Natalie Goldberg’s Visual Verb Exercise

Pick a profession, say carpentry or cooking. List all the verbs you can think of associated with that profession on the left side of the page.  On the right side of the page, list unrelated nouns.   I used doing the laundry on my list on the left.  On the right, I tried to write a random list of nouns unrelated to laundry.

Scrub                                                              penumbra

Wash                                                             thunder storm

Rinse                                                              fault

Wring                                                              revelation

Hang                                                                tulip

Line dry                                                         bird bath

Smooth                                                         niche

Iron                                                                bathtub Virgin Mary

Fold                                                              American flag

Wad                                                              dragon fly


Stuff                                                              carpenter ant

Twist                                                               tweezers

Roll                                                                  pebbles

Below, I started to write sentences with one verb and one noun, and pretty soon a paragraph formed.

After the thunderstorm, wads of pebbles pool where the rain water washed downhill through the pine needles in my back yard, twisting forward and then back. Birds gather, dip and wring themselves out in the newly filled bird bath. I scrub my brain looking for a revelation worth rolling into today’s work. Someone has hung the sun out to dry below the horizon, and evening’s penumbra unfolds above. Night comes, smoothing everything out.


Sometimes this activity will cause you to create a new character in a new setting, but the main point is to show you how to use more interesting and active verbs.

Her version of this exercise is published in Writing Down the Bones


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