Overthinking Writing

(Photo Credit to Terry B)

I remember when I first started creative writing— way back in the creative writing classes I took in junior high and high school. I took every one that the school offered. I wrote seamlessly, with words flowing from brain to paper, unfettered by the rules of writing that all writers come to know when they start working professionally. I rather miss those days—and I am determined to return to that carefree flow of words onto paper as I work on the first draft of my second novel, The Deceived.

It took three drafts of my first Montana Wylde Series book, The Purified before I was ready to show it to some beta readers. When I did, I received many helpful suggestions, most of which I took to heart. I used to be an actor so I have a thick skin; I learned to take constructive criticism during those days and I am still able to appreciate good critique of my work. A couple of my beta readers told me to watch how many adverbs I used. This was great advice; I had too many at that stage of the book. Too many can clutter a book and give it an amateurish feel. I’ve seen this—a good sentence can become muddied with adverbs.

For example, the proofreader who worked on my book was recently lamenting about a draft she was currently editing about the writer’s use of the phrase, ‘She nodded quietly.” This is a great example of a needless adverb—for one thing, its’ redundant. Nodding is not loud, so one would assume that “she nodded” would be sufficient. Same point, but uncluttered (and not redundant).

I do believe in using adverbs sparsely but good writing sometimes requires them. I purchased an app called Hemingway, whose selling point is to help writers compose sentences as clean as Hemingway did. It is a great app in many ways because it does point out hard to read sentences, or those that are too long, as well as writing using too many adverbs. In fact, the app is rigid in urging writers to remove all adverbs. While this is a good tip, you should not live and die by any app or even a beta readers suggestions. As people are fond of saying, take what you need and leave the rest.

The interesting thing about the Hemingway app is that about a year after purchasing it, I read a story about it in the New York Times. The writers of that article took a few pages of Hemingway’s own writing and it didn’t pass through the app’s rigorous testing, pointing out hard to read sentences and adverbs, which is the point I am trying to make. Hemingway is my own personal writer. Rarely do you see writing that moves the soul in such a clean and uncluttered away. When Faulkner critiqued Hemingway’s lack of “ten dollar words in his writing,” Hemingway replied, ““Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

He’s right but it is also important not to let rules bog you down. Write from your heart—and then get a good editor. That’s the key to success, I’m convinced. And that’s what I’ll do from this point forward.



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