Fighting against cliché

I’ve been doing some writing exercises to get myself going in the morning. I’m trying to write without too much direction, just to see what happens. Standard fare for writing teachers is the “first line” prompt. The aim of this exercise is to provide a first line that the writer then follows on from. I found a first line generator that generates first lines such as the following:

It would only be a fling – she wasn’t about to break up the happy home

She clung on to the piece of driftwood, praying for daylight

He knew he must keep very still while he waited

His voice had never sounded so cold

The aim of the writing exercise is to take the first line and just start writing. However, the first thing that come to mind are clichés – the first an affair, the second something like Castaway, the next someone hiding from pursuers, the final one a breakup. But, in the attempt to write about something not cliché I find myself getting into an unending cliché loop.

What’s wrong with cliché?

A cliché is a “is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.”

Our minds are filled with clichés – we say them every day, we live them. I’m a cliché – I married my much older philosophy lecturer (see: Little Women). We say things like “the end of the day,” or “to be honest.” And, you know, clichés do have their place – they’re a shorthand way of getting across something that is culturally understood. I might want to convey that someone really is a stuffy old academic who wants to be cool by putting them in a jacket with elbow patches. I might signal a millennial by the constant pinging of their smartphone.

But in order to make something that isn’t just a rehash of shallow ideas that pervade society, it’s necessary to fight with cliché.

Clichés today

There has never been more clichés than there are today. The world is filled with image and clichés of every single kind. One cannot turn on the television without being faced with a cliché: show formats that are all the same, presenters that are carbon copies of one another, advertisements that have perfected appealing to the clichés inside us. Just going on Twitter you can see the proliferation of hashtags, mannerisms, and turns of phrase that circulate.

Fighting with Cliché

Our brains are packed full of clichés. When I to a page it is already filled with them. How do I avoid rehashing them? How to I write something that gets at the thing itself, without all the built-up shit? That’s what I haven’t figured out yet, and those first line exercises made me think of it this morning. I was going through each first line, as soon as I’d read it I’d have an idea and then think “ugh”.

Some thoughts I had on how to deal with it:
– write through the cliché and see what happens at the other side. There might be something of value, or it might be shit, or maybe the cliché will become something else
– don’t do writing exercises like that
– note down ideas on a list and if they are cliché strike them out

I am aware that all of this thinking ignores the fact that a writing exercise is what it says it is – an exercise, a way of exercising my writing, and I should probably just treat it as such. Maybe tomorrow.

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