We’re taught that we should avoid clichés in our writing, and I totally agree. If you can identify clichés you’ve used (during the editing phase) and spend a few minutes thinking about what you really meant to say, and then say that instead, you’ll create more clear, interesting writing.
But I’m not here today to talk about why you should avoid using clichés in your writing. Instead, I want to break down one specific cliché that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:
Practice makes perfect.
The thing is, clichés are clichés for a reason. They are phrases that have been said so often they’ve lost their oomph, but if you stop for a moment and think about that in reverse, they have lost their meaning because they’ve been said so many times. So while it’s best to avoid them in your writing (people tend to skim over them), they can actually teach us something.
So let’s see what we’re dealing with.
…helps new things become more comfortable.
When you do something often, it eventually becomes a smooth process, a habit that feels familiar. When you’ve just started doing something new (writing every day, playing croquet, designing logos, etc.), you won’t feel like you’re very good. You’ll bumble around and make mistakes. You’ll skip a day or miss a hit or create something totally wonky. But it’s all part of the process, and if you keep practicing, you’ll get better over time.
…highlights what’s not comfortable.
Sometimes, though, one piece of the process just fails to become smooth—which means it may be time to reevaluate. Maybe writing every day doesn’t work for you—maybe three times a week is easier. Or maybe croquet isn’t your sport—perhaps badminton is right for you (I’m in total summer-backyard-games mode, can you tell?). Or maybe designing logos isn’t your calling—maybe you’re meant to help people in another way. But if you don’t try for a while, you won’t know.
As you practice and find things becoming smoother, you’re more likely to be willing to put in the time needed because you feel progress. So you keep practicing!
But really, we have all been (rightly) told over and over to stop chasing perfection. So what can we really get from the “perfection” part of this cliché? I say let’s aim for progress instead of perfection. Celebrate the small and big wins, note the changes that emerge over time, and remember that growing pains are real but they don’t have to stop you in your tracks.
And then let’s aim for specific goals so we know when we’ve made that progress. So maybe you aim to write every day for a month or to write 5,000 words in a month. Or perhaps you aim to make it through a whole game without overshooting the wicket in croquet (maybe I should’ve chosen a different sport as an example?) before your croquet party next week. Or maybe you aim to design five logos you’re proud of in the next two months. But whatever the goal, you’ll know whether or not you made it—and you’ll have a real way to track that progress.
So the next time you feel frustrated with a new process, a new habit, or a new skill, remember this new take on the tired old cliché:
Practice makes progress!
What are you practicing right now?