How to Salvage Your Writing from the Crematorium of Cliche

by Jan 18, 2018Writing 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

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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

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