When I began my freshman year Journalism I course, one of the first lessons was to eliminate all cliches. This shocked me, because, like many other new rules established by Natalie Sekicky, the journalism teacher, it contradicted everything I had learned before. Writers imitate what they know, and I had grown comfortable with my collection of phrases, picked up over time from everything I had read or heard before.
Freshman year was the first time I had experienced any pushback on those phrases, and it left me struggling to fill holes that once were so easily patched with the words of writers who came before me. The blank spaces confounded me. I gradually cut the cliches out of my writing repertoire and, over time, found it easier to convey meaning through simpler words.
Now, even as I write blog posts, English papers, or journalism articles, I have a mental block against writing anything that sounds too familiar, and too simple. But that doesn’t solve the problem on its own. Cliches help us express concepts that are difficult to fit into the definition of one word, and to express them using separate vocabulary means forcing yourself to truly think about what the meaning of that cliche is.
I don’t like reading Orwell, but in his essay Politics and the English Language, his attitude on cliches mirrors what mine has become — that they are too easy. One cannot write only to write. We write to convey the thoughts in our heads to others through vocabulary that we’ve created in order to do so. Cliches attempt to connect different human experiences through one phrase, and to think that the cliche has only one meaning is to discount the individual experience of the user.
My goal when I write is to express exactly how I think and feel in words, and it is an unreachable goal. But at least when I attempt to use my own words, and not the words I’ve been spoonfed, I can strive to attain such a goal.