Should You Cut Out All Your Adverbs?

Adverbs create controversy. Seriously.

Those words that modify verbs, and usually end in “ly,” are much loved by some readers and authors and hated by others, who advocate for cutting as many as possible.

Stephen King v. J.K. Rowling

In his book On Writing, Stephen King said he was convinced the “road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Hemingway, well-known for his spare writing, rarely used them.

On the other hand, J.K. Rowling's hugely popular Harry Potter series uses tons of adverbs. As do her mysteries under the Robert Galbraith pen name, which I love. (Some say the liberal use of adverbs is part of what led to the reveal that Galbraith was Rowling.)

While part of it is style, the best rule I've found for adverbs is to ask the same question I ask about any other word: Do I really need it?

Read on for how the rule works in key parts of a novel.

Stronger Verbs Need Fewer Adverbs

When adverbs arise from lazy writing, they can become distracting or annoying to readers. One form of lazy writing, in my view, is using an adverb plus a verb where a verb alone can do a better job.

For example, using any of the verbs below in place of walked slowly creates a faster, more powerful read:

  • hurried
  • rushed
  • strode
  • raced

So when editing your novel, ask yourself if you can replace a verb + adverb with a single verb, especially one that creates a more vivid picture.

The latest, and my favorite, Robert Galbraith novel. While as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, that doesn’t change what books I love or recommend or the price to you.

Avoid Redundant Adverbs

Adverbs that repeat what the verb conveys can also drag down your writing.

Examples:

  • ambled slowly
  • shouted loudly
  • whispered softly
  • raced swiftly

If you remove those adverbs, you'll lose nothing and make your book a faster read.

Using Adverbs For Clarity Or Emphasis

Sometimes an adverb is the perfect word. Or the only word.

For instance, a character can whisper, speak in a normal tone, or shout. But there isn't a verb that falls in between the whisper and normal tone, so you might use the dialogue tag said softly or say the character spoke quietly. (You might use the verb murmur, but that has some connotations beyond the volume.)

Similarly, while a character can sing, hum, or chant, I can't think of any verb that conveys the volume of any of those three different actions.

Adverbs can also be used for emphasis.

Above I used the phrase “exactly the same thing.” Some (probably Hemingway) would argue that's redundant. After all, you can't be inexactly the same. It's the same or it's not.

Others (maybe Rowling) would say exactly serves a key purpose. It emphasizes the importance of the point. It's more dramatic. I'm making a point that these two things are not just the same, they are exactly the same.

Dialogue and Dialogue Tags

Just as verbs alone can create a more vivid scene for the reader, well written dialogue and/or action can be a stronger way to convey your characters' feelings.

“Cut it out,” she said tells us as much or more about how the speaker feels than: “Please stop what you are doing,” she said angrily.

The following also conveys anger in strong, vivid way: “Stop it.” She slammed her hand on the table.

If it would take multiple words to describe the character's actions or put a phrase into context, though, it might be quicker and more compelling to use an adverb. “I love you,” he said sadly tells us a lot right away about the relationship between speaker and the listener.

In contrast to figuring out whether you need an adverb or not, how many adverbs you use within dialogue depends mainly on each specific character.

In my Q.C. Davis series, one of the protagonist's friends uses adverbs a lot for emphasis, drama, and because it's a bit of a verbal tic. Quille, the protagonist, speaks in plainer, less wordy sentences. If she uses adverbs, it's usually as part of a wry observation about something. (Genre also affects dialogue, but that's the subject of a different article.)

When To Think About Adverbs

I try not to think too much about adverbs when I'm writing a first draft. I prefer to get the words down on the page as quickly as possible, which means not stressing over each word choice.

Also, when I focused on avoiding adverbs in early drafts my characters tended to be less developed. Mostly because I knew less about how they felt.

For most writers, it works better to deal with adverbs during the line editing process, which I typically do during my last major revision. That's when I do my best to eliminate unnecessary words, including adverbs.

You can look specifically for adverbs by using Crtl-F to search for ly. That catches most adverbs and has the added benefit of making you aware how often you use them.

That's all for today. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

Creating A Series Bible

Today I'm working on something I should have done, or at least started, a year and a half ago: a series bible.

A series bible is what it sounds like. One place where you keep everything you'll need to remember from one book to the next in your series.

But what should it include and what's the best way to create it?

What Should Be In Your Series Bible?

