The Editor’s Corner – The “Deadly” Adverb

It’s been 10 months since I did my first edition of The Editor’s Corner (a bonus piece, in fact), and I think it’s high time I gave it another go with my first official tip. Considering all the writing I’ve been looking at these days, well, I think there are a few things that need to be addressed.

When I was a professional editor, I got to review people’s writing before it was published, and I wound up seeing some common errors that beginners make.

These mistakes can make it more difficult to get published.

I thought it might be fun (or at least informative) for aspiring writers out there to get some tips from not only someone who is published, but also helped (and helps) others get their manuscripts ready for publishing.

So, here’s the first tip, tongue-in-cheek named:

Use adverbs sparingly. That doesn’t mean you can’t have one or two, but most of the time, there’s a much stronger way to say and show what you mean to your reader.

Here’s an example:

Instead of: “I wouldn’t do that,” Brett said calmly.

Try: “I wouldn’t do that.” Brett leaned back in his chair, arms loose by his side.

That’s it, cut your adverbs down and try building a stronger way to say what you mean. When you can’t do that, then maybe throw in an adverb now and then. For the most part, though, publishers will zero in on your use of adverbs and it will scream to them, “new writer ahead, unprofessional, unskilled.” Klaxons will sound in their heads and they are far less likely to take a risk on publishing your work.

NaNoWriMo is coming up this November. That’s just a little less than three months away now at the time of this writing. Time to hone your skills and get ready.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to eliminate the use of adverbs all the way down to one per 1,000 words. After that, try one every 2,000 words. Do this until you have rid yourself of that pesky gadfly.


Anne Hogue-Boucher likes to rid herself of adverbs as often as possible. You can read the results in her current works, and even follow her around on Twitter and Facebook.

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