Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cliche-writing results are in, and the winner is ...

Will Hanlon.

Congrats, Will. Your $25 Rutter's gift card will be in your hands shortly.

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on what you learned by doing this contest. I think we often use cliches because they come to us automatically (they're cliches, of course they do) and we don't push ourselves to come up with something better. Everyone who did this contest pushed themselves to come up with the most cliches they could -- and if you take that energy and put it toward replacing cliches with fresh phrasing, you're a better writer.

The judge was Skip Wood, formerly a reporter at USAToday for more than a decade who covered the NFL and other major sports. Skip and I have been friends since the day I walked in to the Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News-Record's newsroom and he welcomed me to the sports staff there. He later worked for several years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch before going to USAToday. He now works at wjla.com/tbd.com in Washington, D.C., doing stories and a morning e-mail alert designed to set up the day for Washingtonians. He's on Twitter.

 We've spent the past couple of decades talking about anything and everything journalism, including amazingly good writing and insufferably bad writing. And he's one of the most entertaining writers I've known. So he has a keen eye for this kind of stuff.

I asked him to judge this based on who did the best job trying to write poorly, since that was the point. So if he's complimenting you on writing cliche-filled tripe, well, take it as the compliment it's meant to be. (One note on judging in case you were wondering: Some of you had headlines, some of you didn't; I asked him not to add or subtract for hed/no hed.)

Click 'Cliche writing contest' on the left rail to read everyone's entries. 

Here are Skip's comments:
These people are good. I mean bad. 
Here’s my take from each one, in alphabetical order:
--Buffy Andrews: Loved the fake name, first of all. ‘Buffy.’* Too funny. The clich├ęs slayed. One after another after another after another after another.
--Joan Concilio: Just really, really bad. Loved “that aforementioned rain.”
--Will Hanlon: Smart. Just smart.  Not only that, but FAIRFAX COUNTY --
--John Hilton: Second graph nails it. Shot? What shot?
--Tom Joyce: I mean, you gotta love, “Bertha Muckenbaugh.”
--Bill Landauer: This was Gene Weingarten funny.
--Andrea Lazarus: The more you read it, the more you get it.
--Susan Martin: This is one of those stories you see sometimes when, oh, I don’t know. . . you’re reading a middle-school newspaper.
--Erin McCracken: “. . .strapped on his fishing gear.”
--Stephanie Reighart: Please. Just read the last sentence from the second graph.
Winner? Hanlon.
I liked it because it was written in the manner of a wordsmith who really thinks he’s a wordsmith when, actually, he doesn’t know anything about being a wordsmith. 

*This was Skip being his humorous self. I asked him about it and he said, "I was 99.99 percent sure 'Buffy' was, in fact, her real name."