The Writing Rules That Were Made to Be Broken: Beware the Cliché Police
There's a distinctly rebellious air about the Muse and the Marketplace Conference this year. Come April 6-8 at Boston's Park Plaza, #Muse18 presenters will be letting loose on the writing rules that have held our manuscripts hostage for far too long. To kick off the conversation ahead of the Muse weekend, this year's Muse series explores the writing, publishing, and workshop rules, conventions, and accepted norms that authors, agents, and editors at the Muse love to hate—and why they'd love to see them broken. Some presenters will also offer their own rules or conventions that they want to see adopted in writing and publishing spaces. This installment comes from writer and event coach Allison Hoch. Allison will be leading the Muse session Writing Like a Parent, Parenting Like a Writer.
I was sitting at my computer muscling through the first draft of a novel, and I was at a point where I wanted to rend my clothing and pull out my hair. Each word felt like slogging through mud. In the back of my mind pounded the phrase: “Every word must count.” But the weight of that edict made writing any words at all feel impossible. How could I know what the right word was when the story and characters were still taking shape?
So I did it. I broke a cardinal rule. I used a cliché. I even immortalized it on Twitter:
Clichés are crutches. They are overused. They’re corny and all around lazy writing.
Unless you look at a cliché like a placeholder while you’re drafting. That line was overwrought. It made me want to roll my eyes so hard they’d fall out of my head. But it conveyed the sentiment I wanted, when I couldn’t find the right words. And it got me through to the next scene. And the next, and the next. Clichés might be crutches, but sometimes we’re limping to the finish line and we need the extra support.
Forgive yourself the use of clichés. When you go back and revise, take a deep look at each of them. What is the emotion or sentiment you’re trying to convey? Consider if the cliché feels like the most accurate and authentic way to portray those feelings. Then decide what words stay in and which you change. But don’t beat yourself up before you get there. You may need that overused shorthand to get you to the words that count.
Allison Pottern Hoch is a writer and event coach with over eight years of experience in marketing, publicity, sales, and event planning. She spent four years promoting academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a bookseller and event coordinator. She organized, hosted, and promoted over 150 events during her tenure, ranging in size from intimate workshops and lunches to multi-media events with over 700 attendees. She worked with veteran authors, celebrities, and debut authors alike. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University where she coordinated the Adamson Visiting Writers series. Allison is currently working on her first novel, drinking many cups of tea, and chasing after her two young children. You can visit her website for more information on her workshops and coaching services at http://events.pottern.com.
Colwill is an instructor and manuscript consultant at GrubStreet, an associate editor at Bat City Review, and an MFA candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating a scholarship awardee of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program, Colwill found representation for her first novel, Before We Tear Our Selves Apart, with Robert Guinsler of Sterling Lord Literistic, which is currently on submission to publishing houses. She is the recipient of the Wellspring House Emerging Writer Fellowship, the Henry Blackwell Essay Prize, and a Crawley-Garwood Research Grant, and has received fellowships and support from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The University of Texas at Austin, Boston College, Kansas State University, the Anderson Center for Disciplinary Studies, and GrubStreet. She was a finalist for the 2019 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize, the 2019 Reynolds Price Award, the 2019 Far Horizons Fiction Award, the 2019 Disquiet International Literary Prize, and the 2019 Lit Fest Emerging Writer Fellowship. Colwill’s fiction is forthcoming in Granta and is anthologized in Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53). She has served on the editorial team for Post Road magazine, The Conium Review, Solstice Literary Magazine, and Pangyrus magazine. Colwill is a founding member of the Back Porch Collective, a Boston-based group of writers. With members connected to Cuba, India, Albania, Atlanta, Bosnia, Miami, Jamaica, and the UK, they bonded over a common passion for global narratives and literature’s potential to create empathy and understanding across all geographical, political, and cultural borders. Hailing from Yorkshire, in the north of England, Colwill is determined to introduce the word “sozzard” to the American vernacular. For a full list of publications, projects, and services, please visit colwillbrown.com.See other articles by Colwill Brown