Your First Draft Does Not Suck

There’s this maxim prominent in writer circles. If you’re a writer, or if you have much to do with writers, you’ve seen it or heard it. You may even have said it or posted it. It’s one of those catchy, four-word phrases meant to give pause, to get you thinking. To condense a whole world of meaning into an easy sound bite.

I gave it away in the post title, but in case you aren’t following me it’s this one: Your First Draft Sucks. Alternately, Your First Draft ALWAYS sucks.

This is my reaction when I hear or see those words:

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DIE, ORC SCUM!

Look, I understand the intent. We all know people who are so enamored of the idea of themselves as writers and the process of putting words on a page as sacred that they refuse to apply any critical thinking to their work. It may be we’ve all been that person at one time or another. Maybe we churned out fifty to a hundred thousand words and were so proud of the achievement that we wanted to share it with the world. Maybe we were too close to the work to see the flaws. Maybe we didn’t have the education and experience to judge. Maybe we lived a life where we didn’t have access to a good critique partner or community of supportive writers. Or maybe we were scared of self-examination. Whatever; I can see how people might feel the need to remind folks that critical thinking and self-editing are part of the writing process. The problem is, saying “Your First Draft Sucks” does nothing to address the issues, and it can be downright harmful.

Writers are a vulnerable bunch. Whether by intent or predisposition, we, like most others who pursue an art form, feel things deeply. It takes a gigantic amount of courage to translate deeply felt realities into words and put them onto a page, and that’s not even considering the amount of courage it takes to share your work with others. I know there are those who–at least ostensibly–seem t0 take up writing because of the idea that it’s a glamorous life that will result in immediate fame and fortune, with little work involved. But 1. that’s a myth, and 2. for every writer I know who subscribes to the myth, I can count half a dozen who sweat blood over their work and are afraid to show it to anyone. Because, deep inside, there is always the question: Is this any good? Have I expressed my deeply held reality in a way that will convey it to other people? Or am I pretending to have skill at something I’m no good at? Is this thing I want out of my grasp? Unrealistic? Should I give up on my dream?

Yeah, telling these folks that they suck isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s kind of like this:

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And telling us to grow a thicker skin isn’t great, either.

When I see or hear “Your First Draft Sucks,” it tells me way more about the person saying it than it does about anyone to whom they’re talking. I ask, “Why do you need to repeat this? What’s so threatening to you about other people’s first drafts? Why do you need to perpetuate this idea that all writers–especially beginning writers–think of themselves as ‘special snowflakes’ (ODIOUS TERM) with the golden semen of angels pouring from their pens?”

I also think, “Here is a person who does not know how to give constructive criticism, or who can’t be bothered to.”

The first rule of constructive criticism is: Be Specific. Please explain to me, what is specific about telling a writer her first draft sucks? I read a lot of manuscripts, and though quite a few of them have problems (sometimes numerous problems), I can say with certainty that none of them categorically sucked, first draft or not. Even in manuscripts that I’ve found amateurish and cliche-ridden, there have been gems. Characters that leap off the page, scenes that make me laugh, or cry. Beautiful words and original ideas. Why in the world would I want to risk having a new writer scrap all that by telling her, “Your first draft sucks?”

Hey, you know, if you don’t want to deal with all that, fine. Don’t be an Alpha reader or a Critique Partner. Say, “I’m sorry, I don’t read manuscripts.” Don’t put your issue on the writer. Especially don’t use your status as an established writer to intimidate someone new to the craft, or spout bullshit aphorisms out of some weird intent to make yourself look knowledgeable. Because what it looks like is this:

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Listen to me or else!

