By: Marilyn L. Davis
The Cliché, Bait, and Hook
“A good writer is a great writer when they can make the cliché work again.”― gossamersilverglow
Does the expression “hook the reader” qualify as a cliché? With over 9,870,00 posts written about how to hook readers, I think it does. Many of these posts offer sage advice on using catchy phrases that bait the hook, summaries that lure your readers, and images that capture their attention. I got a bee in my bonnet and thought about clichés, so I took the bull by the horn and decided that against all odds, I could write a cliché riddled post that would knock your socks off. But besides beating a dead horse with them, I’d make you burn the midnight oil and count them, too. Stay tuned…
What Qualifies as a Cliché?
Merriam-Webster defines a cliché as a trite phrase or expression that has become overly familiar or commonplace. Clichés are terms and phrases that often started as a profound or thought-provoking idea but became unoriginal through repeated use – and overuse. As Frend poet Gerard de Nerval said, “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”
However, these expressions are ingrained in our everyday language and culture. I thought it might be fun to issue a challenge to the readers now that I’ve hooked you, and remember the words of Mia Hamm, “The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything.”
What Will You Win for Your Efforts?
When you have been around the block as many times as I have, you’ve seen it all and realize there is nothing new under the sun. However, early in my online writing, I was often up the creek without a paddle and behind the eight-ball with deadlines. I was just a babe in the woods when it came to writing; I thought each post had to be original.
If I’d known that it just took some bait, I might have written more posts and not focused on an original. However, I have a valid excuse for coming late to the party. One, I’m a recovering addict, and two, I ran a women’s recovery home.
Most days, I just had to have the patience of Job to do my job.
I was as busy as a one-armed paperhanger, and even on a slow day, I was still busy as a bee. We were all paying the piper for our past actions. Some days I was banging my head against a brick wall and feeling like I was between a rock and a hard place. But better late than never, we helped each other recover, but it didn’t leave much time for writing.
Swimming In Circles
When the recovery house closed, I was rudderless, out on a limb, clueless, and in a tight spot. I knew others lost a job and were in the same boat, and although I appeared as cool as a cucumber on the outside, inside, I was scared sh%^L#@@. (My mother would have apoplexy if I wrote that word, and we all know that everyone has a cross to bear.)
So, what’s a girl to do? Put on her big girl pants and know that every cloud has a silver lining.
Cast The Net Elsewhere
I wasn’t about to abandon ship, even if I couldn’t sail. I searched high and low for opportunities to make a living, remembering some musical aspirations I had as a child. Still, alas, I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and I’d always danced to the beat of a different drummer, so the bright lights and big city weren’t for me.
Furthermore, I wasn’t the drop-dead, gorgeous, kick-ass girl I once was.
But I could view this time as a blessing in disguise. I was getting a little long in the tooth to consider a career in the bright lights and big city, but I had an ace in the hole.
I remember thinking, “It’s as plain as the nose on your face. You’ve quit your day job; now you can write.”
I’d written a 400,000-word recovery curriculum. Sure it was academic, but it was words. But coming from an educational writing background, I was a greenhorn in the world of online writing. I knew I’d have to bite the bullet and put my nose to the grindstone and get with the program. Therefore, I wasn’t up the creek without a paddle; I just had to put the oars in another pond.
Fish Out of Water
After closing the house, I had the time and inclination to see how real online writers write, so I decided, in for a penny, in for a pound. I also wasn’t going to bellyache about my situation, as, in all likelihood, complaining would fall on deaf ears.
The strong don’t cry over spilled milk, so I decided to grab the bull by the horns and write online. I started with original pieces.
Even though my readers knew I was a babe in the woods, I wasn’t blowing smoke. Sure my writing was a little rough around the edges, but my readers knew it was the real McCoy. Even though I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, I was dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.
