Writing - Pesky Adverbs or No?

Guest post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

We are often warned that adverbs can be overdone. Then writers take the warning too literally; they think they shouldn’t use any at all!

Of course, we wouldn't have adverbs if they didn't serve a purpose. But when we examine them—carefully (very carefully!) we often find that they duplicate a quality that the very has already achieved for us. That makes them redundant.

Or they are awkward. Or they slow down the forward movement of a sentence.

Authors also worry when an editor removes their adverbs. They think those edits will change their voices. Though an author can (and should) reject edits that he/she thinks aren't appropriate, these edits of adverbs rarely change a voice. Certainly voice isn't achieved by using adverbs or most other edits. It is achieved by much subtler elements of writing. Point of view. Use of colloquialism or slang. Choice of detail.

For the most part, I think most writers worry way too much on having their voice changed and not enough about improving their writing skills.

Having said that, I worry more about editors who don’t really have the training to be editors. Would an editor really remove all of a writer’s adverbs? And how would a new author know if an editor is overstepping if he/she doesn’t have lots of information on editing under his or her own little writers’ belt?

I do hope those of you who have been relying on an outside editor--someone you hired or a friend--will read the new second edition of The Frugal Editor. It includes lots on how to partner with an editor, how to save money hiring an editor, and how to hire one that is compatible with your personality and the kind of writing you do. Many good editors like Barbara McNichol ( specialize in specific genres, nonfiction vs. fictions, etc. Larry Brooks ( helps writers of fiction specifically with structure. Good editors know that it is hard to be an expert at everything.

Editing is a two-way street. There's gotta be some trust and also some confidence. The more an author knows about editing, the better equipped she or he is to discard or keep edits.

So, yep. Examine every adverby "ly" word. And then use each one to your advantage. Know the other adverbs (like “even” and “just”). There is a list in The Frugal Editor. Especially the ones you tend to overuse. Either discard each one or use one of the methods in The Frugal Editor to turn them into more visual writing.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the classes she has taught for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program.

The first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter was named USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book” and won the coveted Irwin Award. Now in its second edition, it’s also a USA Book News award winner and received a nod from Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards. Her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success was also honored by USA Book News and won Readers’ Views Literary Award. Her marketing campaign for that book won the marketing award from New Generation Indie Book Awards.

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of 14 women of “San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program

Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

It's always such a pleasure to be your guest, Karen. You do such a nice job for your guests. Of course, you take writers under your wing without break, so one wouldn't expect any less.


Heidiwriter said...

Excellent, Carolyn. By not relying on those "ly" words, writers can make their verbs and language much stronger, "showing" rather than "telling."

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, it's certainly my pleasure to feature you today!

Karen Cioffi said...

Heidi, that's so true. It's alwasy a good idea to keep an eye out for the "ly" words and "was."

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you for both, Carolyn and Karen, for sharing your experience and wisdom. It is a big help. Please know you are both appreciated very much.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, thank you for your very kind words! I'm so very glad that the information provided is useful!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Glad you dropped by. I always worry that because writers can write, that they tend not to believe they can learn more about editing! Sending hugs.