Memoir, Life Story Writing, Family History Survey Results

Willows at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

I hope you all received your free Tip Sheet—the gift for filling out my survey of those who write memoir, stories from their lives, or family history. And I hope you found the advice contained in the tips useful enough to put into practice.

Here’s Who Took The Survey

The overwhelming number of respondents were women. The age of ninety-five percent of all those who responded was 50 or over.

 

Most are currently writing:

  • Short sketches: 70%
  • Book-length memoir: 30%
  • Family history: only 10%

Key Survey Results

Here, without further ado, are the results of the survey—and my interpretation of those results.

Resources

More than 60% of you look to online and paper resources to aid your writing. Most of you use as writing resources this site (Tools and Tactics for Writers—thank you!); books and journals; explanations (when available) from publishers on why a particular work was published or won a contest.

The Biggest Writing Problems

  • Making writing a priority (and finding time to write).
  • Making the writing artistic, rather than just factual and straightforward (like a report).
  • Suppressing the inner critical voice.

Other problems cited were trouble developing writing snippets into publishable work. Getting started on a project, outlining, and choosing an appropriate structure if you are writing a book.

Sources of Feedback on Your Writing

You get feedback from instructors and classmates in your courses; from friends, relatives, writing group members, and experts at conferences.

 One Finding Stood Out

Probably the most important (and among the most surprising) finding: The majority of respondents prefer to get writing guidance through classes (nearly 75%), individual coaching (48%), and paid professionals (probably editors). In other words, not through online info contained in a blog, but through interactions with a person, whether classmates, instructors, or those who coach and edit writers’ work one-on-one. (That’s what I do. Some of you have already worked individually with me. The rest of you should try it!) Don’t be alarmed: Yes, I know who took the survey, but I don’t know what your individual answers were.

Conclusion

I’ll need to digest these findings to determine what they mean for this website as well as for the services I offer. I’ll keep you posted.

And thanks again for participating in the survey!

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How to Write What Matters

Add Intensity to Your Life Writing

I urge my creative writing students not to bother putting on paper all the joys and none of the pain of their lives. That approach is boring, un-instructive, and anyway, I won’t believe it. Nobody’s existence is unblemished.

I’m not suggesting you write bitter, carping litanies of accusations and complaints (though penning these can be terrific stress relievers if you write them for your eyes only). But why not probe your life and experiences, those incidents or even moments, that had enough of an impact to make you what and who you are? Or those moments when you surprised yourself?

Get Inspiration for Your Memoir, Family History or Personal Essay Writing

I like Abigail Thomas’s Thinking About Memoir, and the book is perfect for personal essays, as well.

In this book, Thomas offers prompts that encourage you look over your past, and even your present.

For example, I’d been agonizing over some jewelry I wanted, fetchingly displayed on glass shelves in a boutique. As a result of Thomas’s prompt: “Write two pages about what you had to have,” I wrote a nifty little essay called “Retail Anxiety.” (That reminds me, I need to submit it for publication somewhere. Here’s a link to a list of lots of outlets that publish personal essays. 19 Websites and Magazines That Want to Publish Your Personal Essays. View the Comments to see even more outlets supplied by visitors to the post.

Need More Ideas?

A quick sampling of other prompts you’ll find in Thinking About Memoir:

– Write two pages of when you knew you were in trouble.
– Write two pages of what you wish you could still do.
– Write two pages of when you failed to rise to the occasion.

If you want more ideas for putting depth into your life writing of any length, visit: Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas.

And for assistance writing your essays, memoir, or family history, just click on the Contact tab to see how I can help. While you’re at it, check out my Testimonials, too.

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Another Must-Have Memoir Writing Resource

It’s true that my own essay, “No More Secrets and Silence,” appears in the recently released The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey anthology, and that this essay won first prize in the Magic of Memoir contest. But if you write memoir or family history, I’d be urging you to get this book even if that weren’t so.

Why do I think you need this volume? Because it contains essays that shine a light on the processes, angsts, supports, and resources—both human and literary—that other memoirists and family history writers use.

Have you been shying away from writing your memoir?

Unable to do more than just write about the “nice little things” in your life as if your whole life consisted of just those “nice little things?” To write the truth, you’ve got to assemble your strongest inner resources. In her essay, Jill Kandel asserts, “Writing is not for the faint of heart.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

This is a book for serious writers, who are ready to tackle memoirs or family histories they’ve been putting off or downright avoiding for years. This book will help you get serious if you aren’t already. Kelly Kittel quotes a refrigerator magnet in her essay in The Magic of Memoir. That magnet urges, “be brave and do hard things.”

