Janet Sumner Johnson
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Finding Motivation


27, 2014 |

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Middle child at 5, proud of his piano skills,
and oh, so motivated.
Growing up, we had a rule at my house. When you turned 5, you took piano. Hard and fast. I couldn’t wait for my turn . . . until it actually came.
Then I hated it.
Hated that I was forced to waste precious daylight hours practicing the piano when I could be doing something much more important such as playing in the ditch with my friends.
I was 9 when I convinced my mom that I was wasting my time and her money (and I believe my piano teacher told my mom the same thing). I got to quit.
Which I appreciated until I found a piece of music I really wanted to play.* Suddenly I spent hours at the piano learning how to play it.
And then there was another song I loved, but the sheet music was terrible! I wanted to play what I heard on the radio. Next thing I know, I’m begging my dad for lessons on playing by ear.**
The point of all this is that when I wanted something, I found the motivation to spend time learning and practicing a skill. And it was FUN.
So let’s get to the point. I love writing. I do. I love creating a new world that I (and hopefully others) can get lost in. I love meeting my characters and discovering their secrets. I love that feeling of satisfaction at having gotten the words just right . . . of having made someone laugh or cry or think or whatever it is. I love it.
Even so, sometimes I lose my motivation. I want to write. I want to immerse myself in that world, but I struggle to make myself actually do it.
So the question is why? Why do I struggle to make myself do something I love?
Honestly, I don’t know why . . . but I have some theories.

So I could go on.*^6 But the point is, there are plenty of excuses we can use for why we didn’t write. We need to find that one thing that keeps us going. We need to find that one song that motivates us. That one challenge that has us begging for more writing time. Because isn’t that why we started on this road in the first place?

What is your motivation?

*It may or may not have been “Part of this World” from Little Mermaid, and I may or may not have sung this song incessantly at the time. But you’ll never know for sure. 😉

**My dad’s an amazingly accomplished musician and I don’t mind bragging on him a bit.

***This is actually the reason that I doubt my ability to live in Alaska or anywhere way up North. How do you people do it?

****This it a totally true thing, too. 😉

*^5 That would refer to every season. So you can see why I really need to catch up.

*^6  Seriously. I swear I didn’t just stare at the screen for five minutes trying to come up with a fifth theory.

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Conquering Clichés, Part 3: Why We are Cautioned Against Them


21, 2011 |

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So now we know what clichés are. We can recognize them in their various forms. We also know that we shouldn’t use them.

But why? If they say exactly what we want to say, why not use them?

Here is what I came up with:

1. Clichés are boring.

By definition, clichés are overused. We’ve seen them before (WAY too many times). And frankly, we, as readers, are just plain tired of reading them. This applies especially to plot clichés (see part 2). After the first time, you can only take so many mistreated orphans who suddenly discover they have magical abilities, and thus thwart their evil relatives. And if you need a laugh and aren’t sure what other plot clichés might exist, check out this site.

Furthermore, when a character’s heart is pounding all the time (another of my weaknesses), you start to wonder if they’re going to have a heart attack.

2. Clichés suggest laziness.

I have done the stare-at-the-computer-trying-to-come-up-with-the-perfect-description thing. It stinks. A lot. It’s so much easier to use a pre-fabbed phrase that really does say what you want. But it’s never as effective. Likely it’s not even your voice. Really, it’s just lazy. (Note: I TOTALLY allow myself to use clichés on a first draft . . . just don’t let them stay. . . unless they should.)

3. Clichés can be a red flag for that agent or editor you’re hoping to impress.

Okay, I’m no agent or editor, but if I saw as many projects as they do on a daily basis, I might just be looking for a  reason to reject a few. You know, those pesky typos, queries addressed to Mr. instead of Ms., an abundance of clichés in the writing . . . You read enough, and I bet those clichés stand out like sore thumbs. 😉

4. Clichés are often word padding.

Sometimes, we’re trying to dress up our writing and unawares, those clichés sneak in. They add to our wordiness without adding to the meaning.

For example: Michael improved by leaps and bounds.

Do we really need it? No. Michael improved. Period.

5. Clichés don’t always mean what you think they mean.

This is particularly in reference to those proverb and idiom clichés (see part 2). These phrases are so common, and such a part of our culture, we don’t stop to question the meaning (which may not be the same for everyone).

In the Cliché Dictionary (Ammer, Christine, The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2001.), the phrase “eat one’s heart out” is defined as “worrying excessively.” Another definition that she cites almost as an afterthought is “doesn’t that make you jealous.” Uh, what? I had never heard that first definition. I’ve always seen it as the second. Maybe I’ve been misunderstanding people for years!

And I had to have a friend explain “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” That never made sense to me. Because if you have your cake, why can’t you eat it? It’s there for the taking right? (Definitely a duh moment.)

The point is, the definitions attached to these things aren’t necessarily the same for everyone. You may think you are expressing your ideas perfectly, while your reader is all kinds of confused.

Again, I don’t think all clichés should be banned. But consider these reasons for cutting them from your writing. Are they really pulling their weight? Are they doing what you intend for them to do? Are they improving your work or making it boring? Is the meaning clear?

In Part 4, I’ll talk about when cliche’s work, and how you can fix them when they don’t. And if you missed the first 2 parts, feel free to follow the links:

Conquering Clichés, Part 1: Introduction
Conquering Clichés, Part 2: Ways to be Cliché
Conquering Clichés, Part 3: Why We are Cautioned Against Them
Conquering Clichés, Part 4: Using Them . . . or Not

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