Avoid clichés in your writing

Here is the best compilation of writing advise any writer can get.

  1. Avoid Alliteration. Always
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with
  3. Avoid clichés like the plague. They are old hat
  4. Comparisons are as bad as clichés
  5. Be more or less specific
  6. Writers should never generalize

Seven. Be consistent

  1. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  2. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  3. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than an understatement.


It is interesting how the advisor breaks all the rules he or she gives while giving them. Thinking about it differently, it is the best way to show someone what you don’t want them to do.

Since I found this, it has helped my writing greatly. I look out for these errors in my writing and correct them. For today’s column, I want to address the issue of clichés and share with you how I avoid them. Before finding this piece of advice to not use clichés in my writing, I found them to be a good way to connect with my readers. I thought it was cool to have the reader finish my statements or sentences for me because I employ expressions that are overused. I learned, however, that hackneyed phrases or metaphors weaken my writing.

Here is how fiction editor Beth Hill described the use of clichés:

Using clichés is like wearing someone else’s old and dirty clothes. They might have looked good at one time, but they don’t look good anymore. They don’t fit right and they don’t smell too good and they do nothing to improve your looks and bearing.

Other experts think clichés are shortcuts and writers who use them could be lazy because they haven’t done their due diligence to find a more appropriate term or phrase. Also, clichés do not often say exactly what the writer means. Last, contrary to what I thought before, clichés are actually bad for readers as well. They prevent readers from visualization, making them an obstacle to creating memorable writing. The readers’ brains process the phrase quickly—having heard it many times — and ascertain the meaning without needing to visualize the image. That’s not good.

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There is a lot of content out there competing for the readers’ attention. It is important for you to stand out and your diction is one sure way to do that. Word choice and use is one of the strongest tools for making your writing original. Words carry the flavor of a piece of writing. Sprinkle yours with phrases that are sweet or spicy or bitter, not with old words that reek of rot and decay. Don’t serve your readers tired words. They want vibrant phrases that mean something, not dull phrases that have lost their significance. Go for bold and fresh rather than trite and sour. Use your words. Create new phrases, new similes and metaphors, that tighten your writing threads.

Now, to avoid the use of clichés involves three steps. First, just write. In your first draft, do not care about whether you have clichés in your piece. Keep going till you are done. We use these phrases in spoken language a lot, it would be surprising that they do not work their way into your writing. It’s fine. Only a few people are able to avoid it all together and it is because they have practiced using visualization instead of these phrases for a long time. But you start from somewhere. Write freely the first time.

Once you have a draft, go on a hunting spree. Look for the phrases and metaphors that are overdone. If you struggle to find clichés in your own writing, do these two thins. Search online for comprehensive lists of clichés or get help from an outside reader or critique group. A fresh set of eyes, while cliché, really can help you find them in your work.

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The next thing to do after find all the clichés is to revise them. Be specific. Instead of one bland line, go for visualization. Describe exactly what you want the writer to see. One of the things I do is to employ images and metaphors that local to old expressions. For instance, instead of “A smile spread over her face like butter in a hot pan”, I would say, “A smile spread across her face like hot supper on a nicely rounded ball of fufu”.

Here is another example. Someone would say: She was as uncomfortable as a fish out of water. That sounds corny even as I write it out. That’s exactly the problem with clichés. To correct this, describe how uncomfortable the character is. I would say, “She curled her fingers around the thin fabric of her top; waving it in and out to create just a little air flow, but it was not enough. She was like an ice-cube in hot soup”. That’s better. I am sure you agree.

It is all in the practice. Here is a challenge for you. Take an old piece of writing of yours, look for the clichés in them and revise them. And, see how better it feels when you read it.

Root out clichés and tired phrases from your works and create your own phrases. Produce melodies in your words. Give your works a fresh and vibrant flavor, a flavor your readers will appreciate and savor and want to experience again and again. I wish you all the best on this journey of writing.

Until next week, read, write and love. It can only get better and we can only get better.


Elikem M. Aflakpui





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