How do you know if a particular phrase is a cliche? Here’s the definition of cliche in Google: “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought” (which is why cliches tend to make copy sound sucky).
Hmm. Totally useless. We reuse common phrases all the time, but that doesn’t make them cliches, far from it – and yet they all have the same attributes of that definition.
So here’s my better definition: “a cliche is anything that sounds sucky to the writer, reader, or listener in the context of which they’re consuming it”.
Let’s make it simpler though: “a cliche is anything that sounds sucky”. This is why we MUST read our copy (out loud if you’re just starting, or in your head when you get more experience).
You’ll start to recognise suckiness as soon as you hear it (listen for emotional changes in yourself – these are the triggers – anything that makes you squirm, even slightly, is a signal something is not quite right – note it takes time to develop this skill, but it will change your whole way of thinking and writing).
When it happens, note it, and edit it later (when you get really good at editing, you may find you can do it on the fly – most gurus advise strongly against that, but I do it all the time).
Editing is NEVER a one time thing either. Every piece will need multiple edits with a gap between each edit. How long that gap is depends on your experience (if you’re starting out, leave an article for 24 hours before attempting an edit – you need your memory to forget what you wrote, so you can read it later with fresh eyes).
NOTE: As you gain more editing experience, you’ll find you can instruct your memory to forget what you’ve just read more quickly, reducing the period between editing down to as low as 30 minutes (another great skill to practice as you progress).
I use cliches all the time (of the type we expect – sucky sounding phrases) yet they work fine. Why? Because context. When I use them, it’s because they are the BEST phrase I can come up with for what I’m trying to say that makes sense to the audience – and, most importantly, ensures that the audience doesn’t have to use their brain to figure it out.
I don’t put them in there through laziness. I use them on purpose.
(here’s another definition: “a cliche is a phrase copied by a writer because they’re too lazy to come up with something new” – or the counter to that “a cliche is something used by great writers on purpose, not through laziness”).
If you think deeply about every word you write, your purpose for writing them, and how that affects the overall feel and aim of your copy, you will never sound sucky. Your brain will be forced to come up with exactly the right words to convey your message as clearly as possible.
How do I know? Because that’s been my experience over decades of writing (including tons of sucky rubbish). The more I edit, the less sucky I sound.
The most interesting article for me last week was BRAIN (links below as usual) yet it got the lowest response rate. It’s about magic formulas and even though they stare us in the face, we still can’t figure them out (there’s a good reason for this – see the link).
PROOF got the biggest response, but CLAIMS and DISHES has the most usable ideas. Anyway, here you go:
With my love,
Science of Copywriting
PS. I was going to call the last piece of the week “Reciprocity”, since it’s all about that, but by the time I got to the PS I changed my mind 🙂
PPS. You can now get direct access to the ICA Getting Started series: https://internationalcopywritersassociation.com/ica-getting-started-part-1/
I've spent my working life starting and running a whole variety of businesses, from my first QPL Express Couriers where I travelled over 100,000 miles every year delivering packages on a motorcycle (along with a whole bunch of colleagues) to Accountz.com which made a major in-road in the UK, to ProofMEDIA my current business that focuses on Copywriting and the International Copywriters Association, which helps copywriters learn more about copywriting and the copywriting industry around the world.
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