keeping it fresh

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On the weekend, I joined an online workshop run by Caoilinn Hughes (author of Gathering Evidence, Orchid and the Wasp & most recently The Wild Laughter) as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. It turned out all participants, myself included, were emerging writers at most; several participants hadn’t yet started writing, but were hoping the workshop would get them motivated. When I heard this, I thought perhaps the content would be too basic. I wondered if I would learn anything new, since I’ve been writing and attending workshops for several years now.

I was completely wrong. The workshop sparkled with new information and advice, and I found myself scrambling to write it all down. But one tip stood out above the others.

Avoid cliches.

I thought I’d learnt this already. But when Caoilinn gave a few examples, my toes curled in recognition (hmm, is this a cliche too?). She warned against the old, hackneyed ways of showing what our characters are feeling – he bit his lip, she clenched her fists, he raised his eyebrows. Caoilinn Hughes suggested we try something different. Steer away from familiar, well-worn phrases.

And I realised that eliminating cliches, as much as possible, is what I need to do next to become a better writer. And that after that, there will be something else that needs addressing. And then another way to progress. And though I’ve known this a long time, I was reminded yet again that the writing life will be a constant process of learning and levelling up.

I find that daunting in some respects. It’s exhausting to think of always striving, never quite reaching a goal. But in other ways, the thought is exhilarating. To know that writing is a lifelong pursuit, that there is no ending besides our own deaths, that we will forever be discovering, examining, imagining and improving. It seems a thrilling and remarkable way to spend our days.

12 Comments

Filed under the joy of writing, the writing life, writing advice

12 responses to “keeping it fresh

  1. It is indeed a wonderful way to spend a life 🙂 xxx

  2. I’m glad this was worthwhile. I love Caoilinn’s writing!

  3. Great post, Fiona. Keeping our writing fresh is part of the challenge but also part of the thrill when we succeed.

  4. What a lovely perspective, Fiona, I absolutely agree. It’s surprising how rewarding it is, pushing piles of words around, trying to carve them into distinction.

  5. What a great and timely reminder. Am about to go through my manuscript searching for raised eyebrows, bit lips, clenched fists and other clichés! I’m sure I’ll be shaking my head in shame. (Apologies for that last cliché.)

    • Hi Louise, it’s such good advice, absolutely, but I’ve been thinking on it further and I think there are times we need the ’emotional shortcut’ of being able to say ‘he raised his eyebrows’ instead of something unusual that might trip the reader up. So I think yes, eliminate cliches where possible but also leave some of them alone.
      (So no shaking your head in shame and definitely hold your chin high … hehehe)
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
      xx

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