Like a Hawk

hawkHere’s the thing about cliches popping up in your writing: You’ve got to watch them like a hawk. But seriously folks, nobody’s immune. The first time anyone ever used that phrase to describe the need for intense attention, it was brilliant. Hawks can see a rodent in tall grass from 100 meters away. They not only have phenomenal eyesight, but they depend on it, and their attention to the smallest detail, for their survival. If a hawk isn’t paying attention, a hawk goes hungry. But after about the billionith use, “watch like a hawk”  just became lazy. No listener or reader would be instantly calling up the image of a survival-driven creature with superior eyesight peering into the brush because its life depended on it. “Like a hawk” just became a compound word that meant “carefully,” in other words, just the kind of bland, nothing abstraction that metaphors and similies are meant to bring to life. But it still means something. It’s a big blinking sign saying, “NEED A PRECISE OBSERVATION HERE.”

In the recent instance, the writer was describing the startup of a small business.  She’d just rented office space as market conditions went into decline. She was “watching every penny like a hawk.”

As a writer, as you read back that line, think of it as a cry for help. It tells you that you should replace the cliche with something intrinsic to the situation, something that makes that need for frugality more concrete. There are a million ways to do that, some better than others. But just consider a simple, direct solution, something like: “watching every penny like that would be the one that kept my office lights on.”  It transforms the line from a groaner, to something that does some honest work for the development of an idea.

Speak Your Mind