How to Write (Better): Clichés Are Rotten Apples Out to Spoil Your Whole Blog

BlogHer Original Post

Even though you have a burning desire to become a writer par excellence, you might find yourself sliding down the slippery slope of lazy language, spinning your wheels and getting stuck in the muddy waters of the bane of a wordsmith's existence: clichéd language. Clichés are the devil's work, and truth be known, you should avoid them like the plague. Writing a blog post full of clichés will make you green with jealousy when you read other writers who don't let cliches become a blight on the landscape. They don't let that sleeping dog lie, they run for the hills when they see a cliché coming round the bend. You know you'd like to learn to write cliché-free, too, as much as a fat baby likes candy.  The future of your blog depends upon it. Word.

Ouch. Writing that paragraph full of overused phrases and meaningless similes was painful. It makes me cringe, sort of like I cringed on those afternoons when I would pull a pink handout out of my son's backpack that warned families of a lice infestation. Clichés are actually a lot like lice. They sneak into the nape of your work and require scrupulous nit-picking to eradicate. A cliché-ridden post means that you have a lot of work ahead of you. But in both cases, the grueling work of nit-picking is worth it.

Replacing cliches with original language is an excellent strategy if you are looking for ways to improve the mechanics of writing in any genre. Expected, pat phrases dull your work and bore your reader.  At best, the use of a cliche is a missed opportunity to communicate with originality; at worst, cliches turn your ideas into a tired PowerPoint slide. You know that guy who always seems to have a corny joke to interject, stopping the flow of a great conversation? Like Michael Scott plus Steve Urkel plus Cliff Clavin? You don't want your writing to be anything like that.

Even the best writers end up with cliches in their work, especially in their first drafts, so don't be hard on yourself when you spot a few. I reviewed blog posts in my reader and found many cliches in the published work of the best of the best. Sadly, pat phrases flow easily from our brains. They are comfortable and don't require much thought, so they are bound to land on our pages. Like any other parasite, you shouldn't be embarrassed to identify that you are hosting them, but you do have to do something about getting rid of them.

The clichés I found in recent blog posts fell into three main categories. Perhaps this summary will help you identify some weak spots in your own work.

Catch Phrases

Catch phrases are language shortcuts that are repeated so often they lose their punch. They almost always can be plucked from a sentence altogether or replaced with more descriptive language. Some have been around so long that they have lost their meaning. I think my least favorite is "easy as pie," because I bake pies so rarely that rolling a perfect-circle pie crust that doesn't rip isn't what I would call "easy." Some of the most banal phrases I found in my reader:

  • tie the knot
  • at the end of the day
  • life of the party
  • sweeten the pot
  • pretty awesome
  • you can say that again
  • god's honest truth
  • time flies
  • tear my hair out
  • does my heart good
  • drunk as a skunk
  • having a bad hair day
  • glued to the television
  • between you and me
  • blessing in disguise
  • blue in the face
  • terrible twos
  • mouthwatering
  • losing it
  • neck of the woods
  • eating bon bons all day
  • it's no secret that

Overworked Similes

Using comparison phrases are usually attempts to bring ideas or objects to life, but using common expressions that are dull and predictable undermines that goal. Here are some similes I found in recent posts that are aching for rewrites.

  • swims like a fish
  • clear as mud
  • hot as hell
  • as sick as a dog
  • sleeping like a bear
  • smart as a whip
  • cold as ice
  • growing like a weed
  • old as the hills
  • scum of the earth
  • raining buckets

Internet and Pop Culture Clichés

As if uneasy pies in our language weren't causing enough problems for us, as bloggers we tend to cultivate and propigate our own overworked phrases. Our jargon or memes can be fun, and we might even choose to overuse pop culture references ironically, but other times we are simply being lazy or unaware. It's worth being mindful when phrases we love move into Clichéland. (For example, one red flag of Clichéland is when writers add "-land" to otherwise harmless nouns, or when they use phrases like "red flag.")

  • made of win
  • OMG
  • epic fail
  • swooning
  • have big love for
  • fistbump
  • dude
  • BFF
  • rock my world
  • that's what she said
  • no worries
  • swag hag
  • word
  • spit water at my screen
  • douchebag
  • O RLY or any LOLcat speak, RLY

Spotting clichés is the first step toward eradication. The next step is pretty simple. Think of clichés as placeholders your brain employed while writing your first draft, and either delete them or replace them with something more meaningful. Two excellent books on the creative process, Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, both recommend being fearless in spilling a bad rough draft down on the paper (or up on the screen) and then being brave with rewrites. It's a freeing way to write, and when using this process you'll gradually identify your cliché habits and patterns. You might find, for example, that you commonly rely on stock phrases in introductory or closing paragraphs, because those sections tend to be full of pressure for you. Ultimately, sticking with the process of a free-flowing first draft and attentive revisions can improve your published posts. In time, even your first drafts improve.

Nit-picking your work for lazy language can be humbling, and it can be absolutely frustrating to see the same parasitic phrases making themselves at home in your brilliance. It helps to know that even the best writers work to keep their phrasing fresh and original.  Cleaning up clichés can actually be a fulfulling way to explore language and to own your craft. Bernard Malamud wrote, "Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing." Either way, whether it's work or pleasure for you, taking time to scan and clean out clichés will give you the polish and resonance that will elevate your writing and improve your blog.

Can you add to my list of heinous clichés to avoid like a plague of zombie clowns? Confess your own or cite your pet peeves in the comments below to help us all.

For more writing advice, visit our How to Write (Better) series archive.

All too often, Contributing Editor Deb Rox is a walking cliché waiting to happen. She loves you long time, though.


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