Morris Men & Hoovering The Lawn

Flying EarsHello and I hope all my UK readers (ooh, get me) are having a good bank holiday with some SUNSHINE!

The sun has just come out here and later I’m hoping to get up to the village green to see the crowning of the May Queen and King and, more importantly, the frolicking of the Morris Men!

I have got problems with my internet connection – aagh – it’s slower than a paralytic snail, to coin a phrase I heard this week – and I can’t download photos and stuff. Hence no photo with this post, but I will add one in later. The nice man is coming from BT on Wednesday to sort it out, (hopefully).

When you haven’t got internet access, or you ‘barely’ have it, doesn’t it make you realise how dependent you are on the whole inter-web thingy?

Thursday last week was a busy day for me. I had my writing class at lunchtime and in the evening I lead a 2 hour workshop for Hall Green Writers, in Birmingham, which I had rashly described as ‘Adding Sparkle to Your Writing’. No pressure, then.

I packed it full of exercises and hoped that everyone would find something to help with their ‘sparkle’.

One of the first – and I suppose, most obvious – things I talked about was cutting out ‘woolly words’ and that includes too many adjectives and adverbs.

I see this a lot in the poetry I mark. People think that lots of adjectives will bring their work to life when in truth, the opposite is usually true: it weakens your writing. The reader can only take in so much. One or two carefully-chosen adjectives, in poetry or prose, are much more effective. Think of adjectives like chillies in cooking: less is more!

So, I gave the Hall Green writers a tricky exercise. They had 5 minutes to write about their journey to the class that evening, without using a single adjective or adverb. The results were impressive (and they sounded very ‘Hemingway-esque!): sparse, terse writing (ooh, there I go with 2 adjectives of my own, when one would have done!) and no flannel.

Then I allowed them just ONE adjective or adverb, so they had to choose carefully.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the number of adjectives and adverbs you use in your writing. As most adverbs end in ‘-ly’, if you do a ‘find –‘ly’ search on Word, it will pick them all up (and of course, if your main character’s called ‘Sally’ or ‘Billy’, it will pick all those up too!).

Right, I’m off to vacuum the lawn. It’s covered in pods/spore things from the tree in our garden and the puppy keeps EATING them – despite our best efforts to stop her. Do you think I could hoover them up??! I’m going to try anyway..

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11 Responses to Morris Men & Hoovering The Lawn

  1. Christine Steenfeldt says:

    I like the exercise-I’m part of a writing group and we take it in turns to lead the meeting and set a writing exercise. Do you mind if I borrow yours? Vacumming the lawn! Interesting. I wonder what your neighbours wil think!

    • Christine, the neighbours already think I’m mad, so no worries there! (and it did work, by the way, but then the extension cable wouldn’t reach any further down the garden, so I had to give up!!). Of course you can use the exercise – it’s not really ‘mine’ – I’m sure I read it somewhere else too! Have fun.


  2. Wendy Clarke says:

    I think this is a very interesting, masterful, informative and writerly post that I enjoyed immensely and greatly. I hope that your students got a lot out of your ingenious, stimulating and of course sparkling course. I hope you thoroughly and predictably enjoy the rest of this wonderful and surprisingly beautiful and sunny bank holiday! P.S Enjoyed your Writing Magazine post.

  3. Tracy Fells says:

    I really hope you were using one of those leaf-vacs to vacuum the lawn Helen! You are absolutlely (oops there’s one) spot on about overuse of adjectives and adverbs. I love adverbs and let my adverb goddess go wild on the first draft, then when she’s not looking I whip them all out again on the edit. It makes for a peaceful life.

  4. Sounds a good sparkle game. Hope puppy learns to stop eating the wrong things… you should wear a funny hat to hoover the garden to entertain the neighbours a bit more:))

  5. Debbie W says:

    Those pod/sport things are a real nuisance. I’d recently dug over the allotment at the bottom of our garden and next day, it was covered in those things. So annoying as I do prefer the minimalist look.

    Thanks for the reminder about adjectives and adverbs. Have noted above you’re happy for us to use your exercise and I will point others to your blog post about it.

    Yes I’m having a fine bank holiday. Spent today worrying sheep in Derbyshire (actually it was me that was more worried but that’s another story).

    All the best
    Debbie W
    follow me on Twitter @EWGCompetition

  6. Jackie Sayle says:

    If I’d known you were in Hall Green, I’d have popped along to meet you; it’s not that far from me.

  7. I like the chillies in cooking analogy (almost as much as the concept of vaccuuming the lawn).

  8. Linda says:

    Hope your internet problem has been sorted out. It’s scary how dependent we all are on something that didn’t even exist when I started writing.
    Thanks for sharing your writing exercise. It was the prompt I needed to help me shorten a story that was too long for the intended market. I hadn’t noticed how many adjectives and adverbs I’d used until I cut them all out!

    • That’s good to know, Linda (that the exercise helped!). Yes, we have, today, got our internet sorted. Hurrah! I’ve been going up the wall…!


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