Have you ever sat down to work on your novel, only to have your fingers seize up and your imagination wither into a million atomic-seized particles? And was it because an adverb accidentally slipped out and you have no clue how to describe Becky’s great hair without saying it looked like a “tightly coiled halo of ringlets”?
If this is an accurate description of yourself, then you and I could be adverb soul mates! And if you’ve read On Writing by Stephen King, you will understand how much of a sin the adverb can be. Sorry, I said that wrong. It’s not a sin, but a hallmark of a bad writer.
And look, I’m gonna have to agree. It’s okay to use them sparingly, but if you search your WIP and can find more than 10,000 words ending in ‘ly’, then yes, you may have a problem, one that may even stop you writing completely if you obsess over it too much.
Writing rules are important, but there is nothing more draining to a writer’s creative process than trying to tiptoe around every single writing faux pas out there while trying to smash your writing goal of 1,500 words a day (okay, for me it’s more like 500 lol). One thing I’ve learned, writing rules and your imagination do not always go together unless you’re a freak of nature or Stephen King.
Most of us, especially beginners, will find it difficult to describe certain scenes with the vivid richness they deserve. There’s that epic final battle scene playing out in your mind’s eye, a dazzling sunset, the hushed, moody whispers of a forbidden forest or the baked, dry plains of a dusty wasteland. You can see it all with such clear imagery, yet the words will not come.
In situations like this, if you do try to write like Stephen King (a.k.a. in a ‘no-adverbs-in-sight manner’), then it’s very likely that writer’s block will be paying you a visit very soon. At least, I have discovered this happens to me whenever I start analysing every single word that is transmitted from my brain and onto the page.
How can you go about writing publishable material and still allow your imagination to go wild? How can you stop making writing a chore? Because, as ‘they’ say, the only way to improve your writing is through the act of writing itself – but if you keep getting stuck, then how will you ever get better?
What you need to do is remove the bars preventing your mind from running rampant and expressing what your heart is trying so desperately to convey – even if badly. Chuck Wendig tells us in his best writing article of all time, that the “first draft is for me. Second draft is for you.”
Your writing does not need to be perfect. You can let those adverbs be free. Tell yourself: this novel does not need to be a best seller. In fact, no one needs to read it at all.
I will let you in on a little secret. I often suffer from writer’s block: whether it’s a result of laziness, procrastination or the belief that my writing will never be good enough.
But all is not lost.
To combat writer’s block, at any one time I have about 20-30 stories on the go (of varying lengths). These stories will never be shared with anyone, ever. Not even my mum. I call them my ‘good old faithfuls’, some of which are nearly 15 years old.
When I’m wallowing in a pit of adverb despair, I simply pull up one of my good old faithfuls and go crazy. They are legit saved to a folder called ‘stories for fun’. A folder that I spend most of my weekends in, because who actually enjoys doing chores on the weekend?? Some are thrillers, some are fantasy, and some transcend any genre or boundary – because when there are no rules, you can do whatever the hell you want.
These days I can easily smash out 4,000 words in one session. And why? Because there are no expectations of greatness. I relish that sensation of writing without fear, of being able to explore scenarios and weird angles with an unabashed freeness that sings to my soul. I live for that feeling – and I know you do too.
Which is why I’m telling you to do the exact same thing: if you haven’t already, create a folder called ‘stories for fun’ and start writing that epic love story – or gory battle – that bleeds from your soul and fills your heart with glee. Your story may even be a continuation of one of your ‘good old faithfuls’ that you abandoned, long ago, for not being good enough.
This time around, with no writing rules in the way, you can dig deep into your imagination, finally uncover all those loose ends and new beginnings and dump them onto the keyboard with no thought at all. Don’t worry about plot or structure or if your characters are super lame and lacking in any considerable depth. Ignore all that. It’s not the point. Writing is the point. Your fingers will be flying, trust me.
Whatever you do, don’t think about how you’re taking away valuable writing time from your ‘real stories’, because when you’re writing freely and without fear, you write faster and you improve faster. The next time you return to your WIP, the one you want to publish, you may find that the adverbs have dried up and the clichés have been ground to dust. And if you do let one slip out? You will no longer curse your mind, but thank it.
Because what it does for you really is amazing, adverbs and all.