Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Poor Writing: Just Plain Lazy – Part 1

More on LAZY WORDS and USELESS FILLERS—a personal experience.

I spoke with a client recently about those nasty, lazy, weak, wicked little monsters we call adverbs.  Said client has developed a habit of leaning on them in an attempt to excite the reader, but failed to understand (until now) that they act not as propellers on the ship of story, but anchors.  Said client had been employing adverbs at an average rate of four per paragraph.


To illustrate for said client the importance of self-editing, I pulled up the first draft of my novel, Forgive Me, Alex.  I wanted to provide precise before-and-after examples of adverbs I'd cut from my manuscript during my own self-editing process.  Yikes!  I knew my first draft was bad but... the numbers shocked me.  Said client deduced as much when I devolved into nervous chuckles before sharing the results of my search.

My brain shifted into self-defense mode.  I'm a good editor, Dear Client.  I promise.  Please don’t hold these numbers against me.

The bad news was that I'd developed the same terrible habit, though to a much lesser extent.  The good news was that I'd recognized the wicked little monsters, and sliced and diced without mercy (mostly), during the self-editing process.

As we discussed it, we concluded that our childhood teachers, who'd stressed the importance of adverbs and adjectives to spice-up our writing, were the true culprits.  (Hey, we had to blame somebody!)

In fact, I know from a relative who teaches that they still, in strict accordance with guidelines (at least in that state), instruct students to give their dialogue great flourish by piling on the adverbs.  This is simply one of those areas where teachers and industry professionals remain out of sync.

In the end, my stunning discovery served as the perfect example for my lesson on self-editing.  Now, at the risk of further embarrassing myself, I will share my revelation.

Absolutely: I absolutely hate overusing this word.
            First Draft = 18; Current Version =   2
Actually: When I speak, I actually use this word far too often, and it's crept into my writing.
            First Draft = 89; Current Version =   2
Certainly: I certainly never imagined this word would be such a problem for me.
            First Draft = 22; Current Version =   1
Completely: My discovery has completely flummoxed me.
            First Draft = 22; Current Version =   2
Constantly: I must constantly search for this wicked little monster as I self-edit.
            First Draft =   5; Current Version =   1
Continually: I continually instruct my clients not to pile on the adverbs.
            First Draft =   3; Current Version =   1
Finally: I finally realize what an overused crutch this word is.
            First Draft = 79; Current Version =   7
Frankly: Frankly, we need this word far less often than we think.
            First Draft = 11; Current Version =   1
Hopefully: Hopefully, I've long understood the evil of this word.
            First Draft =   2; Current Version =   1
Incredibly: Incredibly, some writers insist on employing this lazy worker.
            First Draft =   4; Current Version =   0
Just: Oh no!  That first draft number just can't be right.  It just has to be a mistake.
            First Draft = 555; Current Version = xxx (Ah geez, don't even ask.  Back to work I go.)
Merely: I merely toss this in as an alternative to the word "just."
            First Draft = 34; Current Version = 13 (Still thinking about a few of those)
Naturally: Many writers naturally gravitate toward stating the obvious.
            First Draft = 13; Current Version =   2
Obviously: I obviously get far too lazy while creating my first drafts.
            First Draft = 14; Current Version =   1
Rather: I rather like this word; thus, I must exercise great caution in using it.
            First Draft = 36; Current Version =   4
Really: I really fall back on this word too much—really.
            First Draft = 94; Current Version = 26 (Still sounds like a lot)
Simply: I simply must learn to tighten up my prose on the first pass.
            First Draft = 35; Current Version =   6
Surely: Surely, you don’t expect me to stop using this gem.
            First Draft = 28; Current Version =   4
Totally: I totally understand why so many writers fall victim to adverbs.
            First Draft =   2; Current Version =   0
Unfortunately: Unfortunately, all we can do, once we make these mistakes, is fix them.
            First Draft =   2; Current Version =   0

Well, that was fun!  I should point out that many (a majority, in fact) of those adverbs remain in my manuscript because characters use them in dialogue, where they're occasionally more acceptable.

'Til next time, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

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