One of the most talked-about sessions from my travel writing workshop is the one where we excise the dreaded cliché.
Students lament: "I can never say 'hidden gems' again!" "I was by the ocean and heard 'crashing waves' - DOH! Can't say that!"
That session sticks with them, which means they become better writers.
Why do they get so riled up?
Probably because I make statements like these:
I'm not alone in my disdain for overused phrases. In On Writing, Stephen King says they make "you look either lazy or ignorant."
Way back in the 1500s, Michel de Montaigne claimed: "It is always easier to draw on the storehouse of memory than to find something original to say."
And we know we've got a lot of clichés stored in our memory.
So how do you stop using them? How do you escape looking "either lazy or ignorant?" (Stephen Kind's words, not mine!)
The first step is to be aware of what you're writing. I should say, be aware of what you're editing. I'm a fan of dirty first drafts, otherwise known as getting the words out and cleaning them up later. When you do that, you're most likely going to have a few overused phrases. They're easy and they're, as de Montaigne said, in your storehouse of memory. You know them and they appear without effort.
As you're editing, pay attention to your word choice. Is that town really quaint? Do those waves really crash? Is that attraction really a hidden gem?
Once you recognize a cliché, take time to rewrite it so it puts a picture in your readers' minds. For example, instead of "snow-capped mountain," how about this:
A bit more evocative, eh?
This month's live training is all about these dreaded turns of phrase. If you want to avoid clichés like the plague, sign up and you, too, will be painting real pictures instead of writing words that say nothing. It's March 28 at 1pm CST and, as always, only $9.
Until next week...
Theresa L. Goodrich
p.p.s. If you're in the travel niche, I'm offering an AMAZING deal. 75% off Travel Writing Mastery. Check it out here.
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