“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.” Edith Wharton
“Let me drink the day” – what a wonderful line that is! How openhearted and full! What makes it work so well? Why does it capture our attention and hint of fullness and delight?
It’s “drink” – that surprising, yet perfectly apt verb choice. Edith might have said, “Let me see the day” or “Let me view the day,” or “Let me contemplate the day.” But instead, she used an active, juicy verb – one that’s unexpected and evocative.
Juicy verbs – how much energy and forward motion they add to our writing! Just like the “Little Engine That Could” — verbs are the little engines that fuel a sentence and drive it forward. They animate our prose and call up associations in our readers that make them animated too, and that keep them on the train, riding along with us as we tell our tales.
What a gift a great verb, a juicy verb, a surprising verb, is – and how often we squander its possibilities by choosing workhorses that are more ordinary and lackluster.
Consider the sentence, “She walked away from the door.” Now consider what more we could convey about this person walking away through a different, fuller verb. A few more sprightly, exciting options than “walk” spring to mind: strode, shambled, shuffled, dragged, raced, ran, ambled, cruised, crept, tiptoed, marched, sped.
Consulting my handy Roget’s Thesaurus yields a cornucopia of riches: prowled, roamed, ranged, patroled, wandered, sauntered, struggled, plodded, trudged, strutted, stumbled, toddled, trotted, pranced, galloped, glided, skated, coasted, paced, rambled.
What an abundance of picture-making words – right at our fingertips! And what fun it is to wander among them and ponder which one might create exactly the right mood! How often do we take advantage of all these possibilities in our stories?
I know, I know. Sometimes, we’re just racing along on on the wings of an idea and we can’t really stop to pick a verb that really pops instead of potters. That’s one reason why revision is such a fabulous tool – we have the chance to “re-vision” what we’ve written and make better, more lively, more evocative verb choices.
So, next time a bland verb pops from your pen or chugs out of your computer, take a moment to remember Edith’s inspired sentence, “Let me drink the day.” Then see her standing at the window, drinking the beauty before her like an exotic bird dipping its graceful head in a pool of sweet water and drinking deeply. And then “set wide the window” of your mind and find a verb that sings and brings joy to your heart. Write on!
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I’d like to pass on the name of the thesaurus I live by–OXFORD AMERICAN WRITER’S THESAURUS. Friends gave me a copy for Christmas a few years ago and it has lived on my desk ever since. Very contemporary–among the contributing editors, Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Francine Prose,Michael Dirda, etc. Attitude: You’re not looking for a multi-syllable pompous word–you’re looking for the EXACT word.
Thanks so much for passing on this resource — it sounds wonderful!
Knowing you are a wonderful editor, I’m sure this is a tool we can all
benefit from having. Great advice!