Out of “The Big Box”

There are letters, words, sounds that ring in our ears, on our page day after day, and often in the same way. There are words we cherish, our “go-to” words, the ones that show up over and over in our writing. I have these words, we all have them in our writing repertoire. However, if we are honest, those words we use over and over again get tired and gray, and can leave the sound of a new piece of writing flat or dull. When I’m working with students, I often suggest that “finding” new words to use in writing is about expanding our vocabulary, reaching for new (and familiar) language. Reading is always a good exercise for building vocabulary; however, once we’ve filed those words in our brains, sometimes we forget they are there. I often reassure young writers that our vocabularies are already quite capable; we simply need to remember the process of choosing words for our writing is deliberate, thoughtful, purposeful, a process.

Naturally, when writing we want to fill the page immediately, and the time it takes to craft, find, toil over just the right word or phrase can be frustrating. Walt Whitman said, “Stranger if you’re passing me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?” New (or different) words can be like strangers in texts (visual, written, sound, movement, etc.). The writing process should allow those conversations to happen, but writers must be open to it. I like “finding” those words (or strangers), picking them up with a camera or  journal, and stuffing them into my head, my pocket.

I am always in the practice of looking for interesting words to use, borrow. I look everywhere, including on the shelves of certain little people who live in my house. I love children’s books. They are filled with universal themes,  charming narratives, and plenty of interesting words. Those words are like magic and can often sing a child (and exhausted adult) to sleep. I “found” a few simple, yet lovely words in The Big Box, a children’s book by Toni and Slade Morrison, illustrated by Giselle Potter.

The words below are not meant to be exceptionally difficult, chunky big words with heavy meanings. Instead these words are just interesting, accessible, and I find that is a good place to start.


“Even sparrows scream and rabbits hop, and beavers chew trees when they need ’em.”—from The Big Box


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Categories: Education, Inspiration, Writing

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