Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Characteristics of a Lazy Writer

With this title, many of you might think I’m going to be blogging about time management.

And you’d be wrong.

The kind of laziness I’m referring to has to do with the use of your brain—not your time.

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I’m passionate about excellence in writing. And I don’t mind helping those who are willing to work to achieve it. I’ll patiently spend hours helping beginners learn the craft, but I have very little tolerance for those who insist on shortcuts and shoddy work . . . and then whine because they’ve been rejected.

Why bring this up? Because I wish someone had pointed out these pitfalls when I was just starting out.

So what are some habits of lazy writers?

First. is the use of clichés.
Dictionary.com defines clichés this way: 
  • A trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, impact by long overuse, such as – older by wiser, or – strong as an ox.
  • A trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
  • Anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.
A cliché encourages your reader to skim over what you’ve written. Clichés usually start out as a clever or wise saying. Because of this, many writers are tempted to use them as is. Instead take a few extra moments and consider the idea behind the cliché—and come up with an original and creative way to say the same thing.

Second, the habit of turning something in without proofing it.
I’ve been a member of many critique groups during my time as a writer and I’ve spent more years than I care to name as an editor. I can assure you, no one can write something perfectly the first time—I don’t care who they are or how long they’ve been writing. We all need to take a few extra minutes to check our work and weed out mistakes.

By not proofing your work—even if it’s just going to a critique partner—you are saying your time is too valuable and theirs too worthless to bother. That’s just plain rude.

Third, not staying on top of current trends.
English is a living language—unlike, say Latin. Because of that, it is continuing to grow and change. This is applicable to grammar, as well as to industry trends. The usage of commas, semi-colons and colons have changed, as have popular genres. That’s why we’re on the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. Just ten years ago, one of the easiest genres to sell was the Cozy Mystery, and the hardest was the Personal Memoir. Today the reverse is true.

I completely understand not being happy about the changing rules (I happen to miss the maligned semi-colon), but it’s part of the industry, and not liking it is no excuse for ignoring it.

Finally, fourth is the unwillingness to continue to learn and grow.
This industry is exciting and challenging, and no matter how long you've been a part of it, you still need to continue your education. I teach at a lot of conferences around the country and I’m frequently amused by writers who think they know it all—or at least all they need to know.

That kind of attitude will sound the death knell on your writing career.

I know this post may read like a diatribe on ignorance, but I mean it as a warning. I want each and every one of you to succeed as writers—whatever that looks like to you. And I’ve made so many of the mistakes above.

Yes, I’m still guilty of being a lazy writer at times. But I can assure you I’ll be much less likely to slip into bad habits now that I’ve written this post!

Now I’d like to hear from you. What are some things you wish you’d known sooner?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. My awesome mother used to say, "You learn something new every day." If it doesn't fall in my lap - as often it does - I go looking for "learn something new every day." New vocabulary, new information on publishing, new Linked In tidbits, new anything!

  2. So true, so true. I've done all those things, and more, and I hope I've learned from the disappointing results. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. I agree it's just plain rude not to critique your work, before a critique group. I don't want to waste their time with typos, etc. I need help on structure, story, etc. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Karen, Vonda and Stacy, thanks so much for the feedback! I re-read my post this morning in a panic. I was worried it was too strong and a little rude. You guys are the best!
    Blessings All - E

  5. Thanks for this important information, especially for newbies like myself.

    What suggestions do you have on keeping up with the trends in writing as they change? Is it talking to experienced writers, or reading a specific resource that changes as the industry does?

  6. Ellen, great question! I think it's all of the above. It's staying plugged in with writers who are also learning and growing - bringing back info from different writing conferences, etc. It's also reading websites and magazines. Don't worry Ellen, I know you, you're doing everything you should be! :)
    Blessings, E

  7. I liked this straightforward blog entry. And I appreciated Ellen's question. It's scary when you don't know what you don't know.