Get off the Cliche Bandwagon

Advice to help you get on the bandwagon and avoid cliches like the plague.

by Jenny Collins

It goes without saying that as an editor, a lover of words and the daughter of an author, I appreciate reading creative writing and using words creatively. For me, finding the perfect word or phrase at the right time is one of the best feelings in the world.

So now you'll understand where I'm coming from when I say that cliches are one of the worst things to happen to the English language. Something about them just rubs me the wrong way. I can spot them from a mile away because they stick out like a sore thumb. These overused expressions are as easy as pie to say or write, but in reality they are as ugly as sin, especially when they show up time and again in essays, poems, love letters, job applications, etc. I mean, when you use a cliche you're only following the time-honored tradition of repeating what everybody and their brother says.

The reason so many get caught in the trap of cliches is because we all have the natural inclination to want to sound clever. But the fact of the matter is that when you use cliches, your cleverness is dead on arrival. Besides, using cliches is the oldest trick in the book. Oh, yeah all cliches were at one time or another cool, but due to overuse, they've become as common as a cowboy in Texas.

When it comes to saying or writing something creative, it seems everyone's imaginations have been flushed down the drain. Seriously, really good, original writers like myself seem to be few and far between. I guess you could say that clever words are my stock in trade. Now don't get all bent out of shape, I'm not trying to toot my own horn or anything. I may have had it up to here, but don't worry, I'm not going to flip my lid. I'm simply paving the way to nip cliches in the bud. And I'm probably not the only one sick and tired of lame writing. If you think I've hit the nail on the head then don't be shy about putting in your two cents. There's no time like the present for us to change this bad habit. We've got to raise the bar because cliches are wreaking havoc on our ability to communicate effectively. If don't agree with me, tough. That's the way the ball bounces.

All right, first things first. If you think that this will be a piece of cake you're in for a rude awakening. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there is so much more to writing than what meets the eye. So hang on to your hat. Now that we're on the same page we can move ahead to fixing the problem. A good rule of thumb to remember is that cliches really should be avoided like the plague and used only once in a blue moon. One helpful tip is to have an editor friend (even if you are an editor) read over your writing to trim the fat. Besides, we all know two heads are better than one.

For those of you who enjoy sports, another viable alternative to approaching writing is to think of writing as a sport, minus the physical contact, unless you really get into it (hey, whatever floats your boat, right?). Everyone knows that any sport requires you to keep your head in the game and give 110 percent. When that doesn't work just say your prayers and keep your fingers crossed. But whatever you do, don't throw in the towel. Before you know it, slowly but surely you'll be on a roll come hell or high water.

So when you are burning the midnight oil on a writing project and trying to be original but you're stuck between a rock and a hard place, remember that you are sharp as a tack and put your nose to the grindstone. Venture off the beaten path to find words that are fresh as a daisy, not old hat. And don't forget to stop and smell the roses. Rome wasn't built in one day and cliches won't disappear in one either. Keep plugging away because practice makes perfect. And if you really are committed to the task at hand, always remember: where there's a will, there's a way.

Can't you just feel the winds of change? What a breath of fresh air to know that improved writing is just around the bend. I know we've just touched the tip of iceberg, but it's time to wrap it up now. As for correct punctuation and spelling, those are different fish to fry. So well cros that bridg wen we com too it.

Jenny Collins is a communications specialist and editor for the Pilot magazine at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. She wrote this for the April Fool's 2005 spoof issue of the Column, the student newspaper.