You won’t find distracting, time-wasting tips in this book.

Or even useful lists of how-to’s. The memoirists whose essays appear in The Magic of Memoir describe how they managed to write about the tragedies in their lives, their relationships with their families (so much of memoir addresses family relationships), their efforts to create meaning out of the tumult of daily existence, and the success of their work, despite their many doubts. Reading about how others coaxed forth their memoirs can have an inspirational effect.

The writers look at whether or not creating memoir heals the memoirist. (In her essay in this volume, Jill Smolowe writes, “I do not find the writing of a memoir cathartic.” What’s your opinion?) And they describe the need to shout demons down in order to tell the truth. In short, they let us see how to kick butt to get our memories of ourselves and/or our families down on paper.

Interviews with Famous Contemporary Memoirists

In addition to the essays, The Magic of Memoir includes interviews with some of the most renowned memoirists of our time, including:

– Cheryl Strayed
– Mary Karr
– Elizabeth Gilbert, and
– Dani Shapiro, to name a few.

This book is so good that even the Introduction, written by the anthology’s editors, Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner, is eye opening and instructive.

Let this book be your companion on your memoir-writing journey. It will make a great holiday gift for a memoirist you know—even if that memoirist is yourself.

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Write That Memoir, Life Story, or Family History. Now.

That's me, Lynette Benton

That’s me, Lynette Benton

Know you should start or finish your memoir, stories from your life, or family history, but can’t seem to get up enough steam for the task?

Ease over to Bookcoaching.com to see the tips I offer in my guest post. They can get you going.

– Lynette

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Talking Memoir with Writing Instructor, Coach, and Publisher Brooke Warner, Part 1

As a memoir writer, as well as a memoir coach myself, I’ve followed Brooke Warner’s work on behalf of memoir and memoir writers for years. It’s a pleasure to welcome her here so you can learn more about her varied work, including publishing.
– Lynette

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

You’re a writing instructor, coach, and publisher. Can you distinguish among those roles?
BW: I teach memoir classes mostly, and sometimes classes on publishing, either online or in-person. As a coach I work with authors one-on-one, both on their writing and the emotional challenges that go along with writing. I’m a teacher, editor, champion, and midwife.

As publisher of She Writes Press, I’m more of a book shepherd than a coach. I still champion our authors, but my role is more directive, because I’m helping them with their books’ covers and positioning. I sometimes feel like more of a bossy older sister than a mother hen in this role.

You have experience in traditional publishing; you’ve been a speaker at writing and publishing conferences, and have expertise particularly in memoir, but also in other genres. What do you tell audiences about publishing?

I tell them that it’s really hard to get a traditional publishing deal these days. I hope I paint a mostly optimistic picture, however, because opportunities abound in the current publishing climate. But the book publishing world looks a lot different than it did even 15 years ago.

I educate aspiring authors about their options and what the different publishing paths might look like. I try to give them a dose of reality without squashing their dreams, because I’m strongly invested in the dream of authorship. I just believe that some authors need to reframe how that’s going to happen.

Please tell us about SheWrites.com and She Writes Press. What is the connection between them?

SheWrites.com is an online community for women writers worldwide. On the site, writers can connect with one another, post articles, and join groups. SheWrites.com was around for a few years before I contacted the cofounder, Kamy Wicoff, about starting She Writes Press. We built the press to complement the online platform. Authors don’t need to be a member of SheWrites.com to publish with us, but the two companies are inextricably linked in terms of their brand and their messaging—which is that they both exist as platforms for women’s voices.

This year’s theme for your collaboration with Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers, seems to be the Magic of Memoir. You’ve sponsored an essay contest, there’s the conference of the same name this month (October, 2016); and you’ve got the Magic of Memoir Anthology coming out in November. How do they fit together?

The contest was for The Magic of Memoir anthology, so those are one and the same. We did an open call for submissions for the anthology, for which you took home first place, Lynette. Congratulations!

Our second annual Magic of Memoir Conference, which took place October 15 – 16, in Oakland, California, makes Magic of Memoir more than a theme for this year. We’re making Magic of Memoir part of our brand.

We have a class called Write Your Memoir in Six Months, but we want to do a lot more around memoir than just our six-month course. The Magic of Memoir conference and website and book are allowing us to move into some more exciting content and ideas beyond our six-month course.

Please describe the Write Your Memoir in Six Months course.

This is our six-month online memoir intensive, which we run twice a year, with one class starting in January and one in June. (The next one begins in January 2017.) It’s blossomed into a lot more than just our six-month course.

