I’ve been teaching creative writing for several years in workshops, seminars and one-on-one writing labs. One of the Big Things that people worry about is that their writing feel classic, original and brilliant. That’s great, but coming to writing with this is mind is most likely going to make the words just freeze-up completely.

If you try for perfection, chances are good that you’ll end up with a completely blank page.

So what I do with my students is listen to what they fear they’re doing wrong. I listen carefully and then I give them a 15-minute writing challenge designed to help them overcome their biggest fear.

One of the biggest fears is about originality, or the fear that their writing style isn’t original enough. One of the exercises I sometimes use is the Cliché Writing Hour.

Cliché can be good.

The exercise is a challenge: writing a short story or perhaps a scene (a moment in a story) using as many cliches as possible. Sometimes people hear this, freak out completely and can’t think of any clichés.

There’s a great online resource for clichés at West Egg HERE.

Rules of the challenge.

The challenge should feel like a challenge, so it must be written by hand (if possible) and within 15 minutes. What people discover in doing this is that in trying to be cliché, they accidentally write something that’s quite creative. You have to be if you are limited in how you can write, and in this exercise, you have three limitations:

  • No typing.
  • Not more than 15 minutes.
  • Nothing but cliches.

The challenge of needing to write inside such limited parameters pushes people outside their normal thinking pattern, and it liberates them from what they expect from the writing process.

A favorite cliché of mine.

The apple of my eye. I love this. You’re the apple of my eye.

How does this make sense? I actually researched the etymology here and could find nothing, but I do have a theory about it. I think it is a sort of folk etymology, like sparrow grass from asparagus.

There is in no historical account of there even being any part of the eye (human or otherwise) being considered an apple or apple-like. Nothing.

In Germany, there’s the traditional idea that the best part of the egg is the egg yolk, so if you say to someone, “Du bist der Apfel aus mein Ei,” that literally means you’re the yolk of my egg – which really means you’re the tops, or you’re really special to me.

But the word Apfel in German has two meanings. It can mean apple or it can mean egg yolk.

So I’m guessing here that, “You’re the apple of my eye” is a phonetic translation – ultimately a folk etymology – of what the words sound like: apple and eye (which Ei, meaning egg, sounds like exactly).

What do you think? Am I right about this? Write below and let me know what your thoughts are about apples and eggs and eyes, or if you’ve tried the Cliché Writing Hour – and if you have a favorite cliché, share that too!