Thursday, December 2, 2010


Years ago, I was author-in-residence at a lively middle school where two exceptional teachers had created a strong writing program. A cardboard box, decorated with skull and crossbones, sat the the front of one room, with a sign reading "graveyard for dead words." Each day, students scrawled tired, cliched, or vague words on slips of paper and dropped them into the box. The graveyard held words such as "nice," "thing," "very." Great idea.

Perhaps because I've been feeling bone tired lately, my own prose seems ready for this graveyard. It tastes like Pablum, rather than chef Ana Sortun's fragrant Egyptian carrots flavored with dukkah. As a remedy, I've turned to suggestions from our esteemed faculty. The first is Ron Koertge's talismanic word exercise, where you pluck three words, at random, from the daily paper, and find a way to use them in that day's writing. My words this morning, taken from the Boston Globe: Scrooged (who knew that was a verb?); slash; taunt. I guess I was in the mood for verbs.

Last night, I spoke with Jackie Briggs Martin, who suggested that I keep a running list of favorite words. I chose the first words that popped into my head: chaparral; canyon; home. All nouns--and an odd mix that makes me think of Kelly Easton's enthusiasm for randomness. Saying them out loud already adds spice to my day.

What are your talismanic words? Your favorites? How do you add grit and spice to your writing?


  1. Don't we all feel that way, Liza??

    "Scrooged" reminds me of Dickens, which reminds me of this quote from DAVID COPPERFIELD: "I was so far from wanting words, that I had only too many of them. I didn't know what to do with them. I floundered among them as if they were water which I was splashing about."

  2. LOVE Dickens. Hate Murdstone, though. Ugh!

    "just" is my overused word of the moment. I went through my latest story and did a find/replace for just -- took most of them out and the story read better.

    Now I am wondering why the heck I just *had* to use that dang word so much.

    I'm trying to get back to reading the dictionary the way I used to in high school. (Yes, I ran on nerd power back in the day.) Back in those days I'd be writing or talking and a word would pop out ... a word I didn't know! And then I'd look it up and find that it fit the context perfectly!

    I don't know what my favorite word is these days. I'll have to find one. or twelve.

    Isn't "twelve" a weird word?

  3. One day after eating the last pickle in a jar, I made a splashy label using stars and asterisks and a fancy font that said:
    Herein I throw lovely amusing words on little bits of paper so they can marinate in the lingering sweet pickle aroma until the magic hour when I need them most.

  4. One of my word weakness is "really." I've always been partial to the word "verisimilitude." Doesn't come up too often, though. I love Danette's idea of the pickle jar.