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Throw Out the Crutches
Saturday, January 10, 2015 by Cindy Sproles

I buggered up my knee. It wasn’t one of my more graceful moments and of all things, I let the competitive side of me win. “Let Grace have the chair. You don’t need to win the game.”

But noooo! I made a dash for sole surviving chair. It was between Grace and
me. . .Grace won. Me – well, I caught my boot on the carpet, sailed into the air, and landed like a half-ton of brick on my knees. Short version: torn ligament, broken patella. Needless to say, I needed crutches. I declined them and decided to push through, find better ways to walk and strengthen my knee.

Early in my writing career, I had writing crutches . . . words that, though they sounded really spiffy, were a lazy form of writing. I needed to push past them to improve. They were words that sounded well placed but, as time and experience taught, proved to make my writing stilted and wordy. I learned not to write to impress, rather, to write to improve.

Adverbs like actually,  literally, basically, soon began to weigh down my work. Worse yet, I realized I wasn’t using them correctly. These words do nothing for your sentence other than add to the word count and lessen the strength of the sentence.

Actually, she should have never gone with Joe to the market, can be improved by saying what is important. She shouldn’t have gone with Joe to the market. A vast improvement in sentence value – yes?

Literally is a word we tend to use figuratively  (Adverb used correctly, by the way).

I literally jumped out of my skin.

The truth is – I have yet to leave my skin crumbled in a pile on the floor where I literally, jumped out.  I jumped out of my skin. 

These pesky LY words do have a purpose, but we sometimes allow them to be the catch all or the crutch that prevents us from stretching our writing wings and developing our ability to write descriptively. There is a time and a place for these adverbs. Study and learn when and how to use them to your benefit rather than your demise.

Follow these tips to  strengthen your writing legs .  . .  and toss the crutches:

1) Sentences like this:

Basically, I can guide them down without written directions.
Actually, she traveled alone.
However, I must seek other opinion.

Are stronger without the adverb.
I can guide them without written directions.
She traveled alone.
I must seek other opinion.

2) Practice your writing skills. Dig deeper for a stronger, more descriptive way to write.

Go from this:
Fiercely, the pot lid shook as the water inside rose to a boil. Sweet memories gingerly floated in her mind of her momma. The water bubbled violently, popping onto her skin and burning her. Maddie closed her eyes, intentionally taking in a long breath and holding the scent of coffee in her lungs. Expectantly, bad memories seeped in from the past. Memories of a simpler time. Memories when things were better.

To this:

The lid of a brass pot popped up and down. Coffee bubbled and spit around its edges. Pictures of her mother slaving over a hot stove flashed through her mind. Splatters of hot liquid tingled against her skin. Maddie closed her eyes, tilted her nose upward, and took in a slow, intentional breath. Her lungs filled with the scent of coffee. Her mouth filled with saliva, and the bittersweet smell dragged back memories of a time past.  A time when life was simple.  A time when . . . well, a better time.

3) Learn and accept there are always better words. Keep a teachable spirit and never marry your words. There is always room for improvement. Always a better description or a clearer sentence.

4) Practice, practice, practice self-editing. Spend time sharpening these skills and you’ll be astounded at the improvement in your writing.

Writing is a process. One that requires continued study. Throw out the crutches and grasp hold of the determination to push through. You’ll be glad you did.

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