Stronger, Better Writing: How Not to Use Cliches in Your Writing

They say you should avoid using clichés like a plague. Oops, that sounds like a cliché in itself. So let’s say we should avoid them like ….? You can fill in the blanks, but chances are someone has already used it before. So, what’s new? Can you come up with fresh imagery and metaphors? Maybe difficult, but you can if you sit under an inspiration tree and allow the tree to whisper great mental pictures that will knock your socks off. Again—another cliché. Can’t help it, it’s almost build into the speech/thought process like a ready made template that offers convenience and comfort.

We’re all guilty of using clichés and as I said, I don’t blame you. Clichés are like the well-worn pajamas that you love to put on each night. It’s is soothing and will not ruffle your brain. You don’t have to think, you know exactly what it means. It doesn’t demand, just begs to be used and we gravitate towards them out of compulsion, after all, we’re creatures of habit.

credit: micahgoulart.deviantart.com
credit: micahgoulart.deviantart.com

If you’re guilty as I am—take comfort—it’s the bane of writers. Here are some examples and the likely culprit:

The experienced person aka showoff: Been there, done that

The condescending placate: It’s not you, it’s me.

Our mothers sending us on a guilt trip: This is going to hurt you more than it hurt me and Money doesn’t grow on trees and I wasn’t born yesterday and ….on and on…

The Holier than thou: No one ever said that life was fair

Women complaining to women: All men are the same

The Smart One: It’s not rocket science…

The professor/salesperson/politician etc: The bottom line is….

The die-hard: Never say never

The kid in us: I didn’t do it.

The computer addict: LOL, JK, BRB…..


The eloquent writer will frown at such slack --after all, clichés is so overused they have become tired and trite. They are the spawning of a lazy mind and readers are not impressed. Writers from Jonathan Swift to George Orwell had ranted about the using clichés as clutches. This is what George Orwell said, "[Political] prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house."

If you are diagnosed with a severe case of clichesitis, what do you do?

1. Think fresh. We prefer freshly made food to stale ones, so that goes for the business of wordsmithery. Right, like coin a new word that you can’t find in the dictionary but readers get it from intelligent guessing like for instance---wordsmithery.

2. Combine words to make a smorgasbord of words to add a new twist. Examples abound like Blooks (web-books) from Blogs and Books and the totally annoying “chillax.” You can get creative and give yourself a new title, “Word Inventor.”

3. Replace common words with foreign-sounding ones, to give it flair all its own. Just make sure, it fits into the nature of the writing. If I’m writing a story set in China, I may use a Chinese word to add color and layer.

4. Put a spin on an old cliché by playing word permutation or adding a new dimension to it. Example: Instead of “true and tried,” you may say “true and ripe.”

5. Look for energetic, invigorating and exciting phrases to replace the “ho-hum.” The trick is to sharpen your power of observation and open up your senses to the world around you. By painting a word picture using your own combination of carefully chosen words, your writing will stand out as being delightfully different.

6. Go for extreme metaphors. In his book, Spun & Bite, Arthur Plotnik (also wrote The Elements of Editing) urges us to go extreme. Employ killer megaphors with surprising images of imposing size, force or notoriety to augment your current vocabulary. And that’s just one of the tricks, for more, read his book.

Your new inspirational phrase may be the new flash in the sea of words today.  Tomorrow, it joins the rank of the old and aged.  The lame clichés today were the stars of yesterday, so what say we that we go easy on clichés?  If you overuse them in your writing, your reader is not challenged or stimulated. But if you try to use strong and unusual phrases only, your writing may come across as artificial.  An occasional slip into the comfort zone of clichés may be alright after all.

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Comments 31 comments

DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

anglnwu, I agree, it is so easy to sometimes to use cliché, especially when you are writing from a different culture and want to gain a wide readership. the writer wants to come across as 'in the know' (is that a cliche?) with the audience to which you are appealing.

Thanks for sharing your perspective on cliché.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

You're right--I remember having to learn idioms, similies (by definition - considered cliches by now) by hard as I'm a non-native speaker. Even though writers generally frown on the liberal use of cliches (yes, you cited a cliché), I think some use of it is inevitable, even necessary for flow and to connect with the audience. 

Appreciate your comments and I'm off to visit yours.


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 7 years ago from MA, USA

hmmm, you've got me thinking now! Growing up with a mother who speaks only in cliches, I'm sure it's rubbed off all over me, lol. Thanks for sharing. I'm going to need this one!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Dottie, it's nice to hear from you again. Truth be told, I love cliches, if not for the fact that writers are not supposed to have a love affair with them. Maybe a long-distance relationship?


lafenty profile image

lafenty 7 years ago from California

You are so right about the overuse of cliches but it is really hard to replace them with something original and creative. Many times, we don't even realize we are using them until someone reads our work and says "It's good but it's a little bit cliché."