One last thing: When you say something like “Your First Draft Sucks” as if it’s a universal truth, you are assuming that everyone’s process is alike and everyone’s first draft looks the same. They aren’t. Not everyone sits down and writes straight through a story to the end (oh yeah–that’s what you’re “supposed” to do. Another useless standard.). My writing process looks a lot like this: Write first chapter. Think about it for a couple weeks. Write a few more chapters. Decide that I don’t like what’s going on in Chapter Three and I didn’t touch on something important in Chapter Five. Go back and fix those. Continue through the first act. Think about it some more. Realize I need to do something in second act that I didn’t lead up to, so go back through act one and stick in foreshadowing. Write some more chapters. Discover a character vital to the outcome of the story doesn’t exist. Create character and if necessary go back and insert him into previous chapters so his appearance doesn’t come out of nowhere.

The thing is, by the time I have a First Draft folder containing an entire book from beginning to end, I’ve already done the work to make it hold together, with a consistent, comprehensible plot containing a clear beginning, middle, and end. Sure, there’s work yet to do. But my first draft does not suck. Some of this is because of the way I work, and some of this is because I’ve been writing forty years, and some is because I have a highly organized mind that doesn’t veer off on strange tangents. Whatever the reason, your sound bite doesn’t apply to me. And it doesn’t apply to most others.

So let’s stop perpetuating this one, okay? Writers have enough grief to cope with. We don’t need it from each other.

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Critique Peeves (#1 in what will hopefully develop into a series)

I follow a writer and writing mentor on Twitter, K. M. Weiland (who is a lovely person and you should follow her, too). Every day, she posts a “writer’s question of the day.”  They can be anything from “What is the color of your antagonist’s hair?” to “What is the twist in your plot?” And unlike many writing exercises, I find them quite entertaining and helpful.

Today’s question was, “What do you find hardest when other writers critique your work?” I didn’t even have to think about it. The single hardest thing for me when other writers–or reviewers, or anyone, for that matter–critiques my work is getting a long-winded critique of the work that person thinks I should have written instead of the one I did, in fact, write. Now, you’d think it would be a non-issue. You read a book and remark on what’s there, right? Unfortunately for many people, in my experience, this is less obvious than it would seem.

It first happened to me about fifteen years ago. I sent a friend whom I trusted to be intelligent, with whom I had gone to school, the first five or six chapters of a fantasy novel I was working on at the time. My intent for the book was to explore how a certain noble family I had created for my world came to be wiped out, how their sole heir was raised in hiding and in ignorance of who she was, and how the discovery of her connection to her family’s doom led her to abandon the life she’d always known and become that world’s equivalent of a heroin addict. (It was called A Talent for Fire, and I never did finish it. I just didn’t have the skills at the time and then my interests led elsewhere.)

This was in the days before email was much of a thing (so it might have been more than fifteen years ago, okay). I sent her my pages and a couple weeks later got back a ten-page screed enumerating all the reasons why my entire premise was flawed, starting with, “the heir to such a prominent and powerful family could never have been raised in obscurity because political facti0ns would be struggling for control of the estates, blah, blah, blah, The Medicis.”

Excuse me? The heir to a powerful family could never have been raised in obscurity? Since when??? How many times in myth and folklore has this been just the case? King Arthur, anybody? And what the fuck did The Medicis have to do with my world, which I had created, where I made the rules?

I might point out that my friend had a fondness for long-winded novels full of Machiavellian political intrigue. She did not find this in my pages, so she proceeded to tell me how she would have written a novel. I wrote back and told her this, and furthermore reminded her that my book did not take place in this world, The Medicis did not appear anywhere in the world I had created, and I got to say what could happen and what couldn’t. Furthermore, she hadn’t actually addressed anything that did appear in the pages I had sent her.

Well, she was much chastened. Unfortunately, this was not the only time I have gone through the frustration of someone not truly considering the words I had put on the page, and not trusting me to know what story I was trying to tell. When The Unquiet Grave was in its early stages, I tried belonging to a critique group. Now, the central premise of The Unquiet Grave is the main character, a witch who has renounced using her powers, having to choose between taking them back to save her community–which would be harmful to her, personally–or remaining Mundane and saving herself. One of the people in the group gave me this feedback after chapter three: “We know she’s going to take her powers back, so why don’t you just make her have powers up front so we can move along.”

