Here's the thing. Sometimes we talk and write in tired language. Cliche this and that. During revision, one of my goals is to see where I used such line filler as I went dancing merrily on following my story's dangling carrot. I made this sparse word cloud of a few cliches at wordle.net, which you must go toy with if you haven't.
I've been thinking a lot about revision, and was tickled pink (yes, I'm doing this on purpose because actions speak louder than words, ha-ha) to find a great article by Alexander Chee on the way Annie Dillard taught him to write and rewrite. She told her students to triple space between lines to leave space for her to comment, and she always had a lot to say. Among the things Chee discovered was a "museum of cliches in my unconscious."
Chee illustrates how she attacked passive voice, imprecise language, weak verbs, and gives an example of an exercise that I think would blow us all out of the water (sorry, I'll stop doing this). Dillard asked the class to write an essay. Then she told them to take scissors and cut out the best lines. Those were pasted on blank paper. From there: rewrite.
I can see the genius in this. It's not enough to have a few brilliant lines or some great passages if they're strung together with throw-aways. Chee says he learned his voice was trapped and needed to be cut free.
Only by dissecting each line during revision will we not skip over lazy language. Literary agent Nathan Bransford noted a few examples that showed up often in his first-paragraph contest: last thing I expected, consumed with fear and washed over me. I used them to make the word cloud above. Let's play with them but not pad them around our gems.
Have you caught yourself using cliches or been startled by how often people use them in speech?