Sunday, March 15, 2009

Putting Your Writing on a Diet

I was watching The Biggest Loser the other day, watching Jillian Michael scream at her team when they fell off the wagon calorie-wise, watching the women cry and the men sulk, and it occurred to me (as I sat there eating my bowl of chocolate mint ice cream) that writing is a lot like dieting.

Sound crazy to you? Well, consider it this way. Think of that bowl of ice cream in terms of calories where every spoonful equals 16 calories. Eat 16 spoonfuls (one cup) and you’ve ingested 256 calories, or just slightly over12% of the daily recommended caloric intake for an adult. An occasional bowl of ice cream is a comfort no one should deny. But eat 16 spoonfuls on a daily basis and you’ll soon notice the arrow creeping upward on your bathroom scale.

Now think of adjectives and adverbs in terms of spoonfuls where every spoonful equals 16 words. Just as Mary Poppins claimed that "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down", a spoonful of adjectives and adverbs can make a story more palatable, but only if sprinkled judiciously chapter by chapter. Toss 16 spoonfuls into every chapter and you’ll end up fighting the battle of the bulge when it comes to editing your novel.

If you want to be successful as a writer, it only makes sense to count your words as carefully as you count your calories. Adjectives and adverbs make for fat books, but all that wordiness can detract from the plot, the protein that gives real life to your tale.


  1. Love this post, Mary. What brand of ice cream?
    What would a romance novelist do for a love scene without adjectives, though? I learned the word turgid and other good vocabulary from reading those when I was younger. A few adjectives are fun...

  2. I swim just so I can feed my ice cream addiction without porking out.

    Anyway, nice way of putting this.