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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Potent Writing: Ditch Adjectives and Adverbs When You Can Do Better

I just edited a poetry anthology and here’s the #1 lesson I took from it (and the same lesson applies to writers of all kinds): We tend to use adjectives and adverbs when our writing would be more potent without them.

When you run across either modifier, see if you can use an image (a simile or metaphor) to better illustrate your meaning and avoid adjectives.
Inspect every adjective. Are they meaningless? Words like “magnificent” and “awesome” call up no picture at all unless they’re used in an unusual way. “Magnificent Obsession” would have once qualified as creative use of an overblown adjective. Now it’s merely something someone else has used. Similarly, see if you can strengthen your verbs so you can eliminate adverbs.

In my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor ( , you will find examples of how to turn adverbs into metaphorical gold, too.

PS: I'm including a widget for a small and inexpensive (Frugal!) chapbook of my poetry, Cherished Pulse. Notice how rarely either my writing partner Magdalena Ball and and I use adjectives and how we (almost?) never use adverbs.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at 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 all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.
Find me tweeting writers' resources at And please tweet this post to your followers. We all need a little help with editing. (-:

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