Monday, December 6, 2010

Lazy Words

By Susan

I always tell my writing students that every good piece of writing begins with both a mystery and a love story. And that every single sentence must be a poem. And that economy is the key to all good writing. And that every character has to have a secret.- Silas House

December, I think everyone would agree, is the least-lazy time of the year.

School parties. Concerts. Playoffs. Benefits and fundraising events.

Not to mention shopping, list making, decorating.

Throw in full-time jobs with annual deadlines, the stress of traffic, and basic year-end madness, and it's a recipe for craziness and busy-ness that bakes up the most stressful time of the year.

Being busy takes the priority over everything else. We shove it all in, get it all done, and sit back, at the end of the day, and think about all the things still to do--like work on our manuscripts. In a fervor, maybe we'll kick out a scene before we crash for the day. The busier life is, the lower our manuscripts may fall on our list of priorities. And writing in a hurry, writing without focus, or writing just to write (without purpose) can create incredibly lazy writing. In essence, when we are the least lazy in real life becomes when we are most lazy in our writing.

With writing, laziness is the last thing we need. Yet how can we approach our stories with the same fervor we attack the Christmas season? Writing a novel takes time, patience, and precision. Yet being busy with life can mean we have less time to spend with our works-in-progress, meaning that even though the scenes may get written, they may not be the best. In fact, they may be forced, boring and unemotional. And who wants to read that?

One of my favorite authors, Silas House, speaks beautifully about the goals of good writing. The thought that "every sentence is a poem" leaves no room for lazy writing. I think about this quote, and about Silas' writing, when I'm trying to crank out scenes after a crazy day.

That's when I stop.

And in a way, I start over.

Just like the Christmas season takes any ounce of lazy out of our lives, the year end is also a great time to take the lazy out of our writing.

Here's my year-end list to fit this type of manuscript clean-up into your schedule.

1) Eliminate lazy words

I use to create word clouds of portions of text. Cut and paste your section and wordle will create a word cloud with the largest words used in the largest font. It's a humbling way to quickly eliminate useless words from your work. My list of repeat offenders?



REALLY (really?)

Take them out, you won't miss them. By eliminating lazy words you can immediately see a change in the flow of your writing.

2) Watch your sentence word count

When I'm writing lazily, my sentences become ridiculously long. I go back to Silas' advice and think about economy. And he's right. It takes more thought and craft to create shorter, more meaningful sentences than to string the sentence out indefinitely.

3) Revisit the lazy plot

Fix your lazy words and rewrite your lazy sentences. From there, you must tackle a bigger problem--the lazy plot. Do you have a mystery and a love story, as Silas House suggests? Does every character have a secret? If not, you've got some work to do. Eliminate the lazy and I promise you'll come out on the other side with a better manuscript.

After the Christmas rush, when we are taking down the decorations and shoving the refuse of the season to the curb, we take the time to reflect on the year. Take the same time to reflect on your manuscript.

Start small, by fixing the words. Take the lazy out of your long, drawn out sentences. The find the lazy plot that weaves itself through your story. After all, you're not lazy in your life. Why be lazy in your novel?


  1. Just read this while taking a break from my novel-in-progress. SO HELPFUL. I might try My writing partner just challenged me to commit to writing 6 hours a day OFF THE TOP (BEFORE blogging Facebook and email) and it's really helping. By committing to HOURS rather than to WORD COUNT, I'm not as lazy with the plot. Especially hard right now in the final third of the novel when it's getting complicated. Thanks for a great post, Susan!

  2. A piece of writing advice that always pulls me through comes from Oregon past poet laureate, paraphrasing here: When faced with writer's block, lower your standards. Works like a charm!


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