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

You're right on--cliches are so much a part of our language--the listener/reader knows exactly what we're trying to say and it's easy to slip into them. For speaking purposes, I think it's ok. For writing, we have to watch out for overuse.

Thanks for visiting.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

You've got me at first glance...

Is that a cliche?  LOL I enjoyed your hub anginwu.  Did you know that this hub is floating under the green corn moon right now as one of the Hubnugget Wannabe's?  Yes it is.  If you must see it in order to believe (hehe) just click this link and viola...http://hubpages.com/hub/Nuggets-of-the-Green-Corn-...  all the details of the Hubnuggets are right there! 

So pack up your gear and drop by Patty's hub.  Enjoy the hubnugget fun! :-)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Thanks, ripplemaker, for the heads up (another cliché?). Seems like every sentence we utter is a cliche--what's new under the sun? Love this love/hate relationship with cliches.

So I'm packing up my gear (like you advise) and I'm off to find out what all this hoo-hah is all about?


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Did you turn green under the green corn moom angiwu? LOL Oh I'm having fun today and thank you for jumping right in with me. :-) Do go and promote your hub (oops not in the hubpages forums though that is a no-no) to your friends and all those that you know to vote for you. Yes, it is allowed. They do not have to be members to vote. Good luck! I mean..break a leg!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

You're so sweet and supportive. I didn't just turn green, I was all the colors of rainbow. You bet, I'm going to break a leg and an arm (or was it an arm and a leg? --we're all cliched-out?) to get people to vote but I'm not terribly social, so that may be a problem:)


cashmere profile image

cashmere 7 years ago from India

Great hub...u have my vote!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

I loved the quote by George Orwell, :..phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house." As a writer, I try to be original when I combine words, but, honestly, I don't mind cliches. I use 'em all the time. In fact, I don't think I'll ever stop, "not for all the tea in china!"


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Cashmere, appreciate your vote and thanks for dropping by.

alekhouse, I love that quote too, really a great imagery for what cliches are --but having said that, I think cliches are fun and unpretentious, like the friendly 7-11 store--they have a little of everything and when you're in a hurry--it's there.

Appreciate your comments and yes, I'm with you, "not for all the tea in China."


Pearldiver profile image

Pearldiver 7 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

Well written anginwu Good Luck in the hubNuggets & I Hope your Ducks Float.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Pearldiver, thank you so much --sure hope my ducks float too.

K@ri, I do too, cliches are the fabric of speech and language. It's Ok, I use them too--except when the editing police is around.

Thank you, both for visiting.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

Well said, well said, well said. Congratulations on your nomination.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Thank you, thank you, and yes, thank you! I just became your fan and was in the process of reading your bird shaningrans when I got bumped--now back to your birds' paradise.


Charia Samher profile image

Charia Samher 7 years ago

Now this is my favorite but "to be fair" I have to read on the other nominees. lol!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

I agree--still, thank you for taking time to read and thank you for your kind comments.

I'll be checking out your hubs.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Angiwu, you did it! Even with your declared anti-socialness, your hub was part of the top 5! Congratulations! I was grinning ear to ear. Hahaha Is it too obvious that I'm happy for you? Well, I am.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Many thanks--nerds rule, after all? Not that I'm one, or at least I hope I'm not one but I'm not the most social person, so go figure.

Thanks again for your support, and since you brought good news--go in peace and many happy returns!


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 7 years ago from California

Americans definitely speak in cliches. Listen to newscasters such as Brian Williams. Of course, every good writer should avoid using cliches, especially ones such as "they treated him like a rock star." Later!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

THanks for your comments--I agree, especially those in the media.

I'm off to visit your hub.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

To those who voted for this article, thank you for your wonderful support--I made it to top 3 :)


james 7 years ago

It's not rocket science is an overused cliché.

I prefer to hear people say: It's not difficult.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Right, sometimes, simplicity is the key. Conversation should flow with ease, not wrought with "rocket science" talk.

Thanks for visiting my hub.


jayb23 profile image

jayb23 7 years ago from India

I agree with whatever you have written. But what is life without cliches..lol...nice hub though


jayb23 profile image

jayb23 7 years ago from India

I agree with whatever you have written. But what is life without cliches..lol...nice hub though


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

I LOL agree with you--life would be boring--a cliched observation but how true! Cliches are like comfort food--can you imagine life without them?

Thanks for visiting--a friend from the past but not forgotten.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

You said a mouth full - ooh sorry cliché! What a fun hub and as writers - we should make it a point not to use them. When I read a cliché I go kind of numb - can't read beyond it.

Or maybe as writers it's time to create some brand new cliches. Like 'poor is the new broke' - so sorry but I'm having fun!

Thanks for this reminder! I'm your fan!

(And I love love love Singapore! Truly a garden city and everything else that is wonderful. Had a marvelous time when I visted).


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago Author

Thanks for sharing your take on the whole "cliche-ish" thingy.

Glad you like Singapore--i go home every year--what to do?--the food is too good for words (oops...a cliché?) and I really miss my family.

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