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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Warning for Writers: Trite Phrases and Cliches

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

In this day and age, the epic struggle of a free-lance writer to survive the acid test of becoming eminently successful, as an overnight success, in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing stands like a stone wall across the path to achievement. At first glance, there would seem to be ample opportunity for writers. But the reality lies in marked contrast to the dream. To be perfectly frank, it leaves much to be desired.

Needless to say, the sum and substance of a writer’s muse is a reflection of their life’s path. The bone of contention of whether that reflection is marketable depends upon whether a particular emotion felt by the author can be conveyed to the reader. On the surface, a writer faces overwhelming odds in that endeavor. Even when a publisher gives the green light to a project, success is still not a sure thing. Along these lines, the writer must carry grave concerns about the universality of expression and understanding that must be part and parcel of the written word.  There is no irony here, since irony is how one fixes a wrinkly shirt.

A common fault of writers, usually those new to the game and unfamiliar with the rules of the road which define professional standards and practices, is the careless use of run-on sentences that contain more than the one idea that can usefully be contained in a shorter sentence, while extending the use of commas and semicolons as connectors that unnecessarily lengthen what should be a concise expression; a cogent thought; a model of brevity and clarity that successfully communicates to the reader in such a way that fosters full and complete communication not only from intellect to intellect, but from heart to heart, which is, simply stated, the purest form of human communication, a premium in a world of runaway hate, vitriol, and misunderstanding; the sources of human conflict, and the stone wall that stands between humanity and the often vain hope of peace and harmony.


If previous efforts generated a low level of interest or a mixed bag of results, then the writer must be prepared in no uncertain terms to execute an about-face; to make sweeping changes to his or her’s labor of love in order to remedy the situation. In this reassessment, the writer’s point of view and the publisher’s needs are often not one in the same. In fact, the importance of a writer’s personal opinions pales into insignificance in standing before climbing the mountain of subjectivity. Yet if one is to gain some traction on this slippery slope, then the writer must drill down and synergize a different paradigm in order to gain buy-in from the reader, to be sure.  To be perfectly honest, in this pursuit, the writer must always see their glass as half-full in terms of maintaining that rose-colored view of optimism

There's no harder task than targeting an uncertain market.  The nature of the audience must be made crystal clear quick as lightning,  That particular struggle may lead to a period of flat inspiration, requiring a last-ditch effort in the wee hours of the morning to pull the project from the fire. A failure of this magnitude can leave the writer mired in the depths of despair.  These unsung heroes expected an outpouring of support only to discover that critics always go for the throat in picking the low-hanging fruit.

On more than one occasion, writers have tried to set the world on fire, to coin a phrase, utilizing tried and true formulas that may have been worth their weight in gold once upon a time, but now only deliver homogeneity which throws a stumbling block onto the ladder of success. Many a writer has emerged from such an experience much sadder and wiser at the end of the day.  Even when it happens in the morning.

But as in every endeavor, setbacks are inevitable. The career of a writer is, after all, not for the faint of heart. Rejection is not the crushing blow it is reputed to be. Editors won’t always throw a prospective writer under the bus, so they don't have to be thought of as the personification of the grim reaper. 

Okay, maybe they do.

Too many writers employ a lottery attitude, striving for quick success, a flash in the pan.  That attitude must be nipped in the bud.  A writer should rather take the slow and steady path that will win the race and result in ruling the roost at a ripe old age, left to enjoy the finer things in life.

It takes, by a conservative estimate, years, even decades to become a successful writer. Racheting up expectations early on can be destructive.  But for all intents and purposes, that challenge should be sauce for the goose, and not the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sweet success should be a festive occasion, tempered by the knowledge that the defining moment of a big paydays may be few and far between.  And even though making the big splash may occur late in life, it is still better late than never.

Every writer needs to work at their craft. To make a long story short, go at it tooth and nail, through thick and thin. Last, but not least, work like a dog, become wise as an owl, and you will emerge, tired and happy, having faced the music and able to point with pride to a body of work that will stand the test of time, leaving your contemporaries and rivals green with envy.  Notoriety and reputation are the Holy Grails of success.  Once a writer has achieved these, then the rest is the history of a brave new world.

Oh, and by the way…

Avoid, on pain of death, the use of common cliches and trite phrases.

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