How to Avoid Cliches in Your Writing

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The goal of every diligent writer is to deliver polished, error-free writing. While sticking to grammar rules, proper sentence structure and formatting are essential in writing, so is avoiding cliches.

In writing, you want to stay away from using cliches as much as possible. It’s easy for cliches to creep into your writing, but taking extra time and reading through your draft will help you spot them.

What is a cliché?

A cliche is an overused phrase orexpression that over years has lost its originality and appeal. For example, expressions such as “All that glitters isn’t gold” or “As red as a rose” or “Leave no stone unturned” are examples of cliches. While they sounded striking in the past, they no longer are as impactful in the present.

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

— George Orwell

Why avoid clichés in writing

Think of cliches as an archaic language lost in the transition of time. You can also think of cliches as dusty old clothing that’s laying in your closet that no longer inspires you. Think about a piece of costume jewelry you’ve worn over the years that by now has lost its appeal, or a piece of stale bread sitting on your countertop that doesn’t stimulate your taste buds.

In the same way, your writing has to be fresh. One way to do that is by avoiding cliches. The amount of originality you bring into your piece will help you be more authentic and, thus, attract more readers to your work. The more substance you put into your writing, the more meaningful and original it will be. In the end, it’s not only what you say that matters, but what matters is how you say it.

Cliches are boring to the reader

When readers stumble upon cliches, they may find your writing boring and uninspiring. They convey to them a message about your lack of originality. Lack of original thought can make the reader disengage and switch to reading something else.

Think for a second, if you’ve been eating the same food for a few days in a row, no matter how pleasing it is to your palate, by the end of the week, you’ll crave something different. Writing is similar — do it in the most original way and you’ll please the eye of the reader.

The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.

— Salvador Dali

Cliches are vague and abstract

When you write, the more specific you can make your points, the stronger your arguments will be. Cliches make your points too general and abstract. Using cliches is like taking a shortcut from creative work. Anyone can use the same words and expressions to represent their ideas. But what sets you apart as a writer is how creative you are in expressing a seemingly simple idea or a concept.

You want to step out of generalizations and be as specific as you can by providing detailed descriptions that support your arguments. Creating a unique and specific way of illustrating your ideas will help to strengthen your writing.

Cliches don’t establish you as an authentic writer

The problem with cliches is that they are too general and don’t add specificity or originality to any piece of writing — no matter what genre it is. If you present something with a cliche, you can lose your credibility as a writer. If you can’t describe an idea in your own words, you undermine the reader’s trust in you.

When you go beyond simply describing something — a concept or idea — and put your original spin to the points you make, you attach a seal of faith to your writing. The depth you add to your piece will help you stand out from the crowd and be more authentic.

Exceptions to using cliches

There are a few exceptions when you can use them, but in most cases, avoid them. For example, it’s acceptable to use them when you’re writing for a specific audience, and using a particular phrase or expression is suitable. You may get away with a cliche if you’re writing a “how-to” article to make the complicated concepts easy to understand.

How to get rid of cliches

So now you know about cliches, you may wonder: “How do I get rid of them?” It’s common for cliches to slip through while you’re writing your first draft. Don’t interrupt the process, though, while you’re in the middle of writing, as doing so can impede your creative flow. What you should do, however, is after you’ve finished your draft and switched to editing mode, look for places where you may have used cliches and think of original ways to describe your ideas. This process may take a while, but it’s worth it. It can mean the difference between a stale draft and a more original one.

You can also go deeper and analyze each sentence you wrote. Look at each structure and see if the words or phrasing you chose are original to you. Ask yourself: “Could any other writer have used a similar way of expressing my ideas?” The more original your writing is, the more it will come across as unique.

To help you, you can use ProWritingAid — it’s like Grammarly and free to install on your computer. What sets ProWritingAid apart is that it has a plug-in feature where you can check your content for cliches. The program makes it easy and points them out for you.

The bottom line

As a writer, avoid cliches in your writing as much as possible. When editing your draft, take extra time to eliminate possible cliches and look for innovative ways to express your ideas. Doing so will help you write more creatively and originally. You’ll come across as more authentic, which will help keep your readers engaged in your work.

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