The decorative woodpile photo above reminds me to take a look at the "ideas" folder I keep on my computer desktop for times when the right side of my brain shuts down, which it often does as the days grow shorter. Adding ideas to this folder is like stockpiling for the cold season. Stockpiling is not hoarding. The difference? Hoarding is collecting stuff-lots of stuff-most likely stuff you don't need and do nothing with. You watch it grow uncontrollably into a big hairy mammoth that threatens you if you try to get rid of it. But stockpiling is saving good stuff to use later, like a neatly stacked pile of wood to burn in the fireplace this winter.
One file in the "ideas" folder contains notes on removing clichés and keeping my writing fresh. We all know not to use clichés in our writing. They are stale and make a writer look lazy. But can be revitalized.
Here are some examples of clichés that have been changed to something fresh:
"Stuck out like horns on a nun," sounds better than "stuck out like a sore thumb."
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" is flat. But here's the same message I noticed on a storefront recently. "No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize a cat."
After ridding your writing of clichés, consider freshening up your prose, also. Here are some examples:
Okay: When I found him, it was late in the afternoon and he was guzzling beer with another fierce-looking guy in a joint outside of town.
Better (from James Crumbly's book The Last Good Kiss):
"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts, in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."
Okay: His excuse for a desk was a mess. There was so much stuff you couldn't see the surface.
Better: An old door rested on top of two cabinets, bridging the gap and forming a desk. A sardine can, oil and fish long gone, overflowed with cigarette butts. A few manila folders and half a dozen nubby pencils and leaky pens lay scattered across a surface that looked as if it hadn't been dusted since John the Baptist walked the banks of the Jordan.
Okay: Roses grew everywhere and their strong smell left Marion with an ominous feeling.
Better: Wild roses grew over latticework that framed the porch. Their fragrance filled the air with a heavy sweetness that reminded Marion of funerals.
Okay: We walked through the smelly 4-H barn where I took my little sister to ride the horses. As we walked past the pig pens, the huge Clydesdales came into view and my sister froze.
Better: The 4-H barn smelled of oat feed and cow patties. Magnolia, the pig, munched on the streamers of her blue-ribbon, which hung askew around her neck. As we approached the horse corral, my little sister slowed her step. Tears filled her eyes at the sight of the Clydesdale waiting for the next rider.
Okay: I was dreaming about my grandfather. I was a little girl and we were on the beach on a bright, starry night. I was upset about something that had happened at school. Suddenly he handed me a bag of coins and told me to throw them into the water. I realized he was trying to teach me that there was more to life than my little problems.
Better: I was deep into a dream. Grandpa PoPo and I were on the beach. It was late, and millions of stars shown above. He handed me a heavy paper bag. I reached in and pulled out a handful of gold coins. They were so bright, they shone through my fingers. I was eleven again. I flung them into the water and felt a lifetime of burdens fly away. I threw a second handful of coins, and to my surprise they skipped across the surface and took flight, joining the stars in the sky.
"See there," PoPo said, "Don't ever underestimate yourself, girl. You put your mind to something and you can make it happen. Please remember that."
Get cozy and keep warm this season, but also get outside and let the cold, fresh air stimulate the creative right-side of your brain.