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?

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

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.

When To Use A Semi-Colon


General Rule

two semi-colons

The semi-colon joins and separates equal parts.

The semi-colon is stronger than a comma and not as final as a period. When used to join separate items, it indicates there’s a relationship between the parts; when used to separate items, it indicates where each item begins and ends.

The general rule for semi-colons is to link equal parts. Use semi-colons to join two or more independent clauses, or to separate two or more dependent clauses.


A semi-colon joins two independent clauses; this punctuation links the two ideas. [This example shows a semi-colon joining two independent clauses.] You can use a semi-colon to join two closely related independent clauses with a semi-colon instead of using a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet). This is an economic method of showing relationship without words.

A semi-colon separates items in a series where the items themselves contain commas:

Three of my favorite writers are: Jane Austen, an early nineteenth-century British novelist; John McPhee, a twentieth-century American credited with inventing creative non-fiction; and J.M. Coetzee, recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003.

Of course, these are just three of my favorite authors. Others include Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, and whomever I’m reading at the moment. Recently, that would include Hope Jahren, Lab Girl; Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply; and Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk.

Further Reading About Punctuation

Here are links to previous posts about punctuation you may find helpful toward writing with clarity and grace:

A Brief Guide to Narrative Navigation

A Sentence is a Complete Thought

Punctuation Changes Meaning

My Writing Bible

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living in Place

Setting Goals for 2018

setting goals for 2018Last year, I made affirmations, not resolutions; this year, I’m setting goals for 2018.

I’m using a technique I learned last February, when I felt overwhelmed by projects and obligations.

It worked, so I’m trying it again.


setting goals for 2018Take a pad of paper, sticky notes, or a stack of index cards and write one goal per slip of paper. It doesn’t matter how large or small the goal is, and the number of cards you can fill out is limited only by the number of cards you have on hand.

On one slip, I wrote down “Time Passes” the middle section of a novel-in-progress. On another, I wrote down, “Weekly posts for Living in Place”.

I also wrote down the perennial homestead activities, like plant the vegetable garden and order meat birds.

I wrote down the dates of the board meetings I chair for the Brattleboro Community Justice Center and the date I’ll be moderating Town Meeting this year (always the first Tuesday in March).


Once I’d written down all the things I could think of, I sorted them by kind, and came up with seven categories: Writing Projects; Writing Business; Teaching & Public Speaking; Family; Household; Self-Care and Civic Engagement.

These categories mimic those I use in my Planner Pad, part of my Month, Week, Day system of keeping track and accounting for my time.


setting goals 2018Since many of my goals are to work on long-term projects, I’ve learned to prioritize and schedule the steps that will help me meet them.

One of my writing goals for this year is to “Draft Hunting Book” This is a large, on-going project to which I assign a block of time most workdays. How I’ll use that time will become apparent as the work progresses. Some days I’ll write; some days I’ll read or research; some edit. And some days, I’ll set the project aside to meet a deadline for a teaching gig or a public lecture.


In addition to meeting work goals, I’ve also set goals for self-care, which include outdoor exercise, yoga, and piano. On another page, I wrote down “vacation.” We’re planning a trip to Alaska.


I meet deadlines, including ones I set for myself, and I track my progress in my work diary. Of course, I also keep track of my earnings, although I’ve learned that income is only one measure of success.


flexibilityWhen I get stuck (and I will), I can always refer back to my stack of goals and shuffle them as I meet a goal, or as my priorities or circumstances change.

How do you set your goals?


Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, teacher, radio commentator and blogger who spends so much time alone, she thinks yoga is a social activity.

Defeating the December Doldrums

December Doldrums

The doldrums refer to the five degrees of latitude on either side of the equator where the wind dies and sailing ships are becalmed.

Every year, I stall in the December Doldrums, when moving my pen across the page feels like trudging through wet, ankle deep cement. Instead of climbing out of my chair, I sit at my desk longer than I can be productive – behavior that can trigger a cascade of discontent.

The doldrums refer to the five degrees of latitude on either side of the equator where the wind dies and sailing ships are becalmed, sometimes for weeks. The term has been appropriated into the common language to describe a period of inactivity, listlessness, or stagnation.

I’ve been becalmed here before. As the calendar winds down and the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun, my thoughts can turn as dark as the day is short.

In early December of this year, I submitted a novel to my agent. Now, I’m waiting. Submission is an act of yielding to another’s judgment, and it often elicits a sense of helplessness in me. I’ve done all I can, and now the fate of my work is in others’ hands.


Self doubt comes to roost.

I wait and I fret. Self doubt perches in my soul.

To wait in the dark of the year only intensifies my feelings of being unsettled, listless, itchy in my own skin.

But I’ve been around this bend before, and I’ve learned that the wind will pick up. In the meantime, there are activities I can do to make waiting for it more bearable. Here are five ways I navigate through the doldrums.

1. Declutter

One of my favorite ways to wait out the doldrums is to clear clutter and organize the nests of papers, piles of books, and tangles of string too short to be saved. The number of places in my house where I could apply this organizing energy attests to how infrequently I’m becalmed.

2. Get Outside

I also know that even better than cleaning is getting outdoors. This year, we’ve been blessed with early snow followed by bright, cold days. I’ve skied myself stiff, replacing psychic pain with physical aches.

3. Give Gifts; Volunteer

Last Sunday, I offered Writing to the Light, a free writing workshop. Fifteen people showed up, wrote and shared their stories. They enjoyed stepping out of the holiday circus for reflection, and they all expressed appreciation for my efforts, which made me feel good.

4. Check the Data

It’s easy to see only what’s lacking while in the doldrums. This is why I keep a daily account of my time.  All I have to do is look at my records for the year for a solid reality check of the work I’ve produced: weekly posts at Living In Place; bi-weekly posts for Live to Write – Write to Live; and publications for my paying markets, including broadcasts on Vermont Public Radio. I also taught grant funded literature and writing courses; gave a dozen public talks for the Vermont Humanities Council; and hosted the Rosefire Writing Circle throughout the year. This is all in addition to revising one novel; rereading another; and continuing research for a piece of non-fiction. I’ve increased my readership and my income. By all measures, 2017 has been a good year.

5. Have Faith

The sun will turn the corner, and the earth will begin its journey back to the sun. The wind will pick up and I’ll leave the doldrums. This too shall pass.

By engaging in a combination of these five activities, I’ve already caught the wind and started sailing toward the sun.

Wishing all of you light and love to carry you into the New Year.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly about Living in Place.