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?