time to practice good English – although I was under the impression that t doesn’t exist as such any longer, Wishing you goodly luck ;)
    Susan, and English lady (hahaha)

    January 13, 2014
    • I think there’s a not-small movement to return good English to e-mail and text, and I hope that movement succeeds.

      January 14, 2014
      • I do agree. I have loved the English language since I was old enough to find how colourful it could be, and without resorting to swearing! I find today, between the Lyme disease and Fibro (I have yet to be confirmed but I’m certain it’s one of the culprit), that I have a tendency to ‘hit’ some keys a little lighter than I should and hence need to correct far too much. At least I do know how to spell – a blessing. I will keep my fingers crossed, until it hurts too much :)
        Bless, Susan x

        January 15, 2014
  31. Rarely and infrequently do I read wonderfully poetically positioned prose. I must say truly you have done a higher service to the worldly writers.

    January 13, 2014
  32. One of my pet hates – self-styled writing fundis who pontificate pathetically about the sin of using adverbs or adjectives. How colourlessly unimaginative their writing must be! **** them! They probably pepper their ******* speech with ****** swearwords to make up for the ******* shortcomings in their ****** vocabulary.

    January 13, 2014
    • I’ve read a few of those writers, Col. You’re right. They do.

      January 14, 2014
      • Thus making their advice eminently invalid.

        January 14, 2014
  33. Instructively presented, Andra. Now I’m woefully concerned I’ll be absentmindedly interspersing carelessly pointless adverbs in all written speech! :-)

    January 13, 2014
  34. Well done! I tend to put my manuscript through semi-colon abuse, but I will have to check for the adverbs (did Mark Twain’s trick for “very” and “really” but I fear this one will be a bit more intensive!)

    January 13, 2014
    • Aaaaaand, one of my characters really likes to say really. Her grammar is pretty bad.

      January 14, 2014
      • Yikes – especially if it’s not supposed to be bad (I have one that has bad grammar and should not, and another who tends to clean up his act, even though he isn’t supposed to)!

        January 14, 2014
  35. You wrote this piece so cleverly and soulfully. But you may have a bad case of Adverb Tourettes-LY. There is a cure for that. :)

    January 13, 2014
  36. How timely! I’ve been excising adverbs myself today ~ from vignettes, essays, and novellas written 15 years ago. :mrgreen:

    “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

    January 13, 2014
    • It took a while to break the habit, but I don’t lean on them now.

      January 14, 2014
  37. I have more tics than a time bomb, and my profanity scorches all nearby items when set off. So, we both have a little work to do. ;)

    January 14, 2014
    • I don’t mind profanity in a book, especially when it gives me a clear picture of the character.

      January 14, 2014
  38. Giggle.

    January 14, 2014
  39. Adverbs! Let me tear my hair and beat my breast…and then slip one in anyway because I’m perverse that way. I do have to watch them, and I’m an adjective junkie who’s been called on THAT sin more than once. Craft is work, but I think we kinda like the pain. :)

    January 15, 2014
  40. Ha, ha! The ugly adverb. Hoping that “ly” doesn’t count!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    January 15, 2014
  41. But I like adverbs! Well, a little. You have to have a few of them, don’t you?

    January 15, 2014
  42. Reblogged this on mrsugarbears and commented:
    I have so much to learn. Thanks Andra.

    January 15, 2014
  43. Funny! And my pet peeve has always been how often tv, commercials and movies fail to use adverbs correct(LY). You can’t sit through a whole episode of anything without it cropping up. Just watch. ;-)

    January 16, 2014
  44. Ha, I’m the adverb emperor!

    January 16, 2014
  45. hahahah….I think I might suffer from this malady. Well I know for sure, I have other writer maladies anyway…

    January 22, 2014

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