Guiltless Writing

I remember when I started writing, I was surprised to learn there were so many rules I needed to learn—and follow. 

Show, don’t tell.

Do not use adverbs in your writing.

Don’t use cliches. 

Write a certain number of words per day to be successful.

And on and on.

But, I was also told something else: After you learn to follow the rules effectively and become successful, you may pretty much throw the rules away and write however you please. 

The truth is, I think when we find ourselves “eligible” to abandon the rules, we will want to keep them because they make our writing better.

But like I told my critique group yesterday, I will rejoice when the rule about using minimal adverbs in writing is no longer required. 

I can’t help it. I love those -ly words…

Lovely, slowly, carefully, brilliantly, passionately, and so on.

Oh, how I long to use them in my writing without feeling guilty!

You Say I Can’t Use Adverbs?

New authors are taught lots of rules. One of the most notorious—and most resisted—is NOT to use adverbs in our writing.

There are actually some situations where an adverb might be the best choice. When writing a back cover blurb or anything else that has limited space, adverbs may be preferred.

But, when they are used as a crutch instead of choosing a more specific phrase or showing emotion, they should be avoided.

Most adverbs end in -ly. Loudly, sadly, angrily. You get the picture.

Or, do you?

How about showing balled fists and clenched teeth, rather than using those -ly words?

Remember: a good book is like a movie shown with word pictures.

When I Forget the Words

Have you seen instances on television of celebrities, football players, and even olympians who don’t know the correct words to the Star Spangled Banner? Or, perhaps witnessed an interview of a person who got tongue-tied, searching frantically for just that right word?

Writers can write and rewrite on our computers until we get the words to flow just the way we want them. We can use a thesaurus and a dictionary to help us choose words and check on meanings. 

The Describer’s Dictionary by David Grambs is very useful. For example, say you want to describe the color black. The book gives these words: ebony, ebon, sable, jet, onyx, ink black, coal black, anthracite.  The book is divided into words for various Shapes, Patterns and Edges, Surfaces and Textures, Light and Colors, etc.

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi includes all emotions in an easy-to-use alphabetical format that is further broken down into Physical Signals, Internal Sensations, Mental Responses, Cues of Acute or Long Term experiences of an emotion, emotions that specific examples May Escalate To, and Cues of Suppressed emotions. I especially like the Writer’s Tip which is provided at the bottom of each listed emotion.

If you know of any other resources that writers might find useful, please let me know. One I’d find extremely useful would be substitutions for adverbs. If there isn’t one out there, already, maybe this would be a project you’d be interested in taking on!