5 Ways Writers Get Lazy

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I just finished writing my 20th full length novel! Yay! (Can you see me doing the happy dance?! ) Each and every novel is such a HUGE accomplishment, that it's hard to believe I've gone through the process 20 times.

However, the more books I complete, the more I’m realizing how difficult it is to keep producing fresh, vibrant stories. Not only does it take more work to keep the plots from being repetitious, but authors have to find new ways to describe the characters, romance, and even the settings.

Yes, writers are sometimes bound by genre constrictions. And yes, readers also expect a certain type of story when they pick up a trusted author's book. For example, my readers know they will get emotionally charged characters, a dangerous antagonist, lots of sizzling romance, and plenty of historical details that are woven into the story. If I neglected any one of my "trade marks," readers would wonder what happened.

However, expectations placed upon us by publishers, readers, or even our genre shouldn't hinder multi-published authors from striving to keep things new. When we reach a point of having written numerous books, we have to continually push deeper into the recesses of our minds to find original, creative, and fresh material for our stories. We have to dig around in the untouched areas of our imagination to bring out something new. And that digging requires a lot of effort.

Sometimes amidst the busyness of the writing life, we don’t always have the time and energy to go that extra mile. We’re working hard to keep up with deadlines or trying to get our books out in quick succession. Instead of shoveling deep and finding new treasures, we sift through the front lobe of our brains and rehash the old stuff—because it’s easier to stay there.

Here are five ways we can get lazy:

1. Using Cliches. Most of us know we need to avoid those well-known clichés. But the more books we write, the harder it gets to find original ways of saying things, and the clichés start to creep in. We have to remember if the phrase slips easily off our tongue, then it’s likely one we should avoid. I’ve found that I can reduce clichés by using more similes and metaphors—especially those that relate to my character’s interests or to the setting.

2. Telling of Emotions. Another major way writers get lazy is when we decide to tell how our character feels rather than showing it. We obviously can’t always show every little emotion and detail. Sometimes we have to name the emotion to clarify what’s going on. But when we’re tired and writing fast, we may find ourselves telling too many emotions rather than going to the hard work of showing them. We need to make sure that we’re mostly bringing our character’s feelings to life through dialog, actions, or internal narration.

3. Overusing Adjectives and Adverbs. I’m not an all-or-nothing gal. I still believe in adjectives and adverbs—if used in moderation, particularly when we can’t find a strong enough noun or verb to fit the situation. But . . . as with clichés and telling of emotions, it’s so much easier and quicker to tack on an adjective or adverb. Instead, we need to persevere to find a stronger, more telling word.

4. Camping on Pet Phrases. I always seem to land upon a pet word or phrase while writing my first draft. Thankfully, if I don’t catch the phrases myself, my editors alert me to the repetition. A simple search for the word can help me locate the trouble areas, and I’m able to delete some or find more creative ways to express that pet phrase. I also need to be careful of overusing phrases between books as well. That’s a little bit harder to catch.

5. Rehashing the Same Plot or Story. After we’ve written multiple books, we may begin to find that our stories start to sound the same, have similar threads, or even have characters that resemble one another. Perhaps we’ve even gotten tired of a favorite author because “all the stories are too much alike.” Yes, our voices will remain the same in all our books. But we can’t let our voice be an excuse for getting too comfortable with the same old, same old. We need to constantly be exploring new plot territory and searching for unique and fresh stories.

My Summary: Indeed the task before the modern writer is daunting. The bar continually rises. If we hope to keep our readers happy with each book we write, then we can’t afford to get lazy. We have to resist what comes easily to our minds, and instead be ever-exploring deeper into the creative labyrinths of our imaginations.

How about you? Have you ever gotten tired of an author because his or her books started to sound the same? What are some ways you attempt to keep things fresh in your books?


  1. The pet phrase thing! What is that all about? I've done that too. It's different for each project, but one unusual word or phrase crops up several times.

  2. It happens to me almost every book I write! In fact, sometimes when I'm reading I'm able to spot a "pet." I was able to pick out the pet word in the audible book I'm listening to now. "Smirk." The author uses is a lot and now it glares out at me every time she does! A good editor (or critique partner) can make us aware of those pet phrases that we seem to miss on our own!

  3. I have read authors whose books were too similar and repetitive; there was one author in particular who always had the same types of characters in each novel, no matter what the story was about. She might as well have written a series with the same characters instead.
    Your advice about cliches made me think of E.L. James and her Fifty Shades novels. Even though she's wildly successful, she's often criticized for her over-use of cliches. I can't help thinking what her writing would be like if she took the time to write more original lines than just rely on cliches over and over again.

  4. I bet it must be hard to reinvent scenes, characters, and so much more for each story! Luckily, I think readers appreciate when their favorite author veers outside his or her genre-norm. Keeps the reader and the author of their toes!

  5. I can't even imagine trying to come up with fresh story lines for a full length novel every single time. I commend you for the effort!

    I do find that for myself, if I switch up the age or gender in any of my short stories, I usually stumble across a story that's unique from anything I've previously written. I may write from the perspective of a rebellious teenage boy for one story and then from a thirty-something year-old man in the next. Different life experiences, different eras, totally different plots. It's such fun to discover a new character's story!

  6. Great post and so timely for me. I completed my 5th book this weekend, and it's a tremendous effort to come up with original content.

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