I was taught to hate it, abhor it, detest it to the very depth of my need-to-put-it-on-paper soul. If I saw an adverb creep into my writing, I had been instructed to remove it immediately rub it out as if it were a prose snitch, informing everyone that a lazy bastard, a writer too inept to locate a powerful verb, was selling them crap composition. Faulkner forbid an adverb made it into my writing workshop, every budding sentence builder in the house would note the folly, giving the offender a pitying shun, something that suggested “fucking amateur”.
It’s been seven years since I was last in an MFA program, but still, every time I write a word ending with –ly, I gag a little—a little out of self-loathing, more so from a fear that some knowing soul will see it. It’s a hardship every aspiring wordsmith must endure: Finding out what you’re doing is all wrong. I would like to say it dissipates as the years progress, but I recently read an article citing ten words or phrases that should no longer appear in travel writing, at least three of which I knew were in recent pieces I’d sent out. What can you do but find-and-replace”, repent for your word choice, and vow never to see a “bustling thoroughfare” again.
Alas, despite whatever dreams I once had, I’m not a writing professor, still don’t have a well-received collection of short stories that were snapped up and anthologized, but what’s worse is that, as an EFL teacher, I push my students to—readily, regularly, proudly—make use of the dreaded adverb. Rather than teaching them to spit in the face of action descriptors, to learn, as my mentors had taught me, to seek the correct verb, I show my students the right place to put their adverb. I make them practice using –ly words to add life to their speech, how to know when to say tragically instead of tragic.
Ironically, it’s laboriously dragged me lumbering into a new phase with my own writing, and I’m not sure how I feel or, even, how to feel about it. I’ve been forced to spend time with adverbs, to really consider them as words, just like any other word: with purpose, semantics, and Latin-Saxon roots like those others we cherish so lovingly. My life, my craft, my somewhat fictional profession has somehow managed to become an afterschool special: If I just give Suzie Q. Interestingly a chance, I might see she’s no better or worse than my other friends, made of letters, in need of good, healthy relationships.
Then, god, like everything else, once I gave old Suzie Adverb some respect, regardless of what my professors or workshop compatriots had to say about it, I began to, at the very least, appreciate that she had her own verbose identity. She increasingly began to crop up in my paragraph parties, not bothering anyone, still not exactly blending in. She’s become that kooky acquaintance who my friends (adjectives) and family (nouns) are smugly waiting to see prove them right: Adverbs are bad. For me, however, I must admit that sometimes I prefer running quickly to darting, dashing, or scurrying because, often, those other verbs just seem pretentious, working too hard to get attention from the in-crowd.