The over-use of -ly adverbs

Let’s face it, editing is painful. We have to cut words we love, hack them out of our precious manuscripts and wave goodbye. For some authors, it’s an impossible task. They simply can’t delete those words that make their writing untenable. You don’t want to be one of those people.

If you are a crusader for exceptional prose, take some time to review the ly words lurking in your pages. What’s the problem with words ending in ly? Most of them are adverbs and most adverbs are unnecessary. They clutter sentences with redundant information and make for sloppy writing. Need an example? Here’s one from William Zinsser that I find useful:

“Don’t tell us that the radio blared loudly – “blare” connotes loudness. Don’t write that someone clenched his teeth tightly – there’s no other way to clench teeth.”

When it’s time to tackle the chore of editing for ly words, take advantage of the find function to easily locate them. In all cases, give thoughtful consideration to whether the adverb is conveying a sensory experience, or whether they’re redundant synonyms. Culling the ly adverbs down to a reasonable few will make your prose tighter, more powerful, and easier to read.

As with every rule, there are exceptions. Not all adverbs are bad in every case. If an adverb describes what needs to be said better than finding a more descriptive verb, then by all means, use it. The goal is to use the best tool for the job at hand.