What to include varies with the genre of your series, but most topics fall into three general categories:

  • Characters
  • Settings
  • Styles

Characters

The character section or sections of the Bible usually includes multiple sub-categories. Below are few ideas. You may add more or drop some that for you feel unnecessary:

  • Appearance
  • Health
  • Family
  • Other Key Relationships
  • Habitual ways the character speaks (style or subject matter or both)
  • Work
  • Education
  • Key character traits
  • Backstory
  • Religion
  • Greatest Fears, Desires, Regrets
  • Current and past residences

Here's part of mine for Quille C. Davis, the protagonist in my Q.C. Davis series:

Chart of Recurring Characters for Q.C. Davis Mystery/Suspense Series

One tip I picked up from Author Lorna Faith in her article on the topic is to split out lists of characters. For example, you could have one for main characters and one for secondary characters.

I've started splitting mine by recurring characters, characters that appear in each specific book only, and characters that the short stories features. (I write short stories that fit between the novels to explore side character and side plots. Those stories are available to newsletter subscribers as a bonus.)

Setting Subcategories

Settings also may include sub-categories and may need to be quite extensive depending on what type of book you're writing. Here are a few:

  • Settings for specific scenes (such as a coffee shop, your character's home, a cave)
  • Locations (such as a particular city, country, planet)
  • Timeframe (especially key with historical fiction)
  • World-building  (special powers and other special rules of the world, history, culture)

At first I thought I'd just remember settings because my Q.C. Davis series is set for the most part in present-day Chicago where I live.

But now that I am on my third novel and am about to write the third short story, I've discovered details aren't so easy to recall.

Does Quille's favorite cafe have a fireplace? Is her friend Joe's condo in Chicago's West Loop or River North neighborhood? Did I talk about how Chicago streets are laid out on a grid before?

Style And Consistency

Tracking your styles to ensure you are consistent can help both your writing and your marketing.

Style includes how you name, format, and spell certain key things. Within your stories, you'll want to be consistent in things like whether you italicize names of books or movies characters mention. Also, how you spell a character's name. (I kept forgetting if a character names Carole Ports uses the “e” at the end or not.)

Style matters for marketing, too.

As I'm setting up the preorder for The Fractured Man, Book 3 in my series, I realized Book 1 on Kobo had the series name as “Q.C. Davis” and Book 2 as “Q.C. Davis Mystery”.  On another platform one of the books was missing a sub-title.

Nothing like making it harder for your readers to find the books!

Creating And Formatting Your Bible

I'm using tables in Word to save my information, but there are lots of options.

You might prefer other programs like Srivener, which has many options for creating bulletin boards and categories, or spreadsheets on a program like Excel. You could also hand write pages and put them in a binder, use index cards, or create a chart on posterboard on your wall.

The key is what will make it easiest for you to find the information you want quickly.

I suspect I'll eventually print the separate Word tables and put them into a tabbed binder. The Word doc will be good for searching for particular terms. The paper binder will be good for paging through for ideas or reminders.

One last tip: Color coding by book or story is a great way to remember when you introduced a particular character, setting, or fact.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about when (and when not) to use adverbs

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you're struggling with fleshing our your characters, you might find my book Creating Characters From The Inside Out helpful. It comes in workbook and ebook editions.

Creating A Healthier Home Office

The more time I spend writing and working in my home office, the more my physical surroundings affect my body and well-being. This article shares some things that help me feel better and lessen aches and pains as I write.

First, a quick caveat:

I’m not an occupational therapist or other health professional. Below are products that help me, but you should do your own research, and consult with a professional if you need to, to figure out what works best for you.

Also, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t add any cost to you. And I don’t recommend anything I don’t personally like or find useful.

An Adjustable Chair

A few months ago I started having a lot of lower back pain.

That was partly due to an injury, but as I worked through it in physical therapy and my back improved, I started noticing that I had the most problems after I wrote for long stretches.

That really shouldn’t have been a surprise, because I was using an old wood dining chair at my desk instead of an office chair. The dining chair wasn’t tall enough for my keyboard. (Generally, articles I’ve read on ergonomics state that your hands should be roughly even with your elbows when you're typing.) It also was completely stationary, so when I moved it didn't move with me. Instead, I was twisting my back.

After a lot of research, I settled on this black mesh office chair from The Container Store for $199.

I found it a bit challenging to put together but not too bad. No special tools needed.

One thing I really liked about assembling it myself is that I was able to leave the arms off of it. I like to be able to sit close to my desk and chair arms usually get in the way.

The height is adjustable using a lever at the chair's base. That’s the most important feature for me. There’s also a feature for tilting the chair forward and back.

