I don’t generally like using the word “lazy” to describe people I don’t know.
But the more writers I work with as an editor, the more I realize that even if writers themselves aren’t lazy people, lazy writing and lazy writing habits DO exist. And they’re an absolute nightmare for the person on the receiving end of the Word document in charge of preparing something for publication.
There are actually pretty obvious differences between “lazy” writers and writers on the other end of the spectrum — those who have worked so hard in such a short amount of time that what I’ll call “silly” errors just sort of … happen.
Just because writers make mistakes doesn’t mean they’re lazy. But certain mistakes are … and trust me, your editor isn’t oblivious to which category you might fall into.
‘Lazy’ writers consistently put minimal effort into their work. I use the term “lazy” very deliberately here. This isn’t a term directed at a person specifically but instead at their very clear lack of effort — not just occasionally, but on a regular basis.
These writers don’t begin correcting mistakes when an editor makes them aware of their errors — they keep doing the same thing over and over no matter how many times they’re told to do it differently. This signals to an editor that they’re not paying attention to feedback … or they are, and have just decided not to do anything about it.
That’s laziness. Writers who provide work on behalf of a company, for example, are expected not only to follow certain rules but are also expected to respond to communications from an editor. It’s unpleasant to work with writers who very clearly don’t care.
And this is a very different experience than working with a writer who’s just in over their head.
Overworked/Overwhelmed writers make inconsistent mistakes. This becomes more apparent when, in the case of my day job, an editor works with the same pool of freelance writers for an extended period of time.
I know these writers’ habits well. I know what to look out for and who I can trust not to make certain errors on a regular basis. And when I see one writer who always remembers to italicize the name of a TV show suddenly not doing that, for example, that signals to me that they’re genuinely making an error they’re not intending to make.
Overwhelmed writers rush. Not because they don’t care, but very often because they’re trying to do too many things at once and have to decide where to channel their energy and where it’s needed most.
The quality of their work still suffers. But not because they don’t care.
Struggling to write — and write well — does not mean you’re lazy. ‘Lazy’ writers don’t struggle. They’re not putting enough effort into their work to have anything to struggle with.
Put simply: If you’re stressed about not doing your best work, you care. If you’re frustrated with yourself for not being able to do the good work you know you’re capable of doing, you care. That’s not laziness. There’s clearly something going on that’s preventing you from putting in your best effort. And that’s not your fault.
I think we’re too quick to judge people and their situations. Even I still get frustrated when a writer doesn’t meet a deadline or follow a rule. But I’m also very aware that I don’t know them personally and have no idea what’s happening in their personal lives.
The reason I can identify the difference between someone who wants to do better and someone who doesn’t is largely from my own experience as a writer. I’ve lazily completed assignments I didn’t want to do before — and it was almost always because I simply didn’t want to. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Freelancing is hard. Sometimes you agree to work you’re not particularly excited about.
I’m not proud of that. I don’t enjoy working with people who obviously “just don’t wanna.” But I try my best to be patient and empathetic. Plus … this is my job. I work with who I work with and that’s that.
If you’re a writer who’s working with an editor (or will be at some point) … please be kind. Do the work you’re asked to do. Remember that not everyone has the opportunity to write and get published, and even if you’re not particularly excited about something you’re working on, put in your best effort anyway. It makes all the difference.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.