Combating clichéd thinking – change your starting point

cliche writingGiven a fairly unoriginal brief, or a marketing stance that lacks certain imagination, it’s all too natural for clichés to start flooding your mind when you come. So what if you hit that terrible stumbling block when, for everything you try, you keep coming back to the same clichés? Consider that unoriginal starting point, that unimaginative bridge, and reposition yourself.

Clichés tend to exist for a reason – for example because everyone wants their product to be the best at something, and the collocations for the best tend to stick in our minds. Clichéd, unoriginal writing, is not inherently wrong – sometimes it’s precisely what a reader will expect (and even want). It’s just not going to separate a product or brand from the rest of literary history in any lasting, memorable way.

Say you’ve found a particular cliché that encapsulates your copy’s message perfectly, and you know it’s so tired that it’s bound to be completely ineffectual. Yet nothing else fits quite right. Where do you go from there? Try to force something? Switch some of the cliché’s component parts to make something original? Chances are if a cliché fits your idea best, your whole premise was cliché to begin with. Maybe you need to restart, and consider changing your idea entirely.

If you take a journey down the road of creative fiction into writing short stories, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from the concept of topic or theme-based challenges. Short story practice, training and competitions tend to use keywords, setting, and a variety of other parameters to give you that first spark of inspiration. I’m sure copywriting exercises would do the same, if you’ve been through some sort of formal copywriting training. A useful tip approaching these challenges, which you’ll find from any number of creative writing sources, is that you should reject your first idea outright. Why? Because it’s most likely the same, clichéd idea that most people come to faced with the same topic. And if you start with the same concept, no matter how much you try to mix it up, you’re only going to go so far to producing something original in the end.

Consider this short story challenge: Write a page starting with the sentence The gun lay on the floor, finally empty. Start with an idea that involves crime, suicide or war and see how original the final product is. Change the starting point- complete the task explicitly avoiding any themes of crime, war or violence, and the clichés will fall away. Obvious language, after all, arises from starting with an obvious idea.

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