Many of you out there in this great land of ours have taken pen in hand to write in seeking the inside dope on how to write good. I’ve reached into my bag of tricks and come up with one sure-fire tip from the top: Avoid clichés like the plague.
A hearty hats off to the man or woman who gave us that pearl of wisdom. Those are, as sure as I’m sitting here, words for writers to live by.
Though I’m busier than a one-armed paperhanger, and I’ve got a lot on my plate, I’ll take time out of my busy day to clue you in about how clichés can ruin your whole day. Here are three good reasons you should give clichés a wide berth.
First, clichés suck the life out of those words you’ve been working overtime on, leaving your sentence without a leg to stand on, as it were.
Second, a cliché is old hat, pure and simple. People in all walks of life have heard them time and time again—more times than you can shake a stick at.
Third, if you were a fly on the wall, getting an earful of folks spewing clichés left and right, you’d fall all over yourself to bid a fond farewell to that wall and get the hell out of Dodge.
If you want to make your writing smooth as silk and solid as a rock, you must set yourself apart from the crowd. Put some distance between yourself and all those run-of-the-mill writers. Realize that you’re not your own worst enemy; the cliché gets that nod. You may work your fingers to the bone, but in the end, when your writing is clear as a bell and beautiful to gaze upon, trust me, you’ll be proud as a peacock.
Keep your nose to the grindstone, and before you know it you’ll find brand spanking new ways to put into words things you’ve kept bottled up in your heart of hearts for lo, these many years. Just a once-over-lightly look at your letters tells me that you’re dead serious about making something of yourself. I know as well as I know my own name that you’re willing to give cliché-avoidance the old college try. It’s as plain as the nose on your face, and you deserve a pat on the back. It’s only natural that you want more than anything in the world to make your colleagues so green with envy that they’ll scream bloody murder. Get with the program, and soon you’ll be in Fat City—sitting in the catbird seat, happy as a clam.
Taking a long, hard look at your questions tells me in words I can’t ignore that you’ll spare no effort to write paragraphs that light up the page like a Christmas tree.
So, how do you rid that Great American Novel, the one you’re burning the midnight oil over, of clichés? It’s as easy as falling off a log—just keep in mind the hoary old chestnut that says: If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s a duck. Stick to your guns, and you’ll have those clichés on the run before they know what’s hit them. Tell them not to let the door hit them on their way out. What crosses the mind of your average eagle-eyed editor when a cliché-laden manuscript lands on his desk? Dollars to doughnuts, he’ll get madder than a wet hen. Chances are, at the very least, he’ll tell the writer in no uncertain terms never to darken his door again.
Fighting the good fight against clichés can take the wind out of your sails on any given working day, but there’s no question in my mind that working like a dog to rid the world of clichés is taking the linguistic high road. When you get right down to brass tacks, the herculean task of wiping clichés—and the horse they rode in on—off the face of the earth is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. But only if you adopt a take-no-prisoners approach to your work. Do that, and those hard-to-please editors will not only sing your praises, they will beat a path to your door.