After I wrote yesterday’s review of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, I went to my copies of The Golden Book on Writing and The Elements of Style to find out what they had to say about verbs.
As expected, they also recommend that you avoid adverbs and pick out more specific verbs. I’ve heard this advice many times and all it has resulted in is that I remove most “very”, “really” and “pretty” intensifiers before I publish. I don’t take the second step, which should have been to find better nouns and verbs. This leaves my sentences imprecise and boring. The advice failed me because it didn’t come with any instructions. They just dropped a few examples and figured you’d get the idea.
Natalie Goldberg uses one sentence to say that you should use better verbs and then spends the next few pages showing you exactly how to do that. She gives you an exercise that will train you to think up more precise verbs. More importantly, it’s kind of fun. Like a game.