Because that’s the book, you moron!

I’ve gotten similar, um, mistaken suggestions in query workshops. People have asked my where the Dark Lord is, because all fantasy in all sub-genres OBVIOUSLY has to have a Dark Lord. “Shouldn’t leave that out of the query!” I’ve been told. I’ve heard that Caitlin Ross is a weak character because she is reluctant to make a decision that’s going eventually to destroy her and tries not to commit to it until the last minute. Personally, I call that a character arc, but whatever. I’ve been told I’m handling a certain demon wrong because “demons are evil.” Never mind that I’m operating in a system I created, which is not Judeo-Christian Standard. These negative experiences with people whom I’d think would know better has turned me into a virtual hermit, mistrustful of anyone I have not vetted through a series of rigorous aptitude tests (including a literary obstacle course). It makes me wonder about professional editors who are, I believe, swayed as much by current fashions in genre fiction as they are by the quality of any given work. (My friend, Stef, tells me I have “an adversarial attitude” toward the editing process but “that’s maybe not a surprise in a person with serious trust issues.”)

But people. Please. It’s NOT that hard. All you have to do is say what you see, rather than comment on what you feel is lacking. (Unless, you know, what you feel is lacking is a comprehensible plot.) What do you notice about the work? Come on, you have to notice something. Otherwise, you have no basis at all for saying, “This rocks” or “This sucks.”

Be as specific as possible. It’s okay to keep it simple; you’re giving useful feedback, not composing literary criticism. To a working writer, “I couldn’t tell your characters apart” is a lot more helpful than “the symbolic interactions of the window curtains and the night air had a deep meaning.” Also, keep it personal. We’re talking about what strikes you, not what some hypothetical future reader might think. Use your I-statements. Some examples: “I could really hear the dialog.” “I couldn’t visualize the setting.” “You use a lot of big words.” “You spend a lot of time talking about clothes.” “You described a character in depth and then he disappeared.” “I didn’t understand what was supposed to be happening here.” Now, use that as a starting point for your feedback. If you couldn’t tell the characters apart, you might say, “I’d like to see more individual physical habits” or “Does everyone have to be beautiful?” If the dialog didn’t work for you, you might say, “I don’t think people of that age talk like that.” If the action seems slow, try suggesting that the writer pick up the pace by adding more movement and gesture, or you might say “I think scene one should come after scene five.” Just address the work you’ve supposedly read, not some other thing that exists only in your mind.

Above all, remember you don’t own this. If you’re giving critique, especially to a work in progress, it’s not your business to force the book into the shape you wish it had. I always preface every critique with a disclaimer: “As always, this is your work and you are free to take or leave any of these suggestions. But this is what I see.” because, you know, we writers are an insecure lot and we’re almost always ready to fall all over the place trying to please everyone and get validation.

Okay. That’s my vent. As you were.

Are Writing “Rules” Gendered?

Rules of “good writing” have always bothered me. There are many reasons for this: I have a questioning mind and I don’t accept anything is so simply because some authority tells me it’s so. I see so many places where the rules are “broken”–sometimes for good, and sometimes not so much. (Rereading the Harry Potter series as I recover from my sinus surgery, I haven’t been able to help noticing how much static language and passive voice J.K. Rowling used, especially in the first three books. As an aside, it’s been interesting to watch her writing style mature over the course of the series.) And a lot of the time the “rules” simply don’t apply to my personal experience.

But one thing I never considered was that the rules of writing one sees so much might be gendered.

Like it or not, gender is an issue in a writer’s world, especially when you get into genre fiction. And I mean, the gender of the writer, not of the characters. It’s still a man’s world out there. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t need con panels like “Women in Science Fiction;” the fact that women write it wouldn’t be seen as anything remarkable. Men still get most of the reviews, and men are still the ones asked to write reviews. And it’s possible that men are still the ones telling us how to write, whether or not what works for male writers works for women.

