The Power of Verbs

Power of Verbs

Verbs are the engines that power your sentences.

Here’s an exercise that will help you learn the power of verbs.

See if you can make the following paragraph more interesting by changing the verbs. Challenge yourself to show this narrator either speeding through her day or dragging through it by the verbs you choose. If you like, post your revision in the comments below.

I got up this morning: I got dressed I got coffee and a bagel when I got gas. I got the news on the radio, and I got the mail on the way down the hall to the office. I got through my email before my ten o’clock meeting, but I got a phone call from a client so I got to the meeting late.

After the meeting I got through the HR about my health benefits, because I got a bill for my last doctor’s visit that didn’t get covered by my insurance and should have. I got a liverwurst sandwich at the deli across the street and I got red licorice at the candy store next door. I got a lot done between one and three because I got smart and turned my email and phone off. But my boss got mad because she couldn’t get through. When I told her all I got done, she got thoughtful. I got to go out to the bakery with her and got a coffee and an éclair and got a chance to tell her about all the ways I get interrupted at work and all the ways we could get more done. She got it and thanked me. I got back to my desk and got some more done before I got back in my car. Even with traffic, I got to my yoga class in time and got home feeling like I’d had a good day.

Give it a try – then show off your work and any comments about what you learned.

Always wishing you the exact word to express precisely what it is you want to say, ~Deborah.

How to Use a Colon


There are three general ways to use a colon: to introduce a list; to separate numerals in references and time; and to separate a title from a sub-title.

ONE: Introducing a List

The sentence above is an example of using a colon to introduce a list. Just think of a colon as shorthand for the phrases “that is,” “such as,” or “for example.” A colon used this way promotes both clarity and economy.

A colon can also introduce an appositive: a noun or noun phrase that describes or explains the noun or noun phrase that immediately comes before. The previous sentence is an example of this usage.

TWO: Separating Numerals In References And Time

Some books, like the Bible, are divided into chapter and verse: numbers separated by a colon. (That sentence is another example of a colon introducing an appositive.)

Genesis 1:1 in the King James Bible reads, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

A colon is also used to separate units of time: hours from minutes, minutes from seconds, seconds from hundredths of a second, and so on. I’m writing this post at 8:44 AM as expressed on a twelve-hour clock. On a 24-hour clock, the time is 08:44. Actually, it’s now 08:45. You get the idea.

THREE: Introducing A Subtitle

The following is a list of the stack of books on my desk waiting to be shelved.

Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts On Words, Women, Places by Ursula K. Le Guin

Robert’s Rules of Order: Newly Revised 11th Edition

Harbrace College Handbook: 1984 Printing, With the new MLA documentation style.

This last title is my go-to reference for explaining grammatical issues, such as how to use a colon effectively.

There are certainly other ways to use colons, but these are the main three. Try them; you may find them useful.

Please let me know: Did you find this post helpful?

Take a Break (Infuriating Advice, Part 2)

Last night, a plot point that had been nagging me for days dropped into my head while I was dicing onions. Last week, a perfect turn of phrase for an essay sauntered through my head while I was on the train. I am grateful for these breakthrough moments, and also started to wonder, why couldn’t I think of these while at my desk?

Why is it that I am least creative when I am working hardest?

In my last post, I my advice was: If you want to write, write (more).

Today, my advice is: take a break!

And yes. That advice is contradictory. Here is why.

There is an emerging interest in the science of creativity, and researchers recently tackled the question: why do people get their best ideas in the showers? The answer is straightforward.

You have better ideas when you are relaxed.

image of a busy brain

A busy brain can be a writer’s enemy

Decision-making, e-mail-writing, and schedule-juggling is controlled by the prefrontal cortex. The medial prefrontal cortex controls association and emotional response. Some studies suggest that when artists are improvising and most creative, there is almost no activity in the prefrontal cortex. The part of your brain that balances your checkbook does not write poetry. Not only does creativity need a quite prefrontal cortex, it also thrives on dopamine. What’s dopamine? The neurotransmitter that relaxes the body.

