The ABCs of Better Writing: Avoidance of Clichés, Banishment of Trite Words, Creative Expression

Writing is an art; there’s no doubt about that. It’s a skill that often only comes through years of practice. Yet why is it children often come up with the most creative, inventive stories?

Because they haven’t had clichés yammered into their brains for years and years… because they describe things in their own way, on their own terms, in words that make sense to them… and because they haven’t had it pounded into their skulls that they can’t write.

Below are three simple rules to follow, to keep your writing fresh, creative and innovative. These rules will empower you to flex your “imagination muscles,” helping you to spark up your writing and make your prose come alive… and virtually dance off the page to charm and captivate your readers.

First rule: Strike the word very from your vocabulary. It’s quite possibly the weakest word in the entire English language. It’s the literary equivalent of adding sand to your tea. It offers zero in the way of nutritive value and even less in the way of flavor. There are so many other words that are more deserving of usage than this trite, flat, nondescript literary leftover. Try out a few other less-common adverbs. Go ahead. Give exceptionally a whirl. Or how about remarkably, tremendously or phenomenally? Don’t be afraid to use new words or phrases.

Second rule: Avoid clichés. Now, I could have said, “Avoid clichés like the plague,” but that would have been what you would have expected. When you run across a cliché in your writing, pluck it out of there like a tick from your dog’s neck. Flush it down the toilet if you wish, or simply crush it beneath your heel. I don’t much care how you do it; just get rid of it.

Now that you’ve got a nice little cavity in your page, rummage through your imagination file cabinet for a fresher phrase. Instead of saying, “as rough as sandpaper,” take a moment to think about other things that are rough, things that are less commonly referred to: your grandmother’s elbows… the skin on the bottoms of a beach lifeguard’s feet… a gravel driveway… even badly poured concrete.

Let your creative side run wild… as wild as the blueberries your Aunt Meg makes into jam every summer. Yes, that wild! Fashion a fresh simile (a comparison using the words like or as) and watch your words take flight.

Third rule: Steer clear of the ordinary. When there’s a more creative way to say something, use it! This goes along with the “Avoid clichés” directive. For instance, instead of calling rush hour in Boston “bumper-to-bumper mayhem,” which would be an ordinary way to describe the twice-daily madness, a writer friend of mine wrote, “Cars beeped and swerved along Storrow Drive.” A beautiful bit of prose. Simple. Fresh. Creative.

Keep these three rules in mind as you begin your next writing project and your words will practically get up and dance off the page.

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