The one drawback is that the back of the chair is not quite right for my lower back, which is why I use a pillow with it. My low back pain, however, has almost completely disappeared since using the chair, so I think it was a good choice for me.

I recommend trying out any chair before you buy it. Though I ordered this one from The Container Store online, I sat in it several times in the store near me first.

A Separate Monitor

The other thing I was doing that was not at all good for my neck was typing on my laptop without a separate monitor.

That meant I was looking down all the time.

I realized that my neck was bothering me more than it had when I was practicing law full time. The major difference was that at my law office, I had a separate monitor and in my home office I didn't.

The height of the HP monitor I bought for about $120 (with tax) is easily adjustable by placing my hands on either side of the monitor and sliding it up and down. This makes a big difference because I easily set it so that what I’m writing or viewing is at eye level.

I don’t need to look up or down.

Because the screen is wider than my laptop's, the print is large enough that I don't tend to push my head forward to read.

The sound of the monitor is a bit tinny, something that a couple reviews of it warned me about. That doesn’t matter to me, though, because the sound quality of my laptop is good, so I just use that. Also I bought the monitor for word processing, using spreadsheets, and working online, not for gaming or anything else that requires excellent sound or graphics.

In my view, buying the monitor saved me money because I need fewer massages and fewer chiropractic visits to stay out of pain.

A Foam Roller In Your Home Office

Foam RollerI discovered foam rollers when I was in physical therapy years ago for my neck stiffness and pain. It felt so good to lie on the roller the long way with my arms out and to do other exercises with it that I bought one of my own.

I got mine at Athletico Physical Therapy. I take breaks every 35 minutes or so when I write, and I use the foam roller once or twice a day during a break to stretch.

Here’s a video showing some of the stretches I do. I do the first and the third shown on the foam roller. (Again, remember, this is not medical advice.)

You can also find foam rollers on Amazon or other websites.

Separate Keyboard And Mouse

Many people also find it helpful to have a separate keyboard from their laptops or an ergonomic keyboard for whatever computer they are using.

This is my Microsoft Natural Keyboard:

Microsoft Natural Keyboard

When I type on it, my elbows are out away from my sides. My hands also are angled rather than being straight out in front of me. I’ve read that this position is far more natural for our bodies.

It takes a bit of practice to get used to where the keys are and how to hold your arms. Once I did, though, I found this keyboard so much more comfortable than a regular one.

I also use a Kensington ergonomic mouse with a track ball. Sometimes I switch it from one side to the other to vary my hand position.

These are just a few ideas you can try to improve your home office set up. The key is experimenting and paying attention to how your body feels.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday when I'll talk about creating a Series Bible —

L.M. Lilly

How Free Time Increases Productivity

As my many productivity articles suggest, I lean towards scheduling my work tasks in advance. It helps me focus and cut down on the time I spend each day trying to decide what to do next.

But free time matters too.

In fact, planning unscheduled time in each day (another tip I picked up from the book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours) can help you get more done and feel less stressed.

How does scheduling free time help you get more done? In three ways:

  • It makes room for unexpected tasks
  • You can pursue ideas that excite you in the moment
  • It opens time to consider the big picture

Free Time For The Unexpected

One reason to reserve free time in your work day or writing schedule is that things always come up that you didn't expect.

It might be something you wish you didn't need to do but that's vital.

Maybe your boss throws a new project at you. Or a longtime customer calls with a complaint. Perhaps you discover an article is due a week earlier than you thought or you miscalculated how much time you’d need to finish a manuscript before sending it to an editor.

We tend to treat these types of things as aberrations. But unexpected issues and tasks pop up at least once a week if not once a day.

If you don’t have open time in which to do them, you’ll need to spend even more time rearranging your other work. And/or you’ll find yourself working late or on weekends too often. (Something that I did a lot in my law practice. (I really wish I’d found Extreme Productivity back then. It explains so many of the issues I had.)

Planning time to deal with the unexpected makes work and writing much less stressful.

What Excites You Right Now

On a happier note, scheduling dedicated free time (I know, that’s an oxymoron but you know what I mean) also allows you to follow up on that thing that catches your attention and excites you.

Generally I’m a fan of putting my head down and doing the work, whatever that work is.

It’s how I've finished multiple novels. I don’t wait until I feel like writing, and I don’t stop writing if I feel a little frustrated or tired.

But spending your entire work life that way is wearing. And it’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to never go off on a tangent. That's part of what keeps life interesting and fun.

