Discard clichés: How to stop writing like “you’re meant to write”

By 

Down with the cliché! If only it were that easy. Clichés surround us, and it’s surprisingly hard to avoid using them.

Put simply, in writing, clichés are bland and overused phrases that fail to excite, motivate, and impress your readers or prospective buyers. (6)

Clichés dominate our language both in speaking and writing. This is because we hear them all the time, so they become the first phrases that come to mind when we want to express ourselves. Which is exactly why they’re a problem:

Given that clichés are the phrases that have struck our eardrums uncountable times, we either don’t associate them with particular ideas and products, or we associate many products and ideas with a particular cliché.

The fact that clichés are so generic you can attach them to any idea makes them ineffective. (6)

This actually has a lot to do with how we take in words and phrases when we read. The more familiar a term or phrase becomes, the more often we start skipping over it as we read, rendering it ineffective.

The best way to avoid this problem is to use different language to explain familiar concepts. It’s a careful balancing act between being so different that your readers are turned off by the effort of understanding your content and being so familiar that your work becomes trite.

In other words, your audience has to feel your content is new, but also credible. (7)

Don’t make it sound like writing, instead “Write like you speak”

It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style. — P.D. James

Novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard knew how important the reader was. More important than his English Composition teachers, that’s for sure. He never let “proper” writing get in the way of telling a great story and making it engaging for the reader.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. — Elmore Leonard

Writing like you speak is harder than it might sound. For some reason, it’s easy to “put on” a tone when you start writing, without even realising it. This is something I’m still working on, and it takes a lot of practice.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s list of rules for writing with style, he explains how much better his writing is when it sounds the way he talks:

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.

One thing that’s really helped me to improve in this area is a trick that Leo taught me: imagine someone sitting in front of you as you type, and write as if you’re talking to them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Name *
Email *
Website