I started thinking about this just this morning, actually. Yesterday I read a blog by a prominent male author & blogger. The topic was one of the usual ones: Write even when you don’t feel like it. This is one of the “rules” that bothers me, and I felt moved to comment to that effect. This morning, I found that several people had responded to my comment. I fully expected my point of view to be dismissed, but when I looked at the responses all of them agreed with me and said they appreciated my articulating what they had wanted to say themselves. And all of the respondents were women.

It got me thinking. The idea of writing every day whether you want to or not comes from a place of privilege, doesn’t it? It assumes that you have even five minutes to yourself to jot down words, that you aren’t struggling with a chronic illness, that you feel justified in taking the time to write. It assumes that not writing every day shows a lack of commitment or the unwillingness to “develop the habit of writing.”

But I have to ask, who has the time? Despite many strides in feminism and equality, it’s still the women who are responsible for most of the housework and child care. Women are still expected to spend more time on personal grooming. Women suffer more chronic illnesses than men, including auto-immune disorders like fibromyalgia, which can be completely debilitating. Sometimes, we don’t write because we simply CAN’T, not because we’re lazy or less dedicated. And then we have the added burden of feeling guilty about not writing, because so many people who do not have our experience tell us we should be doing it every day, whether we can or not.

It made me wonder about other writing rules. A quick Google search came up with about 650 million results. Obviously I haven’t gone through all of them, but in the first five pages I found two references to lists of writing rules by women as opposed to 30-odd references to writing rules by men. (Many of these were the most recent list from Elmore Leonard.) Making a brief comparison between this list and another by Janet Fitch, it strikes me how dissimilar they are. Leonard’s are, in the main, definite instructions: Do this, Don’t do that. Fitch’s are more suggestions that an individual might apply to his or her own writing experience: Pick a better verb, or explore dependent clauses. I can’t help but feel that, perhaps, this difference may stem from a difference in world view and experience. And it makes me ask the question: Are women writers doing themselves a disservice when they try to follow the rules that have been made up by men in the field?

I don’t have an answer, and I think the question deserves further exploration. I’m interested to hear what others might think.

How We Talk About Writing Matters

Nothing—and I mean nothing—flips my switch like people posting misinformation, bad advice, and intellectual fallacies under the hashtag #writetip.

If you follow me, you probably already get that I am not fond of rules. When it comes to writing, I’m a stickler for grammar and beautiful use of language, but when it comes to style, I can enjoy a lot as long as you pay attention to the first two. And that’s why most lists of “Rules of Writing” drive me nuts. They address—or hope to address—issues of style, not technique. And they seem to promote the idea that there’s some secret formula, some Über-style that will make agents and editors alike gasp in admiration and admit the writer to the hallowed halls of publication.

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Another thing that puts my knickers in a twist is people parroting back these lists of rules who demonstrate no comprehension of what they actually mean or where they might have come from. When I see lists making sweeping generalizations about what you should and should not include in your manuscript, my immediate reaction is to ask, “Who made you the authority?” Because I notice these tweets seldom come from successful authors I respect, or for that matter have even heard of.

 Yesterday this popped up in my Twitter feed:

annoying tweet list

Of course, it got me going right from the start. I take exception to anyone telling me point blank what to delete from my manuscript. Some of those words and expressions may be overused by some writers. But there is no word or expression that is by nature “wrong,” or “bad” or “unnecessary.”

 Usually I ignore this stuff, because it just raises my blood pressure. Yesterday, I chose to address the person posting. I asked, “So, you don’t see any distinction between an action that is ongoing and one that has just begun?”

 Her response: “Well, sure, in the right context. But as a general rule it’s passive voice.”

Elrond-Facepalm

After I retrieved my jaw from my lap, I gently informed the poster that none of those items constituted passive voice and explained what passive voice actually means.  Her response: “I was speaking voice, not grammar. It’s static passive voice, but still, a majority of times, it needs to go.” I told her passive voice is a grammatical concern, not a stylistic one. Her response: “I think most people knew what I meant though. While technically, you’re correct, most people use the other term.”

