The Heart and Craft of Writing

Lesson 4/15 - Don't be Vague and Avoid Cliche


The Heart and Craft of Writing


Lesson Info

Don't be Vague and Avoid Cliche

Let's talk now about the actual craft of writing, when you're sitting there, struggling with your story. Or in your flow, as happens, quite a lot. Vagueness. Vagueness is one of the worst things to look out for when you're writing. You just don't, you want to be as specific as possible. You want to create an actual world. So, saying something that like, she went home. That's really vague, right? I mean, there are some instances in which a short choppy sentence can be very stylistic and very powerful. Like maybe after somebody robs a bank, or something, or beats somebody up for doing them wrong. Then, she went home. You know? That can be very punchy. But in general, I don't know, you're losing a big opportunity to do something here, right? She walked down the debris-strewn street that led to her ramshackle house. Now we're in a movie. When I think about writing, I'm personally super influenced by film. I want the things that I'm creating to have the depth and resonance of a film. I imag...

ine it to be sort of cinematic. I got my start writing memoir, and I really liked to sort of practice a detachment from my own experience, almost like I was looking down on it. And write like that. Without sacrificing emotion and things like that. But you really wanna step back and look at the whole world, and make sure that you're creating a world, and you're not just saying, like, they went here and then they went there. There can be, I've edited a lot of work of beginning writers, and one thing that kind of comes up is a sort of, almost rushing through the story to get to the good parts. I think that, whether we're writing a memoir, or we have a fiction idea, we have these big scenes in our head that we are excited to write, or maybe it's the real inspiration to tell the story, and we're trying to get there. And that's great, you have to bring your writer there in a way that they're carried along on the story. So the story isn't just those big moments, they're the little moments in between. And it's your job as a writer to make sure that you're filling out those sort of connective, the connective tissue of your book. There's no page that isn't interesting and filled with detail, and is not vague. Okay. Avoid cliche. It feels really obvious, but I feel like our psyches and subconscious, which for me, when I write, my psyche, my subconscious is open wide, it's aflame, that's where the work is coming out of. And so, we all have a lot of crap in there. We have a lot of "sweatin' like a pig," you write that down, "oh, I was sweatin' like a pig," what are you talking about? Have you ever seen a pig sweat? Has anyone here ever seen a pig sweat? No one's ever seen a pig sweat, but that's something that could come out very easily while you're just in your zone. It might be something to more look for when you're editing, when you go back and you edit and you see these little pieces. Like, "sweatin' like a whore in church," okay that one's kind of good. (audience laughing) But in general, sweating like what? What would be a better thing to say? Sweating like a pig, some farmer coined that hundreds of years ago 'cause he actually saw a pig sweat and that was a unique twist of phrase for him, and we've all just been kinda coasting on him for a hundred years or something. Like, what, sweating like a gym bunny? I don't know, there's all kinds of things you can use to describe sweatiness. It's your job as a writer to say things in a new and in a different way.

Class Description

If you’ve embarked on the process of writing your first book, there’s a good chance that you’re struggling a bit. Books are big, unwieldy creatures, and even the bravest of among us can feel overwhelmed by the thought of filling all those hundreds of blank pages with intelligent, effervescent words.

Award-winning author, editor and teacher Michelle Tea offers this class to help you believe in your abilities as a writer, stick to your goal and push through that first draft. She’ll outline some of the key tricks to writing a great book and inspire you to produce the vibrant, sparkling and unique work that’s inside your head and waiting to come out.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Be specific and avoid vagueness.
  • Bring your five senses to your writing by including sound, light, scent, texture and taste in every scene.
  • Find your pacing: write slow, write strong.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Build your unique voice and create a shelf of voices you wish your voice to be in conversation with.
  • Keep your editing brain away from your creative brain.



What a wonderful class! Michelle is knowledgeable, authentic, generous and open-hearted with her experience and advice. She offers a genuine sense of validation and practical tips for new writers. I especially liked her thoughts on how to carve out a space for your writing.

Irene Richards