You might not realize this, but you are in a constant battle with Cliché, and you’re losing.
We are all artists. I make music. I also write in a blog occasionally. You build relationships. You decorate your bedroom. You fix dinner. You seduce women at bars. In everything we do, there is an element of craftsmanship, and for every sentence we craft – for every fiber of connection we work to create – there is a pride and satisfaction in a job well done.
…that is, until Cliché decides to take it from you. It will if it already hasn’t, and it already did. You just haven’t noticed it yet. Creative achievement is an eternal battle over the ever-expanding levels of Cliché. It is when we learn to express ourselves without Cliché that we become sophisticated. But sophistication occurs in levels, and every level has elements of Cliché. Let’s take the following example: a young writer starting a story…
Attempt 1 – “It was a dark and stormy night…” Oh hi! My name is Level 1 Cliché! What’s that? You’re writing a story? I’m sorry; the “Dark and Stormy” has been used by basically everyone who has ever written anything. Here, have some no-talent tears, you crybaby.
Attempt 2 – “’Look!’ said Robert…” Oh hello. I’m Level 2 Cliché. I see you’re starting your story with a quote. How sophomoric of you. It’s the good ol’ Jump-Into-the-Action trick, but alas, my dear friend, good and old it is. Try something a little less – shall I say – 99 cent rack.
Attempt 3 – “In my youth, I remember a tree…” Stop! I’m Level 3 Cliché, and I’m here to inform you that they actually don’t give out Best Picture Oscars for books. I’m sorry. I’m telling you now to save you the disappointment later.
Attempt 14 – “ran the dog to the shore down Molly Pauly, fresh was it…” Hey there, Writer. I’m Level 14 Cliché. Are you beginning your story in the middle of a sentence that doesn’t make sense? Why do I feel like this is something James Joyce would do? Wannabe copycat.
No matter how creative you think you’re being, there is another, more sophisticated Cliché waiting for your edits and redrafts. Let’s take another example: proposing marriage –
Down on one knee. Traditional but boring.
Hide the ring in dessert. Delicious. Surprise Heimlich. Common. Boring.
Trail of rose petals leading to you waiting naked in her bedroom with the ring. Sexy. Typical romance flick. You have a beer gut. Boring.
At the ball game on the JumboTron. Confident. Potentially embarrassing. Cliché.
Down on one knee. Retro, and thus fresh. Ironic. Pretentious. Boring.
I shouldn’t bother you with more tedious examples, but they could be about anything: expressing love, sexytime, dressing yourself, choosing a car…
Until you become the pioneer in their field or expression, everything you ever do will be Cliché. Cliché will never be defeated. Our only hope as artists is to work and collaborate with Cliché to advance our art. We as mankind inadvertently created Cliché, and it can be to our benefit. With skill, we can turn Cliché into an ironic anti-Cliché. Perhaps our greatness as artists can be judged by how well we can take Cliché and force it to dunk its own head into its own urinal. If you can somehow get Cliché to admit to liking the taste of industrial strength urinal cake, you will have succeeded.