Some days I just feel lazy. I don’t want to do laundry, I don’t want to vacuum, and I don’t want to wash the dishes. I don’t even want to blog. (Just kidding! Well, usually.) But these are things that need to get done, so putting them off doesn’t accomplish anything except a backlog of chores that are suddenly much more daunting than they would have been if I’d just given each one the 15 minutes they needed.

(Okay, blogging takes longer than 15 minutes. But you get the point.)

Laziness applies to writing, too. And that’s been on my mind lately. In several books, I have read about characters with “olive colored skin” or “skin so black it was blue.” I have never seen such people in my life — have you? — but I read those phrases so often that I almost forget they’re not real.

Olives, for reference (image found via Google)

Last night my crit partner Stephanie pointed out that I had committed a similar error. I wrote a scene in which my main character was crying but didn’t know it. Stephanie said, “Have you ever cried without knowing it? How could you not know?”

I put up a weak protest, but I knew she was right. I mean, when I cry, I CRY. And even before the tears come out, I get that sharp stinging in my nose, and my whole face tightens with emotion. Not exactly the kinds of things you can not notice.

So why had I written that? Because I was being lazy. It’s been done so many times in so many books that it has become a sort of shortcut, a signal for the reader to feel a certain way.

After some emotional distance (and a good night’s sleep) I know I need to rework that scene. I can’t be lazy. I won’t. Because my characters and my story deserve better than that. Just like my clothes, my carpet, my dishes, and my blog do.

More importantly, I actually feel good when I’m not lazy, when I get things done, when I weave words in my own original way. So, next time you catching me trying to put things off or take the easy way out, please call me on it. Remind me that I’m only cheating myself of the satisfaction I get from working hard. And if I still don’t listen, I give you permission to pinch me until my skin turns so black it’s blue, or olive colored, or whatever.

Like this:



Home alone


Introducing my crit partners and "We Heart YA"


  1. I’m feeling lazy today. I keep wishing it were the weekend and not just Wednesday. I keep wishing that I could blink and my book would be done when I wake up in the morning, but nope it’s not going to happen that way, no matter how long I put it off.

    I think I have an olive skinned reference. :? How would you describe skin color then?

  2. I feel that way all the time, lol. Too bad it doesn’t work like that…

    To be honest, I don’t usually describe skin color except in terms of fair, light, pale, dark, etc. But olives are generally green, brown, or black, and that’s normally not what “olive colored skin” is referring to. (I’m sure there are some exceptions.) So I don’t have an answer for you — and really, I get what the phrase is going for. I don’t dislike books or authors for using the shortcuts. I’m just pointing out that it IS a shortcut.

  3. Les

    I’m lazy lazy when I write, but I save it for editing or else I get too hung up lol =/

  4. Actually I think that’s a really good idea! I usually do too. Story down first; then I can worry about the actual words.

  5. I’ve been described as having olive colored skin, actually :P

    I get what you mean, that using cliches is lazy, but olive colored skin is a pretty well known term.

  6. It is, but that doesn’t make it that accurate. Google “olives” and see if you think your skin is that color. I don’t. :P

    (Like I told Tessa, I know what the term is *supposed* to mean, and I don’t really mind if authors use it.)

  7. Great post! My instructor last summer at Kenyon was HUGE on this. He’d go nuts everytime we used similes or adjectives or writing that appeared to be lazy. I guess we just need to not be lazy and read our work over looking for these things! I still find it hard, but if I read my work with a careful eye, usually I can find stuff like that. Good thoughts! :)

  8. Olive skin or blue skin, Kristan, is indeed stretching the credibility layer. There are a lot of stereotypes that need to be crushed by intelligent observation and thoughtful writing. I am glad that your accountability partner doesn’t settle for less than your best.