But I didn’t have a clue that there were so many expressions commonly used that would have saved me from myself. Even though I was late to the party, I was chomping at the bit to bypass the shallow end of the pool and dive headfirst into the deep end of online writing.
Who’s Got Better Bait?
Then, I started checking out the competition. Many of those successful online writers offered writing seminars, and although they had a bunch of clichés in their articles, I knew they weren’t crying all the way to the bank.
Time was of the essence; I had to stop spinning my wheels and think outside the box. I needed to make hay while there was still sunshine, so I relied on the tried and true, sink or swim, do or die attitude I’ve had most of my life.
I’m one old dog that can still hunt, and I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. Those attitudes made it possible to open my mind to the endless possibilities of online writing.
I had a light-bulb moment; all I needed to do was beat the bushes looking for inspiration to kick-start my online writing career.
“. . . A good writer should draw the reader in by starting in the middle of the story with a hook and then going back and filling in what happened before the hook. Once you have the reader hooked, you can write whatever you want as you slowly reel them in.” ― Roland Smith, Where’s the Bait?
Roland Smith wasn’t the only one I looked to for advice, so I cast the net further and realized my trusty writing books had inspiration, too!
The Real McCoy – No Clickbaits Here
I like Spock and feel a kinship and special bond with him. Wading into the deep end of the pond and hitching my dreams to the nearest star, I took a shot in the dark and started reading William Zinsser’s, On Writing Well and Max Morenberg’s, Doing Grammar, I knew they’d be armed to the teeth with sound advice too numerous to mention here, but indeed these two would pointed me in the right direction since they both write about original, grammatically correct writing.
Then there’s a whole world of writers that give readers the no-holds-barred, increasingly apparent; everybody knows what we are talking about expressions, too.
I pondered and decided that maybe I needed to plant my writing feet on the more common ground and stop trying to go where no man has gone before with original ideas and topics. Back to the drawing board because, even though I’m old as the hills, I can still learn new tricks. And I heeded the advice of Thomm Quackenbush, “Clichés work by appealing to the collective unconscious. They are the Pachbel’s Canon in D of writing, something familiar the talented can riff off to create a distinct work.”
Fish or Cut Bait?
I was going to hunker down and find my sweet spot with this online writing endeavor. It was becoming increasingly evident that authors knew which way the wind was blowing – give readers an increasingly easy format to follow.
Unfortunately, every fiber of my being was screaming, “Don’t go there.”
But, the facts of life for online writing were clear; if I were going to be successful, I couldn’t go against the grain. I hate to say this, and I know if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should keep your mouth shut, but I saw that clichés were typical on popular writing sites.
I then decided I would become the most recent poster child for clichéd writing. But when push came to shove, I couldn’t bring myself to be the spitting image of someone else.
I’m Not Fishing Today
Alas, however much I tried to get with the program, I still respected my readers enough not to think of them as fish.
I had to draw the line somewhere. So, while I get the drift of many of the clichés, I ain’t fishing today.
I knew that hooking my readers was barking up the wrong tree. I vowed to spend time being authentic, original, and creative – and dare I dream? Well, I did, hoping that this approach would make me stand out like a sore thumb.
Although I’m sweating bullets, wondering if I’m too far out on the limb, I’m going to keep a stiff upper lip, start from scratch, and hope that words don’t fail me now.
Stay tuned, readers; there’s an original article to follow.
Oh, and have a nice day.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
Have a funny story? An inspiring memoir? What an additional platform for your writing advice, poem, or essay? Are you looking to get your book a wider audience? Then consider submitting a guest post to us. All those backlinks might be the bait you need for new readers.
Avoid at all costs: Here’s a cliché creeper app that might save you from yourself. Not affiliated. She smiles.
Worried you’re left out a few clichés? Worried that you’ve included too many? Never fear; there’s a book on cliches so you’re always up to date and current.
Marilyn L. Davis has recently published her memoir, Finding North: A Journey from Addict 2 Advocate. If she could help it, she didn’t include clichés.