The Opposite of What You Were Going to Write

I’ll start with an inconvenient truth, we think in clichés. I’d guess that about half of our daily thoughts are clichés. We are either rethinking our own overused thoughts or rethinking society’s overused notions and opinions. So no wonder we hear clichés all the time, they’ve invaded our subconscious!

Ok now that we know where clichés come from, how do we minimize the good ones and avoid the bad ones? First, let’s see if we can spot the real culprit of a cliché. Here’s a simple sentence: Naturally, my first thought was to _____. We’ve heard the phrasing of this sentence used in various situations; I don’t even have to finish it for you to get the point. In fact, you probably subconsciously finished the sentence on your own. Anyway, the culprit is the word “naturally.” We’ve begun to think of certain thoughts as natural when in fact they are not. In dangerous situation, it may be natural for one person’s first thought to be a prayer and another’s to be a curse word. Of course we know this, but we forget because it feels good to say “naturally”…we immediately think we have said something meaningful, an axiom.

There’s a lot being written about how to write good web content. To be clear, web content is not just text, it’s audio, photos, and other digital media. Whatever you’re writing be it copy for a webpage or microcopy for a link, a good practice is to write the opposite of your natural, first thoughts. Pay attention, however, to your gut feelings.

The tip in this post is an ode to “The Opposite” episode of Seinfeld.

Chatty footnote: Writers know that clichés abound and threaten to drown us. That’s why poet Rita Dove said you’re not a writer until you edit your work. A writer rewrites. You may not have time to fully edit every damn thing you write because demand for content is high and getting higher. Still, don’t be seduced by your subconscious.

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