What’s A Cliché? Overused Words To Avoid In Your Writing

by @thewritermama on December 10, 2013 · 6 comments

This post is excerpted from The Writer’s Workout, my third book from Writer’s Digest Books…you can learn more about it and all my helpful writing books right here.

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  ~ Mark Twain

Avoid overused words that have achieved cliché status. Thanks to the increased speed of communication, it seems like a word can hit the cliché zenith overnight these days.

I like Sam Horn’s advice for how to handle clichés. In POP, Stand Out in Any Crowd, she says, “Substituting something unexpected for something expected startles people out of autopilot mode and pleasantly surprises them with your originality.”

Here is an assortment of tired words writers and editors shared with me that desperately need to be replaced with fresher ideas, plus a few words I’m weary of myself:

• Trust
• Wince
• Brand
• Wonderful
• Tribe
• Amazing
• Platform
• Leverage
• Connect
• Empower
• Human
• Intersect
• Funnel
• Authentic
• Gazed
• Lucid
• Literally
• Balance
• Peace
• Really
• So
• Like
• Soul
• Seriously
• Impacted
• Signage
• Gifted
• Journey
• Exactly
• Synergy
• Awesome
• Heaving
• Resonate
• Curate
• Actually
• Alternative
• Whatever
• Unique
• Very
• Issue

Of course, clichéd doesn’t merely apply to overused words. As author Scott Edelstein points out, “A cliché is anything trite and overused. Clichés are usually phrases (Look out for number one or It’s your funeral). But they can also be images (a cheery soda jerk with a pointed white hat; a cat pawing at a ball of yarn), ideas (war is hell; Californians are laid-back), or even whole scenes (the soldier comes home from the war; the lovers wake up to a magnificent sunrise).”

Pay attention to words that habitually end up on your editing room floor. If you can discover what they are, you are halfway toward swearing off of them. And if you can’t train them out of your pen, at least you’ll get faster at plucking them out later.

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