12 Cliches All Writers Should Avoid

Cliches drive me bonkers, especially when it comes to writing. They are boring and abused and about as fun to read as the instruction manual of a Dustbuster. Writing is supposed to be a creative process, and there’s nothing creative in rehashing some trite phrase that is so old it was probably used by Moses as he parted the Red Sea.

So I asked the Writer’s Digest team of editors to help me compile a list of the 12 cliches in writing that need to be permanently retired. Here they are (in no particular order):

1. Avoid it like the plague
2. Dead as a doornail
3. Take the tiger by the tail
4. Low hanging fruit
5. If only walls could talk
6. The pot calling the kettle black
7. Think outside the box
8. Thick as thieves
9. But at the end of the day
10. Plenty of fish in the sea
11. Every dog has its day
12. Like a kid in a candy store

And those are just the tip of the iceberg (oh wait, there’s bonus cliche #13!).

Now that you’ve seen ours, what I want to know is: What cliches annoy you the most? Post it below in the comments section. Also, feel free to share this on Twitter to help us build the ultimate list of cliches that need to be retired:

12 Cliches All Writers Should Avoid – http://bit.ly/QBBT2o (via @BrianKlems) #wdCliches

[Editor’s Note: Winners of the Cliches Contest are listed here.]

Another article you may also enjoy on the topic is:
10 Tips to Avoid Clichés in Writing


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383 thoughts on “12 Cliches All Writers Should Avoid

  1. tom cordle

    Old Cliché

    Maybe my song’s not good enough
    And you’ve heard it all before
    And I can’t convey the way I feel
    When someone walks out that door

    I poured-out my heart and soul to you
    But you just tear my words apart
    Well, it may be an old cliché to you
    But too me, it’s a broken heart

    So let that old fiddle start cryin’
    And let that steel guitar moan
    And let that harp bend
    All them sad notes again
    ‘Cause I’m feelin’ all alone

    Still, I wish I had words to make you feel
    But I don’t know where to start
    It may be an old cliché to you
    But to me, it’s a broken heart

    ©1980 Tom Cordle

  2. MayINow

    Have you googled cliches recently? One website claimed 681 cliches then made sure to say, that’s not a comprehensive list.

    Have you paid attention to what is considered a cliche?
    The day after tomorrow…
    I beg to differ..
    Anything in a romance plot
    Almost anything in a fantasy plot
    Soon to be anything in a thriller plot
    And anything where there is time travel or an alternate world.
    OR the exact opposite of every cliche known to man is also a cliche.

    So if I want to refer to the day after tomorrow, or if one character doesn’t agree with the other and the time period calls for that turn of phrase. Well then I’m outta luck. If I use the cliche, oh dear, my writing is lazy.

    If I avoid the cliche or use the opposite in a blatant attempt to avoid the cliche, damn, i either wind up using a cliche anyway or making the reader scratch their head wondering why the hell am I being so literal all the time. I wont be able to help myself, I’ll fall on my face (oops, double whammy…or does this make it a triple…crap there’s is no escape!!!) no matter which way I go, wont I?

    Sure, in each of our personal small circles of the world there are phrases we personally don’t like. For me, the cliche I hate the most is the one that says, “avoid the cliches.” Have you looked at our language? After you do that, consider this: Is it really lazy thinking to use or speak a cliche? Isn’t that just a lot elitist? And if you don’t agree with that, then I challenge you to go a full day without speaking or writing one cliche. If you choose to delete it or allow your speech to trail off, hoping no one noticed your lazy thinking…doesn’t mean you didn’t use it as if it weren’t second nature! Oh, grief! They’re coming out of the woodwork!

    And what about this: there are so many cliches, they are developed every day, fall out of popularity every day, and scorned by someone with the memory of an elephant who remembered it was a cliche 20 years ago but the the rest of us mortals know it’s OK to use again, who is the omniscient one who has the end all, be all ability to deem any phrase a cliche?

    Ok. Sarcasm aside, a little. Yes there are the over used ones. And they do suck to read. It does draw away from writing if cliches are heavily used.

    But, to avoid all cliches all the time, I say, is impossible. Even if you manage it, watch your readers. When they comment on the greatness or not-so-greatness of your work, they use cliches like its the bread of life.

    My point, it isn’t only in our culture. It is our culture. If our writing reflects our culture why is that wrong?

    1. Justice Watson

      Very intelligent reply. I agree. It is extremely difficult to completely avoid cliches, but I do think there are some that do add something to a person’s writing.
      P.S.: “Overmorrow” is the English word for the day after tomorrow. It is an exceedingly uncommon word, featured once in the Webster’s 1918 edition. Can’t wait to see someone use it in their writing. “Ereyesterday” is the also obsolete “day before yesterday” term.
      Thought I would add that.


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