"The road to Hell is paved with adverbs" says Stephen King, and just about every other truly great writer in the world. I agree. Adverbs are flabby and lazy. And hell yeah, I over-use them in every draft of all my manuscripts. Why, God, why?!? My poor editor and agent spend half their lives sighing and crossing them out. Just find an effective verb and there's no need to qualify! Come on, People! We must simplify! Say what we mean, tell the story and don't try to show off, because that makes for boring crap no reader has patience to still still long enough to wade through. So why do I keep adverb-ing it up? SLATE's Stephen Metcalfe explained his personal wrestling with adverbs on the CULTURE GABFEST so perfectly it made me sit in my car and cry. This is why I do the thing I know is lazy and icky: Writers, all artists I think, tend to have the fun problem of possessing a super healthy ego combined with crippling insecurity. "I made a thing I think people might love! Oh my God who do I think I am trying to write, I'm a ridiculous hack!" So we sit and write these stories all the while thinking how dumb we sound, which makes us try to tart our words up to sound smarter, which means right on cue here come the adverbs sneaking in to storm the beach at IMustNotBoreTheReaderWithMyStupidWordsville USA. Working against our inherent insecurity makes a mess our editors have to clean up. Well. Mine do, anyway. Here is how Metcalfe so perfectly expressed this problem and in a nutshell, why writing is so GD difficult:
“I think the great struggle of writing is you are placing your own stupidity on the page and maybe there are some people for whom writing is easy, but I doubt very many of them are good writers. And this mirror to your glaring stupidity sits in front of you in the form of your own prose. And you’re fighting against it in the other direction, and that often then creates false inflation and self-importance which rides most easily upon semi-colons and adjectives and adverbs. And it’s this attempt to alleviate yourself from your own intellectual ugliness that results in the pomposity of language that characterizes most bad writing by people who are otherwise capable of being good writers. So I understand the virtue of policing yourself in the other direction, placing yourself in this sort of murderous vice between banality, right? Writingthings that no one will want to read because they’reso self-evident, and inflated diction to cover up for the fear of banality. And somewhere in between you have to also try to make it sound like a normal human being conversing intelligently. And that’s why writing is fucking hard."
Yeah. It's fucking hard. It's so fun, and I'm compelled to write these stories down and nothing worth trying to do well is easy, and that's why. I feel good right now - I feel like it's true, that identifying an enemy is the first step to abolishing it. It's a good thing to remember - there are a million perfectly wonderful active, simple verbs just waiting to be used and not modified, qualified or anything-fied.
On another note, can I just say how, specifically speaking as a playwright, I feel that J.K. Rowling is a beautiful gift to the world? This week in bookshops all over the world, kids sat right down on the floor and starting reading a play script. A play script! For most of them, this would be the first time they'd done this, and I have a wonderful prediction: She's helping begin a new generation of playwrights. How many kids had no idea this was story-telling from of such beauty, all dialogue, all character-driven, humanity-driven storytelling? They have seen it, they're experiencing it, now they will become it. Theater, look the hell out. You're about to be fortune-full in approximately ten years and I cannot wait. J.K. Rowling, I could kiss you. I love you more than I can ever properly express. (People, you know she legit reads this blog day and night. Hey Jo! What's up, Girl?)
That's all for now. enjoy your summer, love each other well, and remember to tell adverbs to shut the hell up. Those jerks are not invited to our party anymore. Oh, here's the New York Magazine story Metcalfe was responding to. Jenny out.