Having a few metaphors up your sleeve is a shortcut to making your writing warmer and more human. Original metaphors are one thing that ChatGPT struggles to conjure up, so using them is a way of signalling there’s a real writer sitting at the keyboard. So, if you’d like to inject some creativity into your writing and more originality in your content, read on.
A great metaphor can emphasise a point far more quickly and deeply than three paragraphs of exposition. And because good metaphors paint surprising pictures in the mind of the reader, they make your copy more memorable. But how do you write a good one, and how do you use them to best effect in your content?
It’s a question that’s an odd one for me to answer. I find writing metaphors as easy as falling off a log. When I think of having metaphors up my sleeve it’s a magician’s sleeve that I picture, where the coloured handkerchiefs keep coming and coming. A lot of my internal dialogue is in metaphors – I am constantly comparing things to other things in my head – experiences, feelings, people – making connections that tell stories is how I make sense of the world.
For me, thinking in metaphors is a way of seeing and decoding that’s as natural as breathing. But I know it’s not like that for everybody.
Struck down by metaphorphobia?
You’re not alone.
If you’re struggling writing metaphors you’re in good company. Many people are a bit scared of writing metaphors. Scared of not being able to think of good ones. Scared that any metaphors they come up with will be as dull as ditchwater.
And scared, I think, because they believe metaphor writing itself belongs in the creative part of the writing spectrum. Somehow metaphors are the preserve of proper poets and wafty scarf wearing women who go on retreats and write blank verse about the moon.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. So here is my attempt to demystify metaphor writing for you.
Don’t be scared | The reason you want to get more metaphors into your writing is because it will make your writing easier to understand and help you make a connection with your reader. You’re doing it for a good reason, and your readers will thank you for it. Who doesn’t love stumbling across a metaphor that brings whatever you’re reading alive; tugs at your heart or stirs up memories or tickles your senses? You’re doing it for good reasons, because you care about your reader and you want them to have the best experience possible. So if you’re scared because it feels like showing off, don’t be. You’re doing it because it will make your reader’s journey more rewarding. If you’re scared because you think you can’t do it – you don’t know how – then read on.
Practice with objects | Exercise your metaphor writing muscles. Start with something ordinary, say, an orange. Put it on the desk in front of you. Put a timer on for ten minutes. Write down everything that orange could be – a globe, a sun, an alien egg, the kneecap of the women in the hot tub who’s just back from Lanzarote. Even if you feel a bit self conscious at first keep going – the more outlandish the better. If you can make yourself laugh while you’re doing it you’re on to something. Don’t worry if you can’t, but do try to enjoy it. We’re at our most creative when we’re relaxed and having fun.
Practice with experiences | Metaphors that describe how something makes you feel are useful when it comes to writing helpful blogs. They’re useful for creating valuable content – you can demonstrate empathy quickly and simply with metaphors. So instead of saying: ‘Speaking on stage makes many people nervous, but this workshop will help you become a sought after public speaker.’ With metaphors and similes (comparisons that use ‘like’ or ‘as’) you could say: ‘If the idea of standing on stage is more terrifying than your first day at school, don’t worry. This workshop will help you make the experience as easy and enjoyable as a night in the pub with your best friends.’
So practise making these connections, and write them down. When you’re feeling nervous/excited/confused about something, think about when else you felt like that. Map connections between experiences, and jot them down. Start to build your own metaphor reference library!
Steal like a magpie | Steal ideas and images from novels, poetry, films. Change the context of a great image and in the words of a Britain’s Got Talent judge, you can make it your own. I wove Chekov’s ‘show me moonlight glinting on broken glass’ into a book I co-wrote. Now Chekov was certainly not thinking of content marketing case studies when he wrote the words, but it’s a beautiful and evocative metaphor for ‘show not tell.’ I reckon it’s perfectly fine to do a little judicious sprinkling of other people’s lines into your own writing. Go ahead, you have my permission.
Practice makes perfect | See the world with new eyes. Practise metaphor writing wherever you go and whatever you are doing. That man at the bus stop looks like Captain Kirk when he’s just been given bad news. The sky is the colour of bluebells at dusk. This tea is the colour of my Primary School teacher’s tights. Write them down if you like, or just enjoy them privately. The more you practise the easier it will be to nail a great metaphor next time you need one.
Creativity is a muscle – use it and it gets stronger. And that’s it. If it all seems a bit daft and contrived, work through it. Give yourself permission to be silly. Experimenting with language and ideas has a serious purpose, but don’t take it too seriously while you’re doing it.
Keep your eye on the prize – vivid, sparkling writing that connects with your reader – and enjoy the ride.