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.

 

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

 

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

Right Turn

'Right Turn' From the book The Turning I chose bona fides and other Latin terms you find in law books for it was easier, they claimed to fall back on precedent and stare decisis than a line Tennyson wrote that’s etched in your soul. I turned left at logic not right at...

How to Make Readers Part of Your Success When You Launch Your Book

How to Get Your Readers to Become Part of Your Success as You Launch Your Book   The purpose of launching you book is to get people to buy your book after all your hard work. To do this properly, you need to understand why people buy books. People buy books either...

On Returning to the Home I Grew Up In

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there. ―Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon I sit and watch the sun come up over Johannesburg...

Don’t Tell Me the Moon is Shining: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

Anton Chekhov wrote, ‘Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ One of the trickier 'golden rules of great writing’ that can be difficult to understand and execute is the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. What does it mean? It's the...

Writing About Writing About Writing

I have recommitted to writing. This is the anthem I have been singing for the last two-thirds of a year—a requiem for wasted time, claimed during the approach of my son’s first birthday. I was in a place of relative peace as this promise to myself was made, and I...

People with Passion: An Interview with Van Jones

The first time I met Van Jones, we had a fight. I had just landed in the US to do a year of law at Yale, and had ventured out to my first party. I was one of the few with a weird accent and I was trying to find my people. I decided I didn’t like him and hoped I’d...

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