Notably we also teach a Best-selling Memoir course each spring and summer. We’ve taught Wild, by Cheryl Strayed; Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert; Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt; The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr; and others. These short courses give writers an opportunity to learn what makes these memoirs work. They’re really fun.

Finally, we’ve been teaching a Mastering Memoir course once a year, which is a ten-week online course that’s faster-paced than Write Your Memoir in Six Months and exclusively focused on craft. The next one is starting in February 2017. So we feel that Write Your Memoir Six Months is the foundation for lots of other work we’re doing in memoir.

Note from Lynette:
Be sure you don’t miss Part 2 of this informative interview for all writers interested in starting, improving, or publishing their manuscripts.

See the list of authors who will be included in the Magic of Memoir anthology, which is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. The anthology will also feature interviews with best selling memoirists. Find out who they are here.
__________________

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir, and co-editor of The Magic of Memoir Anthology. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

Visit Brooke at www.brookewarner.com

Connect with Brooke on Social Media:
http://twitter.com/brooke_warner
http://facebook.com/warnercoaching
https://www.linkedin.com/in/warnercoaching
https://www.pinterest.com/warnercoaching
https://www.youtube.com/warnercoaching

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Talking Memoir with Writing Instructor, Coach, and Publisher Brooke Warner, Part 2

In Part 2 of her interview (below), Brooke Warner discusses She Writes Press’s approach to publishing and offers advice to those starting or continuing work on their manuscripts.
– Lynette

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Why do you think She Writes Press is thriving? Does it publish a variety of genres? How does it differ from traditional publishing on the one hand and self-publishing on the other? Do you feel it empowers authors?

She Writes Press is thriving because we are filling a need. Right now barriers to traditional publishing are so high, and authors who might have gotten a book deal ten years ago have no hope of getting one today. This is because the focus in book publishing has moved from content to author platform, so you basically need to have a large established fanbase in order to get a traditional book deal.

She Writes Press is functioning in many ways like a traditional press. We vet projects and have a high editorial standard, and we have traditional distribution, which means that we have a sales force selling our list. But we are not basing our acquisitions on author brand or platform. Instead it’s solely about the books and the writing itself. Authors are so relieved to have this kind of option, where they have support without having to self-publish. Plus, our books are beautifully designed and we’re getting great accolades, both for the aesthetics of our books and for their content, which speaks to the kind of authors we’re attracting.

We’re also different from traditional publishing in that the authors invest in themselves. We offer a package that covers everything from cover and interior design, proofreading, project management, and everything it takes to get a manuscript prepared and through publication. For that, the authors retain 60% of net proceeds on paperback (as opposed to 15% in traditional publishing) and 80% on e-books (as opposed to 25% in traditional publishing). The cost of our package does not include individual title publicity support, but we absolutely market our titles, and the press collectively, which does give the authors and their books exposure.

Our press empowers authors by giving them an option to play in the big leagues, and our goal is always to rival our traditional counterparts. We are also collaborative, and authors retain more creative control with us than they would with a traditional publisher. They also retain their copyright, which is a big deal. The world of publishing is far from perfect, but we’re giving authors a legitimate shot at getting the kind of recognition that largely eludes self-published authors.

And yes, we publish multiple genres—fiction, memoir, self-help, and everything in between. We’ve done parenting books, cookbooks, leadership books, spiritual books, and even poetry.

Do you have any advice for those writing their first book? Or for those who feel their manuscripts are ready to publish?

First: Hang in there. It might be a long process, and that’s okay. There’s so much hype right now about writing your book in a few weeks, never mind six months (which is what our class was built upon), and what we’ve found with our own class is that we end up giving authors a strong foundation to continue. Certain books are emotionally taxing to write, and there’s a lot to learn.

Study your craft. Read other authors in your genre—please. Connect with other authors. Join writers’ forums and attend events. The road to becoming an author starts with understanding who’s come before you, and with social media you can actually connect with these people. Your journey will be that much more inspiring and less lonely as a result. And when you’re ready, seek out experts to read, edit, and help you figure out which publishing path is right for you. None of this should be done alone; it’s much more joyful with company.

________________
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, and the co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

Visit Brooke at www.brookewarner.com

Connect with Brooke on Social Media:
http://twitter.com/brooke_warner
http://facebook.com/warnercoaching
https://www.linkedin.com/in/warnercoaching
https://www.pinterest.com/warnercoaching
https://www.youtube.com/warnercoaching

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Examples of Boomers and Seniors Writing About Their Lives

As I’ve written in other posts here, I teach boomers and seniors (and others) to write stories from their lives. Our classes are moving, funny, exciting, suspenseful, and a whole lot of fun—and that describes the stories the students write.

