Adverbs are not your friend admonishes Stephen King, author extraordinaire.
I’m sure he’s right. The rule is that instead of using adverbs, writers are supposed to find a better verb: He walked silently. vs. He crept.
The problem with the rule is that it shuts down my writing. The feedback I usually receive about my first novel, “unprotected”, is that people love the characters, and they were so excited about the story that they couldn’t put down. I am incredibly flattered and grateful for their kind feedback. But I have never, ever had anyone compliment my writing itself.
My writing is adequate. It tells the story, it keeps people engaged, and I’m reasonably certain that it isn’t terrible. But I will never be accused of writing lyrical prose. I’m not even sure what that is.
In college I was an English minor for two quarters, until I could barely muster a B in a basic, required Intro to Poetry class. We had to write weekly papers analyzing poems, and I’ll be damned if I could ever find the point. It was an eight o’clock class, so the forces of nature were against me from the start. But when I got a D on a paper with the professor commenting that I had completely missed the theme, I knew I was in trouble and stuck with my Psychology major.
For me, writing is not about which words I put on the page. It is about the characters and telling their stories. As a child protection social worker, there is so much in my job that is unresolved, or if resolutions come, they may be much different than I had hoped. So I wanted to tell a painfully real story with compelling characters, and I wanted to demonstrate that even if Bad Things happen, people can survive.
While I am deeply grateful to be published, and especially to my supporters who read my book and shared it with others, I wonder if this is really what I was working toward. Did I really need people to read what I wrote? If a book’s only home is on my laptop, does it really exist at all?
During the 12 years it took to write my novel, I gave very little thought to whether anyone would ever read it. I’m sure that many writers want to be the next J.K. Rowling, and yep, making gazillions doing what I love to do would be awfully nice. But I can honestly say that I didn’t write this book for anyone but me. There was a story in my head that spilled out onto paper, and that could have been the end of the story.
I am halfway through the sequel to “unprotected”, and I’m having a blast figuring out what comes next. Getting the story on paper out of my head and onto the page is where the satisfaction comes, and knowing that has given me permission to just write. I don’t need to worry about being a bit too cliche, or about how I should be finding the better verb. The critic in my head doesn’t care about those things. What I want is to let the words find their way to the page and develop my story. Adverbs and all.
P.S. If you are keeping track, dear reader, you will find 17 adverbs in this post alone. And that makes me immeasurably happy, Mr. King.