• Kaecey McCormick

Using Cliches to Boost Your Creativity

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

When we cover clichés in my English class, I explain they’re shortcuts used to convey an experience, feeling, or set of feelings to others.

basket full of eggs
"Don't put all of your eggs in one basket!"

When a cliché was first used, it might have been a fresh way of explaining this and people thought it was the bee's knees so they kept using it. Now, however, it’s become so popular and overused that it loses its meaning. It has become boring and dull.


It’s easy to understand why we use clichés: they save us time and energy. We use them because when we do, we don’t have to work as hard when we’re writing (or speaking). For example, instead of having to describe how my character actually feels when they meet their love interest, I can just write, “He was head over heels.”


While sometimes using a cliché is okay — or even preferred — most of the time clichés detract from your writing because they keep the details and real emotional experiences at arm’s length. In other words, clichés prevent you from writing and exposing the truth.


One helpful exercise to break the habit of relying on cliché is to deconstructing — then rebuilding — it. Once you do this, you'll see it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Here's how it works:


Writing Exercise: Cliché Deconstructed

  • Choose a cliché to consider - go with the first one that pops into your head or one you caught yourself writing in your journal or one you’ve always loved or hated (Note: If you can’t think of a cliché, choose one from the list at the end of the instructions)

  • Think of an experience, either a real-life experience or one you’ve read about or watched in a film or TV show

  • Use that example to explore the cliché: - What exactly makes this experience fit the cliché? Write it down. - Consider the feelings involved in the experience and let yourself sink into those feelings, then write them down - Write down concrete details and specific images from the experience - Make a list of descriptive words that help describe the experience

  • Try to come up with at least three fresh, new metaphors or comparisons that could describe the experience instead of the tired, old cliché

dog holding a flower
Teaching an old dog new tricks!

A Very Partial List of English Clichés:

  • “don't put all of your eggs in one basket”

  • “better safe than sorry”

  • “you can’t judge a book by its cover”

  • “the grass is always greener on the other side”

  • “ignorance is bliss”

  • “black sheep”

  • “rotten egg”

  • “a face only a mother could love”

  • “a fate worse than death”

  • “a fish out of water”

  • “a shotgun wedding”

  • “head over heels”

  • “flew into a rage”

  • “Achilles’ heel”

  • “actions speak louder than words”

  • “another day, another dollar”

The most important thing is to have fun and don't limit yourself when coming up with possible comparisons. After all, the world is your oyster. ;)


As an added bonus, see if you can catch any/all clichés I used when writing this post!


With warmth and gratitude,


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