When people tell me they have a pressing urge to write about their lives, but don’t know what to write about, I suggest they take a look at My Legacy is Simply This, a book of short essays by seniors living in various neighborhoods in Boston. The short essays were made possible by Grub Street, a prominent Boston writing institution, and the City of Boston. (Note: I have no affiliation with the publishers or writers of this book.)

No matter what age you are, these are stories you’ll enjoy, and what’s more, they can serve as examples for your own writing.

Among my favorites is the story of his dangerous career, recounted by William Boyle, a former fire fighter. As a young man, he helped quench the big Hotel Vendome fire, which killed nine Boston fire fighters, in 1972. Even after pulling dead coworkers out from the rubble, he still loved his work, especially because that day, he found his boyhood friend, alive in the debris.

Dorothy Parks is a woman who lives each day as if it were her last, as a result of the perils she faced in her travels, whether by train, ship, or air. Her essay is the funniest in the collection, as she recounts an absurd brush with death on an airplane with a wing on fire.

But most of those whose essays appear in the book write about ordinary aspects of their lives: their homes and hometowns, their children, their families, their careers.

If you’re looking for an engaging model for your own writing, consider reading this book. By the way, it’s one of five volumes sponsored by Grub Street and the City of Boston.

If you want to get the stories from your own life down on paper, I hope you’ll find the following posts helpful.

Writing Stories from Your Life
Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas
Teaching Creative Writing to Boomers and Seniors, Part 2

You don’t have to be a boomer or senior to join my Memoir Writing or my Writing Stories from Your Life classes. Just keep your eye on the Upcoming Teaching Events tab at the top of this page to see where and when I’ll be holding classes next.

Or, you can work with me privately, as many others have and do. Your choice. Just use the Contact tab at the top of this page to get in touch.

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Free Memoir and Family History Writing Talk

Interested in writing memoir, stories from your life, or family history?

I’ll be presenting a free (and lively) talk on Tuesday 7/12 at Robbins Library, in Arlington, Mass. at 1:00. I hope you’ll join us. This talk could help you get started or work your way to the finish line!

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Rewriting: When it’s Time to Start Over

I’ve heard Mary Wasmuth’s diary entries and essays in the journaling class I lead at the Weston (Massacusetts) Public Library. They’ve moved me, and made me laugh. And I’m pretty sure they’ve made me smarter.

I’m thrilled that after several years of inviting Mary to contribute to this blog, she has agreed.

Enjoy her guest post! May you be wiser after reading it.
– Lynette

Mary Wasmuth

Mary Wasmuth

I need to start this novel over. Again. No, I mean I want to start over—really. I have a framework now that retains the plot and characters; pulls the story together; and, in a death-defying feat of writerly liposuction, surgically removes great droopy hunks of midsection.

Then why am I spending my time writing this post? Shouldn’t I be starting a new folder, opening a new document, giving it my new title? Why do I sit in front of Call the Midwife—unlikely, I thought, to inspire binge watching—instead of my computer? I’ve seen eight episodes in five days. And why did I choose this moment to reorganize my writing files? Toss out my reams of painful early drafts?

It’s because I’ve started over so many times, so blithely. And, though I really believe (as I keep telling myself), I’ve found an approach that works, my memories of all the other hopeful starts paralyze me. I shouldn’t have gone through those files.

You see, I taught myself to write—with a great deal of expert help and guidance, though perhaps a little late in the game—by writing this novel. I learned and revised, learned and reshaped, learned and rethought and reshaped again. I eliminated narrators (whittling ten down to four) and killed off characters, including my carefully crafted, and re-crafted, second protagonist. I believed I was nearly done.

Thinking to polish things up a little, perhaps add a few final touches, I took the “Setting, Subtext, and Suspense” class in Michelle Hoover’s terrific novel series at Boston’s Grub Street. I rewrote three scenes in the one-day class, and I caught a glimpse of how much richer they could be, how much richer the novel could be. Which gave me the courage to cast a coldly objective eye over my first chapter. I deemed it . . . not good enough. I started to rethink. Again.

Of course, this is how you do it if you want to do it right. I know that. In Do Not Hurry—a blog post I reread whenever I start over, Michelle Hoover makes it clear that writing a novel simply “takes as long as it takes.” No way around it.