In other words, your writer’s block is not because you are not focused, but because you are not relaxed.

Image of a brain at rest

When your frontal cortex is resting, your subconscious is at work.

Thinking about a problem can keep you from creating a solution. Dopamine quiets the chatter, and lets your subconscious get to work. When I was dicing onions, I was relaxed, which let my subconscious knit together the ideas that been slowly forming.

So how do you access this magic drug? Take a break. Bake a cake. Take a bath. Walk around the block. Draw a picture of your brain.

It can be hard to follow this advice. After all, my writing time is precious to me, often squeezed between other jobs, or carved out at the end of the day. When I find myself staring at the screen, faced with a plot problem I can not untie, I remind myself that creativity does not have a time-clock.

I find that by writing more frequently and taking breaks when I get frustrated, I am able to make daily progress.

Do you ever feel like your best – or only – ideas happen when you’re away from your desk?


Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting. You can learn more about her work here.


Learning to Use Scrivener


I first learned about Scrivener, a program to help writers organize long-form projects, from a post by J.A. Hennrikus, right here on Live to Write, Write to Live. A few months later, she posted again about Scrivener, this time about taking a course about how to use it.


I typed on a Smith Corona before I bought my first computer for word processing.

That’s pretty much when I grayed out. I was happy with Microsoft Word, which I’d been using since I bought my first computer in 1984. It was a big advance over the Smith-Corona portable typewriter, which I’d had since high school. That first edition of Microsoft Word was pretty much just like typing, only better. I was good with that.

Then Wendy E. N. Thomas posted about Scrivener, inviting readers to watch her write a book using this tool. Good to her word, she posted a step-by-step guide, a blog post using Scrivener, A.T.T.P, a guide to nailing an outline, and Scrivener Simplified.

I still wasn’t convinced. I was working on other projects with paper, hole-punch, scissors, paperclips and tape. This system was working for me.

Then my writing-buddy brother started using Scrivener, telling me how useful it was for writing plays. He’d share his screen with me, trying to make me believe that this would make my writing life easier.

It was starting to feel like a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, I was sputtering on and off on two long-form projects. Every time I returned to them, I had to reorganize.

I finally got fed up.

It was time, I decided, to try Scrivener.

I’ve downloaded the free, thirty-day trial – which gives you thirty days of actual use, regardless of how many days or weeks it takes you to use them. And when I get stuck, I turn to the many videos and lessons on the Literature and Latte website.

It’s slow-going, and I’m not yet in love with the program, but I am determined to learn it so I can get on with my writing life.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who blogs weekly at Living in Place. Learn more at

If you want to write, write! And other infuriating advice

If you want to write: write!

We’ve all heard some form of this advice, and its more crass counterpart, “put your ass in the chair.”

What I hate most about this advice is its simplicity. I know that the only way to write is to sit down and do it.

Easier said than done.

When I sit down to write, I often sit down surrounded by my ambition, my hopes, and a running to-do list of other tasks I should be doing. I developed my Spell Against Self Doubt – the actions I take to prepare for writing – to build my confidence as a writer. I needed something other than a page number to measure success, and so it was surprising that one of the most useful tools is completing three pages of automatic writing before opening my computer. It made me wonder:

Is the secret to unlocking better writing as simple as writing more?

Time @ Desk (Time + Wordcount) / Hours Procrastinating = Quality

Is there an equation to better writing?

According to Julie Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Understanding, writing more is the way not only to get better at writing, but also better any creative pursuit. The task is simple: write for three pages without a plan. Just keep writing.

For the first few weeks, I remained dubious. My morning pages were painfully mundane. I scribbled to-do lists, petty anxieties, and physical descriptions of my surroundings. While I had succeeded in getting my ass in the chair, it seemed to only confirm the fear that I had nothing interesting to write.