  9. We have been bitten by the same bug, I think. Lazy is exactly the word for me…but, I’m glad that you’re pulling it together. I guess I will too. Like my husbands says, “If I have to.”
    Also, I think “olive” is just a sort of Mediterranean reference, right? I know it’s not literally like the shades of olives, but there are so many shades of skin colour around that area of the world. You’re right, though, there’s got to be a better/fresh way to describe.

  10. Joelle

    Laziness really is the key to… umm well I had a thought going but it left. :) But really I guess you could have bluish color skin if you were an alien, maybe. Pinching would hurt how about an ahem kind of thing thrown in your direction instead?

  11. Marci

    I have olive colored skin. Seriously. So, feel free to use the phrase- it isn’t lazy, you know someone with it!

  12. Jon

    According to Yahoo! Answers, Rafael Nadal has olive colored skin. He can be your reference point!

    I agree, I hate any of those literary cliches. They are always some variant of bad metaphor, poorly used phrasing or, in your words, plain laziness. For some reason, “running like the wind” comes to mind. I mean, seriously, who runs like the wind? What does that even mean?!?

  13. Now that you mention it, I’ve been reading a book series and every time a certain character is in a scene she is described as dark skinned. Almost every time. Great post to open my eyes to not use cliched imagery. But what other way is there to say “olive colored skin”?

  14. I have always wanted to cry without knowing it! It sounds so delicate and refined (as opposed to my snotty, puffy-eyed gasping).

  15. Trisha

    Is not being a pretty crier hereditary too?

  16. ; -) You are writing at least. More than some of us can say. There’s lazy and then there is also feeling like you are sucked dry by life….

  17. Rachele-
    Yep. Like I mentioned to Les, I think it’s fine to be “lazy” at first, but at a certain point we have to take pride in our craft and work to make it fresh.

    Me too! My writing buds are the best. :)

    Yeah, I know what it’s supposed to mean, it’s just so unclear and unoriginal.

    All ahems are greatly appreciated. :)

    Lol you and like 10 million other folks. It’s such an imprecise term!

    Yes, “run like the wind”! A lot of those cliches are lazy, which is why writing instructors/mentors hate them.

    It depends. “Her skin was the color of an autumn twig” isn’t very flattering, but it’s fresh. Lol. I think a lot of it depends on the context of the story, too. If you’re protag/narrator is an artist, think in artsy terms. If he’s a soldier, think in military terms.

    Lol! Yeah, it’s hard to be refined when one is upset.

    Okay, did we inherit anything GOOD? :P

    You’re getting there! Baby steps!

  18. I had about a dozen appearances of “my heart sank” in last night’s editing session. Lazy!

  19. So in military terms her skin was the color of jungle fatigues.

  20. I fall into the lazy traps all the time. Thanks for the reminder to be aware and beware of them.

  21. Erika-
    Lol that’s what editing is for, eh? I’m sure I’ll find a million “before”s, “just”s, and “even”s.

    Jungle fatigues, dress whites, dress blues… ;)

  22. This is awesome! That picture of the olives is the perfect reminder why cliches should not be in our writing. The crying thing was a great example too. But speaking of lazy, the pile of laundry behind me is calling my name…

  23. eh, the dishes can always wait. focus on giving your characters really awesome skin colors, instead. :)

  24. also i am going to edit everything i write twice as hard now because i never thought about how much these phrases are overused and often meaningless haha.

  25. I hear you about the laziness. I so would rather watch a movie tonight than work, but I have so much work to do! As for laziness in writing, I think olive-colored skin is a legitimate skin color, but I know what you mean. My pet peeve is when people talk about the smell of sex on someone. I have NEVER in my LIFE smelled sex on someone. I have never taken a whiff and thought, “Oh, they just had some nookie and didn’t shower afterward,” but I have seen it written in books and on TV shows many times. So either people are pretty lazy or I have a poor sense of smell. What about you? Have you ever smelled sex on someone? (Maybe an olive-skinned girl who was crying without knowing it?)

  26. Meghan, I actually LOLed at that!

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