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Off Campus Writers' Workshop - OCWW

Ian Belknap: Freshening Language

  • March 11, 2021
  • 9:30 AM - 12:00 PM
  • Remote


Registration is closed

Remote (OCWW may add a live event with separate registration)

Clichés take hold for a variety of reasons: they are apt, they are (prior to overuse) vivid, they are memorable, etc. The trouble is that their familiarity can make them the first phrase we reach for—and even if they adequately convey our meaning, they do not capture the imagination of the reader. Becoming thumb-worn from excessive use, clichés cease to impart anything particular or immediate—they have been reduced to approximations, vestiges of the concepts and feeling states they once evoked. As a tool of revision, a productive filter for sharpening prose is to review each draft with a focus on identifying and excising phrases, images, and ideas that a reader will have encountered before and to be fully deliberate in our literary decisions about them. Sometimes, clichés or familiar images have a place and serve a purpose, so a blanket prohibition makes no sense—the aim is that every choice serves our goals for the piece we're making. Where a cliché is simply serving as a placeholder—as they so often do—we must exercise our ingenuity to substitute something livelier and more interesting. We will walk through an exercise using a passage I'll provide to practice this specialized kind of revision.

Bio: Ian Belknap is the founder of WRITE CLUB, a competitive readings series that's been monthly in Chicago since 2010, and has chapters in 3 other US cities. His essays, criticism, and satire have appeared in The Rumpus, Chicago Reader, Chicago Tribune, Crain's Chicago Business, New City Chicago, and elsewhere. He is pursuing a Creative Writing MFA at Bennington College. He is a longtime writing instructor and coach. -

Ian will accept manuscripts for critique in fiction and nonfiction.  Please see manuscript guidelines on our website:

We offer free student memberships at a discounted rate of $5.00 per session. You must send verification of your student status. Please contact Claudia Katz at for details.

9:00-9:30 Socializing & Registration

9:30-12:00  Program

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