Here I refrained from screaming, “THEN MOST PEOPLE ARE WRONG!!!”

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Later this happened:

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Do you see what’s going on here? I mean, aside from the backpedaling and justification. Really, people, how hard is it to admit you made a mistake and correct yourself? If you’re fighting about this, how do you take critique of your work? How are you ever going to cope with that hoped-for editor???

But that’s not my point. My point is the original poster did not have the language to talk about writing, and instead of acquiring it fell back on “I like to think most people know what I mean.”

What kind of attitude is that for a person who claims the use of words and language as her BUSINESS?

We are writers. Words are our medium. How we talk about what we do MAKES A DIFFERENCE. We need to pay attention, not only to the language in our stories, but the Meta-Language of writing, i.e., the words and terms we use to talk about what we do. There is absolutely no point in sharing rules about how to write if you don’t have any clarity of terms. These terms not only give us a common ground to discuss what we do, but also create an intelligible platform for sharing our work and ideas about our work with others. Without a common meta-language, we cannot even know what we value and what we don’t. We cannot talk about style versus technique. And we certainly cannot expect anyone to intuit what we mean. I don’t care if you felt limited by Twitter’s 140 character restriction. If you can’t express yourself clearly, you have no business trying to tell others how to express themselves.

You know, I get that language changes. Things are acceptable in writing now that were not acceptable when I was a kid in middle school. You can split infinitives. You can use “alright” instead of “all right,” something I was taught is never correct. You can say “Everyone has their hat” instead of “everyone has his hat.” Lots of these things still drive me batshit and I avoid them like the plague, but that’s just me. As I said earlier, I’m a stickler for grammar and technique. And the waters get muddy where technique and style collide.

But the evolution of language in popular culture is not the point here. Yes, colloquialisms may change, but the professional language of writers talking about writing does not. When I talk with a professor or an editor about “passive voice” it means the grammatical construct whereby the subject of the sentence receives the action. It is distinct and separate from a static stylistic choice and we all know that because the meta-language is consistent.

Our words are our tools. A builder might own both a brick hammer and a framing hammer, but he wouldn’t use the brick hammer to frame a house. We have lots of words in our toolbag, and we need to use the words that say what we mean. If you don’t know them, learn them. Refusing to do so makes all writers look bad.

And if you don’t care about that, think about this: it makes you look like a moron.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Over the last few months, I’ve been reading this mystery series about a samurai detective in feudal Japan. I like it a lot. It’s well-written and engaging, and the author has really done her research into the details of Bushido and life in Japan in the 17th century.

But she has one habit that bothers me quite a bit. On almost every page, she uses an intransitive verb for a transitive verb. Things like “Thunder rumbled the sky,” and “Tension tingled the air.” It makes me cringe. Every. Time.

I can understand why she might have done this. As writers, we’re encouraged to “use active language” to engage readers and keep the story moving. The problem is, not all “active” verbs are equal. You simply cannot substitute any old verb for any other verb you like better, because it has a more “active” sound.

Transitive and intransitive, people. Both can be “active.” But they do different things.

Transitive verbs take objects. “The boy threw the ball.” “I broke my coffee mug.” The verb indicates that a change in state has occurred. Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, do not take objects. “I walked down the street.” “She appeared in the doorway.” They are often followed by prepositional phrases, and they have less to do with a change in state than with describing an ongoing process. Both transitive and intransitive verbs can be either active or passive in voice, and both can tell the reader that something is happening. But a transitive verb tells you about something happening to something else. An intransitive verb just tells you what took place.

The author of those mysteries could have corrected the sentences in the two examples I gave simply by adding a few words. She could have said, “Thunder rumbled through the sky” and “Tension tingled in the air.” Yeah, okay–that last one is a bit of a stretch. I personally would turn it around to say, “The air tingled with tension.” My point is, both tingling and rumbling are ongoing states of being. They don’t depict a change.

