Verbs Transform Us (and our writing)

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

Apply a simple writing hack to the rest of your life, and watch out world, here you come!


Verbs lead the way.

As a writing teacher, I challenge my students to strengthen their verbs. It's a pretty simple concept, really. Instead of "she is sad," write "tears well in her eyes. Quickly glancing away, she looks up, gasps for breath, and begins to speak." While this simple hack produces stronger writing, in fact, verbs have the power to transform so much more.

Verbs Empower

“Accept-- choose-- take action"

Since becoming a mom, like so many others I know, I've felt anxiety creep into my own life. I look at my precious children, my heart overflowing with love but also worry. I, after all, shoulder responsibility for their safety and well-being. What does this fever mean? Why does she have growing pains again? Is it bone cancer? What's this vein on my leg? What if it's a blood clot? Maybe I should check it out? Now. Right now. I can't just keel over in Target from a blood clot; I have my kids with me. What would they do? Plus, I've been having too many tacos lately, and what if I have actually have cancer and don't know it. How do you know if you have cancer? And what about that heartburn last night? Was it heartburn or signs of something more? I better make a smoothie today, extra greens powder. Green smoothies will keep me safe... unless, what is that person over there doing? Seems suspicious...What if? I better leave...kids let's go...


I share this thought montage because I know so many of us out there can relate to feelings of anxiety and the mama bear worry that can control and limit our lives. Last year when I realized my fight and flight response was stuck in activation mode, I was guided (by the grace of God) to the process of ACT therapy through an amazing workbook and a God-sent counselor. I am not trained in psychology, and I struggle to remember all the details of both my undergrad and grad Ed Psych classes. So please, if you feel a even a bit pulled to seek counseling, I urge you to take that step. Wise counsel is so important and can help in so many ways. Okay, this all comes back to verbs, I promise. You see, Doctors Forsythe and Eifert, authors of The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, explain that "ACT [therapy] is about letting go, showing up to life, and getting yourself moving in the directions you want to go." Notice all the action verbs. But this is not denying or rejecting your feelings either. The core idea in ACT is to accept your feelings, choose a direction, and commit to an action and changing what you can change: your verbs. It's a verb acronym actually: "ACT-- accept--choose--take action." Simple and profound. It's about the verbs you choose for yourself.

Verbs Focus

You think I would have come to this conclusion earlier. I teach it, actually, in my theatre and speech classrooms. In theatre (acting after all) and speech performance, performers must never focus on the feeling their characters would have, rather they focus on the action. What actions you select shape the story, regardless of the words. As a director, I would ask my actors to identify the underlying action or goal in their scene. A slight shift in verb makes all the difference. To criticize or to connect? To avoid or to accept? To judge or to empathize? How different a story unfolds when different verbs are applied. On stage, just like in writing or working through anxious thoughts, active strong verbs make all the difference. By focusing on the action of the character in the moment, actors and speakers can overcome stage fright and ignite their performance with a life energy rather than a distanced shell of a character.


Verbs Challenge

“What verbs do you choose for yourself today?"

So what is true of writing, rings true for life. Words matter. Verbs matter. Act. (and ACT). You cannot choose your feelings, but you can accept your feelings and choose your action. What verbs do you choose for yourself today? How do you live those verbs? Try it: in your ebook journal work,Writing with Grace, (download it if you haven't yet!) when you write, start paying attention to the verbs. Keep them active. Keep them strong. From that, our story of life unfolds.


What are your verbs? Share them in the comments below. Mine are on page 26 of Writing with Grace.


Resources: ebook Writing with Grace, Verb Chart,




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