This time, at least, I know what to do, and I know why. Rather than the story of a mouthy, defiant girl who starts a punk rock band (called Fatgirlz), the novel will be a fictional history of Fatgirlz, a fictional punk band started by a mouthy, defiant girl. Suddenly, the four narrators make sense. Bands are unstable amalgams of individual musicians; a band story would have to incorporate several personal stories. Why, I could bring back some of my lost narrators!

I pause briefly to squelch this idea.

The new structure will be cleaner. More coherent. Maybe even funnier—because I am going to sneak in one more voice, a music critic. Band histories require critic-penned introductions. The more obscure the group, the more florid and pretentious the preface—and Fatgirlz is very, very obscure.

This could be fun. I really should just make that new folder. Open that new document. Call it Meet the Fatgirlz instead of Tastee Girl. And start over. One last time.

Have you ever decided to rewrite (and rewrite) a piece you’d considered finished? What was your approach? Did you take a break first? Tackle the thing head-on? Or, decide to catch up on all five seasons of Breaking Bad? Perfect your jump shot? Spring clean your apartment? Write a post for Tools and Tactics for Writers?

I hope that's not her novel in that bag.

I hope that’s not Mary’s novel in that bag.


________________
When she’s not avoiding rewriting her novel, Mary Wasmuth works as a librarian and job-search coach. She’s president of the advisory board for Framingham Adult ESL Plus and recording secretary for the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Mary has studied at Grub Street, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and in Lynette Benton’s journaling class.

Follow Mary on Twitter.

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Clichés Bugging You? Me, too.

That's me, after hearing a cliche

I used to think of journalists as the leaders, rather than the lemmings, of our language. Well, maybe I was thinking of print journalists, New Yorker writers, who don’t go in for clichés as broadcast journalists too often do. They (and the self-aggrandizing pundits who appear on their shows) seem to have sunken happily into the sloth of clichés.

Old enough to remember the first Gulf conflict, when Stormin’ Norman and Colin Powell brought us “prosecute a war?” For months after that war ended, you couldn’t watch a news show without hearing someone mention prosecuting something—and they weren’t talking about a person or a courtroom.

On the Ground
There’s nothing like a war to stir up broadcasters to copy military terms and apply them long after those terms have anything to do with war.

I hear journalists using “on the ground” for just about any exciting event, especially bad weather. A tornado has passed through? They tell us they have a reporter on the ground, then ask the reporter: “Can you tell us about the situation on the ground there?”

War Zone
Most of us haven’t ever seen a war zone (thank heavens) except on TV. But anywhere there’s rubble, a broadcaster’s sure to exclaim, “It looks like a war zone!” The phrase has caught on to the extent that people use it to describe their offices and their teenagers’ bedrooms.

Embed
For quite a while after journalists began traveling as part of fighting missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, everything was embedded. Everything.

Order of Magnitude
Does anyone really know what an “order of magnitude” is? I hear it on the radio practically every day, particularly in reference to the escalating US debt.

Arguably
Ugh. I don’t remember who it was, but someone wrote that you could just substitute “not” for arguably and come close to the truth. Try it.

Fiercely Independent
One of my longtime annoyances. Some family protecting its rights in Vermont is fiercely independent. The phrase is written as if its constituent words cannot be separated. Why is no one ever intensely independent? Forcefully independent? Ferociously independent?

The same goes for “companionable silence,” although I admit that one usually pops up in novels.

Why Do So Many Journalists Employ Clichés?
The habit of leaning on clichés could be tied to the pressure of writing stories under tight deadlines (or just plain lazy brains). So, I asked Shari Lopatin, a journalist who doesn’t rely on clichés, for her take on the subject.

“As a journalist and media strategist, one of the first lessons I was taught in journalism school, was to avoid clichés. And I try my darned hardest to stick to that lesson! Nevertheless, those clichés will arise inevitably. Have I noticed a rise in the clichés used by other journalists? Not any more than I’ve seen in the past.

“I cannot think of specific clichés that rub me the wrong way (catch that one?). But I have other pet peeves in print-and-broadcast writing that drive me bonkers—such as beginning a sentence with ‘There is.’ Or adding too many ‘thats’ to a paragraph. I understand the pressure that comes with writing news under deadline, but I always try to go through my work and check for clichés before submitting it. Because the best writers and journalists think outside the pen.”

Mired in clichés yourself? Try Phrase Finder. And see: Are You Addicted to Clichés? Help Is On The Way!, by Russell Working. He’d also be grateful if you’d take a look at the trailer for his book, The Hit.

Add the clichés that bug you in the Comments below.

In my next post I’ll rant about rampant incorrect usage: “Hopefully,” anyone?

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!