The thing is, there are so many transitive verbs the author could have used. She could have said, “Thunder shattered the sky.” Perfectly good transitive verb chock full of imagery. Or, “Tension electrified the air.” I can’t imagine why she would have made the choices she made unless she didn’t know the difference. She may not; I’m not sure she’s a native English speaker. But I would have hoped an editor would catch that kind of thing before the books went to print.

This subject carries over into another pet peeve of mine: Please, people, learn the difference between “lie” and “lay.” When I hear educated people saying things like “I’m going to go lay down,” it hurts my brain.”Lay/Laid/Laid” is a transitive verb. As I made clear above, transitive verbs take objects. “The chicken lays an egg. She laid one yesterday, and she had laid one the day before that.” “Lie/Lay/Lain” is the intransitive verb. “I lie down in the grass, I lay there yesterday and I had lain there for years.” I do understand the confusion that comes from common misuse combined with the fact that the present tense of the transitive verb is the same as the past tense of the intransitive. But I do expect people who love words and writing to get it right.

Just to reiterate: Transitive verbs take objects. Intransitive verbs don’t, and, more importantly, can’t. It’s that simple.

The Passive Voice: A Brief Tutorial

A few years ago, I participated in an on-line writing group. I’m not generally a joiner, but I thought I’d give it a go. And I did get some advice from various members that helped me hone my writing, so that’s a good thing.

Anyway, the first time I submitted a chapter to the group, one of the other members sent it back with all instances of the word “was” highlighted. She told me, “You should eliminate the passive from your work.” I started looking at what she had marked, and I noticed that I did, indeed, use the word “was” a lot, and that it seemed to slow down the flow of the narrative. I also noticed that very few instances of that word represented true usage of the passive voice.

 Five years later, I still mark instances of “was” (along with “that” and “just” and “really”) in my first drafts. And they’re still very rarely the passive voice. But the antipathy toward passive voice lives on. I’ve seen a number of internet discussions on it. The thing is, very few people seem to know what the passive voice is. I think this may be because “the rules” cause them to avoid it, and you can’t understand something you’re avoiding. Unfortunately, if you don’t understand something, you can’t properly avoid it, either. So here is my brief tutorial on the Passive Voice.

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Passive Voice means the subject of your sentence receives the action. It puts the agency outside your character (or whatever you happen to be talking about). Recently one acquaintance remarked that she uses Bart Simpson saying “mistakes were made” as an example, because it shows him not claiming responsibility. Well, that is the Passive Voice, but ownership or lack of it isn’t the reason. The reason it’s passive is that the subject of the sentence (mistakes) had something done to them (were made). Bart could have owned the action by saying “Mistakes were made by me,” and the construction would still be passive.

 The mere existence of the simple past tense of the verb “to be” is not necessarily indicative of the Passive Voice. You need to take the agency away as well. It’s true, you may want to look at an overabundance of that particular verb form, because “was” is static. It’s experiential, and while a character’s experiences are an important part of writing, they don’t always move the story. Replacing them can lead to more picturesque writing. Compare, “the tree was in the meadow” with “the tree towered over the grasses and wildflowers in the meadow.” With the second, you’ve placed the tree in the same place, but you’ve made it do something other than just stand there. You’ve also given yourself the opportunity to paint a better picture of the setting (adding the grasses and the wildflowers in contrast to the tree).

 Here’s where some confusion comes in. In that example, the second sentence is indeed more “active.” However, it was never “passive” in terms of voice. Nothing happened to the tree. If I had said, “the tree was struck by lightning,” then the tree would have received the action, and the construction would be passive.

 I like to make a distinction between “passive” and “static.” Lots of things are static that are not passive. Descriptive language like similes and metaphors is most often static. “The moon was like a big cheese on the horizon,” or “The cat was a monster.” Sometimes you can eliminate the static language and sometimes you can’t. It’s up to you whether you want to.

