I recently heard a famous (living) writer say that writing is “a war against clichés.” I understand the point, which is this: clichés are not actual emotions or thoughts but recycled ones. Fair enough. But in the end, while you can and often are inspired to create what you perceive as the opposite of what you dislike, you cannot create in the negative, by which I mean you cannot create away from something, you can only create toward something.
Imagine, for instance, that you dislike the city of Buffalo. Oh, how you hate Buffalo. You have never spent a happy minute of your life in Buffalo. You are resolved, then, to devote your life to not being in Buffalo. Trouble is, there are a lot of places that are not Buffalo—the whole world, in fact, minus Buffalo. How then do you choose where to go? You have no guide except Not Buffalo.
Plus the mind does a funny thing. If I sit down to write thinking, “No clichés! No clichés! No clichés!” what my mind actually hears is, “Clichés! Clichés! Clichés!” If I were in a war, I’d have lost.
I mention all this not to pick fights with famous writers, but because I believe this writer’s perception is a fairly common one, although more often heard as: Oh, God, don’t let me be ordinary. But this is all fear, and all fear is a lack of trust. There is no formula for original; there is only trust.
Clichés are safe because they are familiar, and we are always comfortable with what is familiar. Your original work is going to appear both familiar and unfamiliar. It will feel like you because it came from you, and so it sounds like you, and so it is familiar to you. But it will be unfamiliar to you as well, because that which was inside is now outside where it has never been before, and you know what people think about clichés, but what about this?
The opposite of clichés is trust in The New. Everyone has been at least a little afraid of that which is new. Nothing new, by definition, can come with any guarantees. If you stumble in this journey and reach for the familiar—it’s all right. Put it down gently, for once it was original too, and look around. All the world is Not Buffalo. Where do you want to go?