For example, a new story idea hits you that you're superexcited about right now. If you've got just 15 minutes set aside  in your day as free time, you can jot down your thoughts or write a few paragraphs.

Odds are that after you do you'll feel refreshed and more able to focus on your other work.

The Big Picture

Open time each day also ensures that you have time to think beyond just getting your day-to-day work done.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t add any cost to the buyer.

When I was running my law practice I typically scheduled every hour, cramming in as much as I possibly could. In the long run, I spent so much time grinding through each day that I never stepped back to ask myself if this was the type of practice (and life) I’d hope to create when I went out on my own.

As a result, while I liked running my own firm, after several years I discovered I had many of the same problems. Too much work and stress. Too little time to relax or write. Not enough of the types of legal work I enjoyed most.

I’ve heard from many authors who get into a similar position.

In their push to turn out multiple books so that they can earn a living, they lose track of the love of writing that drew them to the profession in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with working hard to get to where you want to be. But reserving some free time allows you to consider where you are, how you feel about your work and your life, and what you might do differently for greater happiness.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about setting up a healthier home office —

L. M. Lilly

How And Why To Batch Your Writing Tasks

If you batch tasks–rather than schedule them–you can get more done, save time, and lower your stress level.

I recently figured that out when I started batching the steps that go into writing and publishing articles for this website, and I'm so glad I did.

Working Too Hard On Weekly Tasks

If you're like me you probably schedule weekly time to accomplish projects or tasks that recur once a week. That approach causes duplication of effort and eats into your free time.

For example, I publish an article here every Friday. Until recently that meant that around the middle of every single week I did the following tasks:

  • decided on an article topic
  • researched the topic
  • opened Word and outlined the article
  • signed into Canva.com and opened my title graphic template
  • created and downloaded a title graphic

Then every Friday, I did the following:

  • opened Word and revised the article
  • signed into this website and created a new post
  • pasted the article from Word into the website
  • opened the website photo library and uploaded the title graphic
  • inserted the title graphic into the article
  • formatted the article
  • revised, previewed, and published the article

Each week this work took me 4-5 hours, meaning I spent 16 to 20 hours a month.

Batch Your Tasks To Save Steps (And Time)

Batching rather than scheduling means grouping your tasks by type.

Last month I started batching the work. Rather than focus on a week at a time, the last week of the month I accomplished similar tasks relating to writing all 4 of the following month's articles.

On the last Monday of the month I now do these things:

  • brainstorm and choose 4 topics for the next month (.5 hours)
  • research articles (.5 hours)
  • Open Word and outline the articles (1 hour)

Last Tuesday of the month:

  • sign into canva.com and use title graphics template to create 4 title graphics and download all of them (.5)
  • sign into the website, upload all 4 title graphics at once, create 4 posts   (included below)
  • open Word and copy article outlines into each post, inserting appropriate title graphic in each (.5)

Then on each Friday of the following month I do the following:

  • sign into this website and write that week's article based on the outline (1)
  • format, revise, preview, and publish the article (1)

While I could write all the articles in advance, I find I get burned out trying to do that and don't enjoy the process as much, so I prefer to write one per week. That also gives me flexibility to choose among the 4 topics based on what might be timely or might be taking my interest at moment.

That’s 11 hours per month (3 hours advance work and 2 hours per week per article). Which means batching saved me between 5 and 9 hours per month.

There are other advantages to batching, too.

More Energy

Jumping from one type of task to another means changing your way of thinking.

For most of us, that means getting tired more quickly.

With my old way of doing things, publishing an article a week meant I was often switching between creative work like generating ideas and writing first drafts, performing administrative functions like opening programs and uploading and downloading files, using the visual part of my mind to create and revise graphics and format text, and employing my analytic skills for choosing topics, researching, and revising.

By immersing myself in one type of task at a time I not only avoid repeating administrative tasks (like uploading graphics), I feel much less fatigued. That leaves me more energy to write, accomplish other goals, and enjoy life more.

Less Stress

I also feel less stressed.

Switching from one type of task to another makes me feel like I am figuratively running all over the place. Doing the same thing for a longer time but only once feels less intense.

Also, now there are a lot fewer moments when I'm tapping my fingers on the desk waiting for a website to open, file to download, or the Save function to work. (Isn't that something how quickly we expect everything to happen these days?)

That's all for this Friday. Until next week, when I'll talk about the value of reserving unscheduled time in your day

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on getting more done with less stress, check out Extreme Productivity (Part 4 – Less Stress).