I joked in an issue of my e-letter about writing “good,” and got a note from a reader soon after that said…
“So there I was reading my favorite newsletter writer and I come across, ‘For career success: lather, rinse, repeat.’ A cliche!
“Say it ain’t so. You’re beyond trite phrases and careless writing. So please don’t do it again. I can’t stand to be disillusioned.”
In my defense, this was my reply…
“Me, beyond trite phrases? Never!
“I admit that I agree — we need yet another hackneyed piece of writing like we need a hole in the head. There’s nothing worse, after all, than phrases as worn out as an old shoe. As writer and grammarian extraordinaire, William Safire, once said, ‘last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.’
“But please, when it comes to the ‘rules’ on using cliches, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, shall we? That is to say, with this knee-jerk critique, I fear you might be barking up the wrong tree.
“After all, while I know it’s never too late to learn something new about writing (better late than never, I always say) the tradition of using cliches in copy is about as old as dirt and not always the refuge of the village idiot, as you make it seem.
“In short, never say never.
“Because sometimes, frankly, a well-worn cliche can actually be just what the doctor ordered, especially when you’re caught between a rock and a hard place at the end of a piece and you want to convey an idea both quickly and maybe with a little irony.
“To put it simply, the point of the article is to look at new challenges with innocence and new ideas, rather than falling back on the tried and true… and shopworn. With the irony here being, that’s a piece of advice we’ll have to return to over a lifetime of writing, much in the same way a dog returns to his own vomit. It is an insight that can only come from, well, experience.
“It is what it is.”
To which my reader wisely replied, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” And so it is. Except when it isn’t. But that’s for another time.
Last modified: April 30, 2020