Ease up on -ly adverbs. Seriously.

When I first sought out tips as a newbie writer, number six on someone’s Ten Rules of Writing list hit me: Never use the word suddenly. Never.

That rule hung there like one of those do-not-remove tags on mattresses. I’ve broken the speed limits, told little white lies, and committed any number of venial sins without pause. But I have never removed the tag from the mattress, and I never use the word suddenly in my writing. Never.


Before you break into a panic remembering all the times you wrote the word suddenly, you should know that frequent use of the word suddenly has not been proven to cause cancer. Side effects such as headaches, nausea, frequent bowel movements and the inability to control them have also not been proven. However, there might be some editors who disagree.

Removing the word could result in better writing. Try it.

So, what about other -ly words? Do you often use an -ly adverb to modify said?

“Stop,” Sam said angrily.

How angry was he?

“Stop.” Sam shook his head at her and then walked away.

Or angrier?

“Stop.” Sam raised his fist, ready to strike.

Show, don’t tell. Those -ly adverbs don’t show, and they don’t tell me much either.

Take a highlighter and mark all the -ly adverbs in your manuscript. Then go back and ask yourself, can I write it a better way?

I think you can, and I know you’ll see a more active story.

For a closer look at your manuscript, visit I Spy Edits.

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