Guiltless Writing

I remember when I started writing, I was surprised to learn there were so many rules I needed to learn—and follow. 

Show, don’t tell.

Do not use adverbs in your writing.

Don’t use cliches. 

Write a certain number of words per day to be successful.

And on and on.

But, I was also told something else: After you learn to follow the rules effectively and become successful, you may pretty much throw the rules away and write however you please. 

The truth is, I think when we find ourselves “eligible” to abandon the rules, we will want to keep them because they make our writing better.

But like I told my critique group yesterday, I will rejoice when the rule about using minimal adverbs in writing is no longer required. 

I can’t help it. I love those -ly words…

Lovely, slowly, carefully, brilliantly, passionately, and so on.

Oh, how I long to use them in my writing without feeling guilty!

They Are What They Are

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A cliché is a trite expression, often a figure of speech, whose effectiveness has been worn out through overuse and excessive familiarity.

Some examples are: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; leave no stone unturned, live and learn, what goes around comes around, at the end of my rope, sleep like a log,” and so on. 

There are thousands of them. We are told that they have been used too often and that, as authors, we should guard against including them in our books.

I agree to a certain extent. But, here is why I still use some—on purpose: I don’t like to tell the reader flat out what year it is. Instead, I like the reader to use the little clues I drop here and there, in order to figure it out for themselves. 

It’s just like certain time periods might use “sneakers” instead of “tennies or tennis shoes” or characters eat a breakfast of “Cheerios” instead of “Trix”, or buy a brand of cigarettes that were once popular, but no longer are sold in stores.

When I was in elementary school, we used expressions such as “Oh, fudge!” Or “Super.” But kids now say “awesome” and “epic.” Using them in writing gives authors subtle ways to tell the reader what time period the book is portraying.

Current cliches that will someday have passed their usefulness and become expressions that we will be told not to use, might be: “that being said, think outside the box, whatever, it is what it is, and my bad.” They will signify a period of time in history.

So, along with how the characters dress and the kind of cars they drive, I am suggesting to you that a sparse use of cliches can, in fact, be of help to readers.  And, I also think we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we unintentionally include one or two in our writing. (I got called on the use of the expression “pass the time,” recently.”)

My thinking on that?

Really?  (Oops!)

Before I close, I want to share something new I just found. It is Google Ngrams Viewer. It lets you track the use of phrases through their collection of scanned books. You might want to check it out!