And then something shifted. One morning some of the smog lifted. I started writing about a dream I’d had. The daily practice of unplanned writing led me to unplanned ideas. Unexpected details crawled through my still-foggy brain. I accessed the joy I’ve observed in a marker-wielding three year old: fierce commitment to coloring page after page, followed by total abandonment when snack time rolls around.

So is the secret to writing better, writing more?

My morning pages have not manifested into a manuscript. They have become a beloved junk drawer of detail, observation, and memory. Though I write my morning pages when I am still half asleep, they have woken up my delight in writing. I no longer sit at my desk wondering if I have a story to tell, but which story I will share with this audience.

Writing more has improved my writing, because I now approach my writing like a three year old — content to be completely absorbed in the act of creating! I write from a place of trust and delight. Of course, I’m not saying that quantity equals quantity. Word count is not a panacea for a poorly formed argument, but it may be a cure for doubt.

Art by my favorite three year old - one of 13 pieces made that day!

Art by my favorite three year old – one of 13 pieces made that day!

If you want to write – write! Write when you are half asleep, write when you are annoyed that your friend is late to meet you (again), write when you see something that delights you.

So what do you think? Is writing more a path towards better writing?

Small_headshotNaomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.

A Review of Clauses and Conjunctions

two semi-colons

It’s clear from the many comments I received after my last post about semi-colons, that a review of clauses and conjunctions would be helpful.


Clauses are a group of words that do a writer’s bidding. It’s important to be able to differentiate between the two main types of clauses: independent and subordinate.

An independent clause:

Contains a complete subject + complete predicate;

Stands alone;

Can be joined to other independent clauses by one of the seven COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS:

AND – in addition, also, moreover, besides

BUT – nevertheless, however, still

YET – nevertheless, however, still

FOR – because, seeing that, since

OR – as an alternative, otherwise

NOR – and not, or not, not either [used after a negative]

SO – therefore, as a result

A Subordinate (or dependent) clause:

Is not a sentence;

Functions as a part of speech (noun, adjective, adverb);

Is introduced by subordinators:

Relative pronouns: that, what, which, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose;

Subordinating conjunctions: after, although, as, because, before, if, once, since, that, though, till, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, while;

Subordinating phrases: as if, as soon as, as though, even though, in order that, in that, no matter how, so that.

Types of Sentences:

Simple – independent clause.

All three of the following examples are built around the same independent clause; everything else is commentary.

I write.

I write essays.

I write essays for print, blogs and radio.

Compound – 2 or more independent clauses.

These can be joined by coordinating conjunctions or separated by semi-colons; “I write” is again the independent clause at the heart of these examples:

I write for readers and I write for listeners. (coordinating conjunction joining two independent clauses)

I write for readers; I write for listeners; I write for clients who hire me. (semi-colon separating three independent clauses)

Complex – a dependent clause and an independent clause.

These different clauses are connected by subordinating adverbs or phrases. The independent clause is highlighted in bold, indicating the main point.

While I think in print, I’ve learned to write for audio. (adverbial phrase)

After scribbling all morning, the writer suffered cramps. (dependent adverbial phrase)

The writer who considers her audience succeeds. (noun phrase)

Compound-Complex – one or more dependent clauses supporting two or more independent clauses

Uncertain about how best to continue building on the simple sentence “I write,” and unwilling to inadvertently bore my readers, I find that I must write my own example of a compound-complex sentence, using as many dependent clauses, joined with as many independent clauses to make my point with clarity, economy and grace; whether I have succeeded is moot.

Let’s break down the above sentence clause by clause:

  • It begins with two dependent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction “and”:
  • Uncertain about how best to continue building on the simple sentence “I write,” and unwilling to inadvertently bore my readers,
  • The independent clause that is the kernel of meaning on this side of the semi-colon “I find”;
  • “that I must write my own example of a compound-complex sentence” is a restrictive clause following the relative pronoun “that”;
  • it’s a clause because it contains both a subject “I” and a predicate “must write”
  • “my own example” is an adverbial phrase describing what the subject (I) must write
  • “of a compound-complex sentence” is a prepositional phrase acting as an adjective describing “example”;
  • “joined with as many independent clauses to make my point with clarity, economy and grace” is another dependent clause hanging off that same relative pronoun “that” and further describing “example”
  • whether I have succeeded is moot” is another independent clause, which is why it’s separated from the previous independent clause by a semi-colon.

