How to Salvage Your Writing from the Crematorium of Cliche

by | Jan 18, 2018 | Writing Tips

Aspiring writers sometimes ask me, ‘How can I write like you?’

The answer is, ‘You don’t want to write like me, you want to write like you. You want to find your writing voice, and that will be nothing like mine.’

But I get what people are really asking me. They’re asking me, ‘How can I write better than I write now?’

Here’s a little trick: don’t write in cliché. Writing is limp and flavourless when it’s unoriginal. We have to consciously undermine our tendencies to write boring, wilting sentences. How? By feeling into paradox.

As soon as we feel ourselves slumping into easy stereotypes of ‘happy marriages’ and ‘broken hearts,’ that’s when we need to turn an experience over on its belly and investigate where it gets more interesting.

The engine of story is conflict. The meaning of things is revealed at the edges, not the soft centre.

Write about how love co-exists alongside grief; how envy creeps into friendship. Explore the revulsion that emerges in lust or the boredom that shows up in intimacy. Feel into the ambivalence in motherhood and the relief in death.

As writers it’s our job to work with these beautiful unruly tendrils that show up in experience. To write what is true and hard and real, we have to examine what we feel, remember, see and touch without judgement, to find out what it is like for us, and what meaning we make from it. Without the texture we bring to that exploration, our writing will just be same-old, same-old.

 

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

 

Don’t be afraid to invert. Writers must be brave in facing what is hidden. Our work is to bring light into shadow and shadow into light, to unsettle the obvious and startle the story.

Here’s a little table for you to practice exploring paradox. Have fun writing into the strangeness of these opposites:

BITTER                             SWEET
QUIET                               ROAR
ELEGANT                         WRECK
SAINTLY                           PERVERT
CREEPY                           GENTLEMAN
SINKING                           HOPE
ENLIGHTENED                GRIEF
GUTLESS                         WARRIOR
NEUROTIC                       MINDFULNESS
SELFISH                           GENEROSITY
PRECIOUS                       DUST
DELICATE                         STRENGTH
WISHFUL                          SPITE
EAGER                              INDOLENCE
PERFECT                          MISTAKE
REVERED                         CRIMINAL
SPECTACULAR                ORDINARINESS
SURPRISING                    DULLNESS
UNKNOWN                       CELEBRITY
PRECISE                           ELUSIVENESS
BROKEN                            BEAUTY
COMPOSED                      WILDNESS
WICKED                             BENEVOLENCE
INDIFFERENT                    CURIOSITY

Why We Should Keep Broken Things

You've probably all heard the phrase the ‘first shitty draft.’ Anne Lamott coins it in her fabulous book on writing, Bird by Bird (which if you haven’t already read, needs to go on your Urgent Books to Read list). First drafts are shitty. It’s in their nature to be...

How to Teach Boys to Respect Girls

Before my son was born, I didn’t think it was my problem to raise good men. I’d been working with raped and battered women as a women’s rights advocate for many years, and had seen my share of sexist atrocities by men-gone-wrong. My aim was to get justice for women –...

Sometimes, People Don’t Trust Me

Sometimes, people don’t trust me. Here's why: When someone comes to me with a burning desire to write, or a story that’s wormed its way into their core, I am a cheerleader. Like the craziest, wildest, noisiest fan: ‘Go!’ ‘Keep going!’ 'You can do this! You’re almost...

How to Become a Writer Publishers Want

How to Become a Writer Publishers Want I often get asked, 'How do you get published?' The better question is 'how do we become the kind of writers publishers are looking for?' Here are my thoughts: Write the best goddamed book you can – live what you’ve written. Don’t...

What Every Writer Needs on Her Shelf

Finding the right word may take more than just a click of a mouse... I inherited a Roget’s Thesaurus from my late grandfather. It has one of those hard-covers made from cloth. My grandfather’s signature is on the front page with the date 10-3-36. A few pages in is a...

Why Talent is Overrated in Writing

What stops many people from writing is the belief that they have no talent. This is what I think about talent: Talent isn’t enough: talent guarantees zilch. It's not a ticket to a publishing deal let alone a bestseller. It’s not even a boarding pass. It may get you to...

1 Comment

  1. Lene Rugård Jensen

    thank you so much, that was what I needed. I am gratefull for your sharing all of your knowledge and experience. I hope you get to tell a bit more about how not to fall in the abbyss of clichés during the seven days challenge.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This