Avoiding the Proverbial Icing

Do I like to shop?  Occasionally.  But I tell you what, the last trip I made to the mall, I came away feeling dirty.  It was the Land of the Superfluous.  No offense to my teen, but it can all be summed up with this image:  a pink bejeweled phone case for the mini-computer I bought her for Christmas (to all unaware moms such as I: an I-phone is a movie-player, e-reader, arcade, quasi-Ipod, among other things, and it happens to also have phone capabilities).  Anyway, it was her birthday so I splurged on the shiny case.  As I wrote a friend later, I felt nauseous by the end of the day.  You see, shopping at the mall is like sitting down to a big bowl of icing.  It looks real yummy at first and you dig in with glee.  But after about that fifth bite you begin to feel a little sick.  Something’s not going to stay down, or it’s gonna come out real nasty (like that credit card bill).  You realize everything you’ve just eaten lacks any nutritional value.  It was a tease, a trick.   In fact, I’m the weirdo at the birthday party who turns her piece of cake upside down to avoid the icing.  I think a trait such as this makes for a good writer.  Why?  Because icing is like adverbs.  And having too many adverbs either in your prose or poetry is going to make your reader nauseous.  Adverbs may look good, they may modify the hell out of your verb or adjective, but they ultimately distract if too many of them are congregating around in your lines.  Don’t believe me?  Read Stephen King’s On Writing.  It’s a memoir of the craft, and with great wit he makes an outstanding case for why a writer should avoid using too many adverbs, if any at all.  The first time I realized that adverbs could detract from a poem was from Tom Lux, who said at a conference that he always “puts on his adverb glasses” when he’s done with his poem, and strikes out any and all that do not earn their right to exist in his lines.  The overuse of adverbs is a sign (sometimes of a writer in her early stages) that there’s a struggle going on.  Either the verb or adjective isn’t pulling its own weight, or the writer resorts to a modifier that appears, at first, (I’m sorry, here it comes) to be the icing on the cake.  But it’s not icing we want for our poems, it’s a homerun.  Although I know absolutely nothing about baseball (nor do I cook worth a damn), I do know what a homerun looks like, sounds like, and feels like, and I know when to pass on the sugary stuff.  So, next piece of work you’re proofing? Put on your “adverb glasses.”  Look for the icing.  Cut that sugary stuff from your diet.  You’ll live longer.  And so will your work.


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