Why learn the grammar of clauses?

  1. If you know your clauses, you can punctuate with clarity – which makes it easier for your reader to follow your train of thought;
  2. If you state your important ideas in independent clauses and your supporting evidence in subordinating clauses, you’re effectively emphasizing the importance of the point you are trying to make.
  3. If you know the so-called standard usage, you can still decide not to use it, in which case you’re exhibiting authorial control rather than ignorance.

I know, this is dense stuff, which is why I urge anyone who wants more instruction to study it further in a class, from a book, on-line, or with a tutor. But remember: you don’t need to know all the technical language around usage; what’s important is learning how to use language to express yourself with concision and clarity.

Write on!

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who punctuates her writing life with winter sport whenever snow conditions allow. She posts an essay every Wednesday on her blog, Living In Place.

The World Needs More Fairy Tales

Artist: Seb Mckinnon —

The world needs fairytales more than ever. Besieged daily with news headlines that are by turns terrifying, infuriating, heartbreaking, and straight up unbelievable, we are desperate for solid footing in our new and wildly uncertain reality. Ironically, fairytales may be just the thing to ground us in this upside-down world.

While fairytales and myths may at first appear to live squarely in the land of make believe, their roots run deep in our collective psyche, easily reaching across barriers of time, geography, and culture. Masquerading as entertainment and escapism, they are in fact ancient threads in the tapestry of civilization. And they serve a critical role, especially in the lives of children.

The author Neil Gaiman sums up the special magic of fairytales thus, “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” The sentiment is a paraphrasing of a longer quote attributed to another British writer, G.K. Chesterton. In the original, Chesterton adds, “Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him by a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

In short, fairytales teach us how to deal with monsters. They prove to us that monsters can be vanquished, and by so proving give us hope and courage and the audacity to take up arms against the darkness.

Fairytales also help us to recognize the monsters that we face in real life. Those well versed in fantasy and myth can spot a bad guy a mile off. We know their traits and their tells. They cannot fool us. We’ve read this story before.

Fairytales, myths, and their contemporary counterparts (urban fantasy, science fiction, superhero stories, and so forth) also help us recognize the heroes and heroines within ourselves. The stories we read become part of our internal identity. We become the protagonist on a journey or quest, and we learn through  vicarious experience what it feels like to do battle with evil and emerge victorious. Fairytales, in particular, seem to possess an especially potent magic that causes their DNA to merge with ours, changing us forever.

The real world is full of monsters. They may not look like the beasts and demons of mythical lore, but their hearts are as dark and their intentions as evil. There are people marching under Nazi flags, serial killers, and corporations savaging the natural resources that sustain us all. There are Machiavellian demagogues, morally bereft political operatives, and narcissists who are dangerously out of touch with reality.  There are schoolyard bullies, backstabbing co-workers, and online trolls. We have no shortage of villains.

But I like to think that we also have uncounted numbers of fairytale-reading heroes and heroines, just waiting for their chance to put the monsters in their place. You cannot tell me that a generation raised on Harry Potter doesn’t have the advantage against the forces of darkness. We may not have magic wands, but we carry within us the magic of those stories and hundreds more like them — stories in which the powers of kindness, friendship, and justice prevail against any adversary.

And I would add a gentle reminder that fairytales are not just for children. As C.S. Lewis, the author of the beloved Narnia tales, said, “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” Perhaps it’s time for more adults to recognize the gifts of clarity and inspiration that are folded in the pages of magical stories. There is wisdom to be had, and great insight, if only we can be brave enough to look.



Jamie Lee Wallace I am a freelance content writer, columnist, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. For more from me, check out the archives for the  Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared as a column in the Ipswich Chronicle, and subsequently on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.