Sunday, April 10, 2011

Guest Post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

On Editing and Pesky Adverbs

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 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. fiction, 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 edits, consults, and speaks on issues of publishing. Learn more about her other authors' aids at where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on editing at and all things publishing (not just editing!) at She tweets writers' resources at