I would imagine I’m not alone in saying that I’ve done a fair bit of gardening in the past few weeks. The weather’s been great, and we’ve been at home – perfect timing. But as I struggle to get rid of the goosegrass (a menace) and clumps of grass growing where they shouldn’t, I realise that I’m not going to be complimented on my weeding. Lovely display of flowers or beautiful lawn are the comments that may be forthcoming. However, no-one’s going to say Well done on clearing all those weeds; that border looks so much better.
So, what has my weeding to do with writing, you might be asking.
I think there’s a parallel between tidying the garden and editing your writing. It’s the little things that matter, that you will know about, but your reader won’t. Once they’ve gone, those little things, your writing will be so much better. Your readers will read a piece that flows better, without knowing why, and my family might admire my borders, not knowing how much goosegrass has gone 😊
Two of the “little things” are adjectives and adverbs.
Adjectives: I can remember being taught how to use adjectives at school – yes, that long ago. Then being told not to use them as a journalist. And then thinking I could use them again when I started writing stories. NO. The right adjective is perfect. But adjectives just for the sake of using them, thinking it will brighten up your nouns? Definitely NO.
In 1880, Mark Twain wrote: When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them, then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. (or weed, ed)
Adverbs: It’s all too easy to add adverbs to verbs. It doesn’t take much thinking about, does it? You come up with the verb and then add the adverb to say what you mean. NO. Adverbs weaken verbs. Far better to use a strong verb than a weaker verb and one of those awful ..ly words. He walked slowly. She spoke quietly. NO. Say what you mean. He strolled. She whispered.
If you are using an adverb, you have got the verb wrong. Kingsley Amis
Surely: the adverb of a man without an argument. Edward St Aubyn
One of my personal writing ‘weeds’ is the word but. When I was short-listed in the Wilbur Smith competition, I was fortunate to have my novel edited by literary consultant David Llewellyn. He started taking out the buts and then asked me to do the rest. I took out 833, leaving 1362: not too bad out of 115,000 words. That experience, though, has made me stop every time I’m about to type that word.
So, try to find out what your writing ‘weeds’ are and get rid of them.
Happy writing, stay safe, and enjoy your gardens or parks.