Happy Laborious Day

Today, in the U.S., is a national holiday called Labor Day. The holiday is “a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” (a quote from the  official US Department of Labor page).

However, my mind wondered about a variation of the main word, “labor.” Thought of “laborious.” A quick look found this definition of the adjective:

(of speech or writing style) showing obvious signs of effort and lacking in fluency, “his slow, laborious style”


Then I found this scathing Amazon review which helps define this more clearly: “Dense and seemingly exhaustive in its research this book was a tedious read at best. The author’s choice of words and phrasing feel as if it was written in the late 1800s; so much so as to be annoying as if the author believes he is from the period that he is writing about.” (Amazon link)


In the future I plan on doing a blog about “overwriting,” which is a similar problem to one’s writing being “laborious.”

Check Your Work

Take a quick look at your writing. Could you delete 20% of your most recent chapter and not lose any meaning or storytelling? Could it be that the lure of “more words” has crept into your style? Are you being pedantic? Using too many thesaurus words? Throwing words at the scene or topic to see what sticks?

Dare I write the next paragraph in this blog? Or did I already make my point? Do I need a second illustration here? Do I really need to explain my point further?

No more labor for me.

16 Responses to Happy Laborious Day

  1. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 7, 2020 at 5:17 am #

    There are writers who, so sadly,
    with their own voice are quite smitten,
    and their work is thus, and badly
    overdone and overwritten
    to the point where pedantry
    becomes a sick and lasting joke,
    returning us to peasantry
    from which we’ve only lately woke.
    Thesaurus words and archaic diction
    are not simply silly pose;
    they call forth a predilection
    back to the mire from which we rose
    in defiance of what is thought
    as cultured work, but is just rot.

  2. Avatar
    Paula Geister September 7, 2020 at 5:43 am #

    This advice reminds me some things I learned from Elmore Leonard:

    “Easy on the adverbs, exclamation points, and especially hooptedoodle.”
    and…”If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
    and… “I try to leave out the parts people skip.”

    But the first author I thought of when I began reading your description and reference to the Amazon link was Charles Dickens. Great stories, but WOW, that laborious language.

    Thanks for the good reminder to “get to the point.”

  3. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver September 7, 2020 at 6:59 am #

    You made your point. It was taken well.

  4. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca September 7, 2020 at 7:00 am #

    Perhaps this English translation of a short poem by the French poet Boileau sums it up:

    “Slowly make haste, and without losing courage;
    Twenty times redo your work;
    Polish and re-polish endlessly,
    And sometimes add, but often take away.”

  5. Avatar
    Sam P G September 7, 2020 at 7:14 am #


    First, while reading your blog over the last couple of years, I’ve found that you and your crew consistently deliver interesting, insightful, and often humorous observations and advice.

    However, personally, I have a really hard time reading most works written after 1890, precisely because the vocabulary and style of modern works read much less intelligently and beautifully than older writings. I’m an intelligent, educated adult, and when I pick up a book, supposedly written for an adult audience, that is composed solely of words and sentences that my second grader could write, it’s an insult to my intelligence and a waste of my time. I find good stories are a dime a dozen, but good stories told in an interesting way that challenges the reader are increasingly rare.

    I realize I’m in a minority of readership, but I think it’s a larger minority than a lot of industry professionals realize—a woefully neglected market. I see quite a bit of articles like this from industry insiders (some times, I dare say, “industry snobs,” though present company excluded, of course), but I also see comments on those articles from a few dissenters like myself, letting me know I’m not alone.

    Case in point, I checked out the book excoriated in that review snippet you quoted. First, despite, that scathing paragraph, the reviewer actually gave it 3 STARS—NOT a negative rating. So, even though he hated the style, overall, he still liked the book. Second, the book actually has a 4.5 STAR rating out of 280 reviews, plus a plethora of accolades from literary critics and field peers, and a couple of award nominations to boot. Now, obviously, people THINKING it’s a good book doesn’t mean it IS a good book. But it does indicate there’s an audience (market) for it.

    In fact, it seems every time a “classical throwback” hits the market, it’s at least nominally successful. Take Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in 2004. A straight-up 19th-century style impersonator that became an instant, international, critically acclaimed, New York Times best-selling, multi-award-winning smash that yielded a ratings-giant BBC adaptation a full 11 years later. Sure, there are plenty of critical audience reviews lamenting its “archaic” and “stilted” style, but there are far more reader reviews praising it. Of course, not all throwbacks are as successful, or have the same “fantasy appeal,” as Strange, but they continue to be sporadically published, and it seems they usually find an audience and garner critical praise.

    Not to mention the fact that classics themselves are still selling, and not just for academic or historical purposes—people still actually ENJOY reading them! Well, I do, at least. But maybe I’m just a “laborious” guy! 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Megan Schaulis September 7, 2020 at 8:05 am #

    My favorite labor reference: “Let us labor, therefore, to enter into His rest…” Hebrews 4:11

  7. Avatar
    Sharon K. Connell September 7, 2020 at 8:32 am #

    First of all, what you’ve said about deleting words in your writing that you don’t need is very true. That’s what self-editing is for. If the sentence sounds right and makes sense without the modifiers, take them away. It tightens the writing.

    However, this review you found on a book is exactly why I will never give a bad review on any book, even if I hated it. Not everyone likes my style of writing or the style I enjoy reading. Some people love works that sound as if they were written in the 1800s. My husband is one of them. He can’t stand reading most of the books I read.

    Just because we don’t care for a story or the way someone else wrote it, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be enjoyed by someone else. If I can’t give at least a 3 star rating to a book, and tactfully explain why it wasn’t a 5 star for me, I don’t give any review.

    Over the years I’ve been writing, I’ve seen many a new writer/author cut to the quick by another, who in my opinion was probably trying to present themselves as though born an author and never had to go through the growing pains. None of us are experts. We are all at different levels of writer maturity. We all have our own styles. We all have our own reader base.

    Just my opinion. Take it or leave it.

    • Avatar
      Sam P G September 7, 2020 at 10:56 am #

      Great comment, Sharon! And I’m with your husband. I’ll take the 19th-century any day!

  8. Avatar
    JB Blake September 7, 2020 at 9:48 am #

    Great question! I’d love to hear your answer.

  9. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU September 7, 2020 at 9:55 am #

    Thanks for the advice. Especially the lure to create more words to increase word count. God help us all! Enjoyed Sharon Connell’s comments God bless you Steve.

  10. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks September 7, 2020 at 11:25 am #

    Ha ha! Fair point, Steve. I’m revising now, so I better take a look! Do I really need one more person chasing a chicken through the forest … or will my previous twelve chicken chases suffice?

  11. Avatar
    Richard New September 7, 2020 at 12:19 pm #

    Well, it depends. When I think I’m writing clear and concise, I may not be. And when I think I’m not writing clear and concise, I may be.

    Laborious decisions indeed.

  12. Avatar
    Deetje Wildes September 7, 2020 at 2:43 pm #

    Your laborious work made me laugh ???? ????

  13. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. September 7, 2020 at 4:04 pm #

    Your point has been belabored, Steve.

  14. Avatar
    Marlene Worrall September 7, 2020 at 9:25 pm #

    Dear Steve,
    Brilliant and informative as always.

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