How to Write Really Good / Lesson 1: Adverbs

I was writing the first draft of a poker piece for publication and this sentence showed up on the screen…

When Bob said, “I raise…” the limper and I folded nearly simultaneously before he could say a number.

The next time I came across that sentence, I deleted “nearly.”

When Bob said, “I raise…” the limper and I folded simultaneously before he could say a number.

That’s an improvement, wouldn’t you say?

I’ve read lots of books and articles about how to write better. Some teachers suggest that you review every adverb to see if it is helping or hurting the sentence. Others loathe adverbs and say kill them all.

Having now deleted thousands of adverbs over the years and watched my sentences brighten every time, I’m now in the “use with extreme caution” camp.

One could ask, “If you have deleted so many adverbs, then why do they keep showing up in your first drafts? Why don’t you not write them in the first place?”

It’s because my first drafts don’t count. I’m just trying to capture ideas as they whisper by, using whatever words fly out, adverbs and all.

It’s still shocking to me how powerful a deleted adverb can be. As with the sentence that prompted me to write this post. We left off here:

When Bob said, “I raise…” the limper and I folded simultaneously before he could say a number.

Now watch this:

When Bob said, “I raise…” the limper and I folded before he could say a number.

That, to me, is the joy of writing. Throwing shit out. And liking what’s left.

 

 

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