Personally, I don’t have it in for the Passive Voice. There are times you might want to use it. If your protagonist gets swept away by a flood, she might very well be feeling a lack of agency which you want to promote. Or, you could turn it around and say, “The flood swept her away.” It just depends on what you want to convey. Just remember, if your characters continually lack agency, they might not be very interesting.

 The End.

Stop Hating on Adverbs!

Today I’m going to talk about a much-maligned part of speech. Yes, I’m referring to the infamous adverb. If you’re any kind of writer, or even if you follow writing, you’ve without a doubt heard that ADVERBS ARE BAD. I say a little about why I disagree in this blog post. Recently, however, I’ve seen a great many tweets and various other posts from writing coaches encouraging writers to “obliterate adverbs” and similar nonsense, and this really flips my switch. Hence, an entire post devoted to the adverb.

The main thing that irritates me about the “no adverbs” philosophy is that the people who subscribe to it don’t seem to know WHY adverbs are bad. Or at least, if they know they aren’t telling. And I get reactionary and sick at my stomach any time it appears to me that someone is making a sweeping judgment of the worth of anything without giving clear reasons for it. I feel the same way about people dissing parts of speech that I do about racism and sexism and size-ism and any -ism at all. It flips my switch, and I want to come out fighting.

The thing is, a person can overuse adverbs. They can be a sign of hasty and amateurish writing, and going deeper than the adverb can make for better imagery. Compare “He walked quickly down the street” with “His boots beat a rapid tattoo on the asphalt as he wove through the parked cars…” The first doesn’t tell show you much other than the gender of the subject and the fact that he’s moving as a rapid pace. But from the second, you know what kind of shoes he’s wearing (boots), the ground he’s covering (asphalt), that he’s going fast (rapid), that the quality of movement is perhaps martial (beat/tattoo)…all kind of things, all without a single adverb. So, yeah, too much reliance on adverbs can make your writing dull.

On the other hand, telling a writer to eliminate any part of speech altogether is like telling a painter never to use the color red, or telling a musician never to play a B-flat. You’re taking a tool out of the box and throwing it away, not because it’s broken, but because it’s unfashionable. “Oh, manual drills are so last century! No one uses them any more.” But you know, there’s going to come a time when you want that manual drill. When an electric one won’t fit in the space you have, or when you need to drill a starter hole for a screw right away and your electric drill has lost its charge, or just because getting it out of the case is too much trouble and you can keep the manual one in your pocket.

Same with adverbs. Sometimes you need them. Consider:

“The creases in the wrapping paper stood out as sharply as those in a Marine’s trousers, and the crisp, double bow topping the package had been aligned with military precision. Clearly someone had taken trouble over this gift.”

Sure, you could eliminate those two adverbs. You could do it in one of two ways. You could decide that neither of them mattered, and replace “as sharply as” with “like,” and drop “clearly” altogether. And you know what? Your sentence would lose imagery. It would not mean the same thing. Or, you could do what far too many writers do, and replace those nasty -ly-words with prepositional phrases.

“The creases in the wrapping paper stood out with sharpness like a Marine’s trousers…”

And you know what? I’m not even going on with that, because if you can’t see how awkward it is to go around replacing every single word ending in -ly with a prepositional phrase, I doubt you can understand the point of this blog post. But I can’t tell you the number of dismal fantasy novels I’ve read that had me hugging the toilet from bizarre constructions like “With caution, the hero with swiftness unsheathed his sword and with bravery launched himself at his attacker. With dedication.”

It’s not a question of any part of speech being “bad” or “good”. It’s a question of knowing your craft. And that means being able to make the choice to use an adverb when it suits you or finding a way to replace that adverb you used in the first draft because it was the first thing that popped into your mind with something more picturesque. It also means being able to recognize when a word ending in -ly is an adverb and when it’s not instead of condemning every word with a particular suffix. It means understanding that adverbs also can modify adjectives, and sometimes you want to do that. And it means learning about adverbs that don’t end in -ly, and asking yourself if you really have it in for a part of speech or just an irritating suffix.