Try This! - Be a Word Thief

From Linda Mitchell:

For years I have been a total word thief. When taking notes at a meeting or doodling in church, I'm stealing words that sparkle for me. When I try too hard to collect the "right" words it's a flop. I almost have to hear them unfocused in the doppler effect of language and grab them before they are totally gone.

You can do this too.  Copy and cut out words that you like.  Make word lists and cut them apart.  Keep your words until you wish to take them out and move them around sentences, poems, stories, anything at all!

This picture of my notebook is of a couple of envelopes of words cut up from my lists. I love to put bunches of words away until I've forgotten what they are. Then, I pull them out much later and play with the words until a poem emerges. 

Click to Enlarge these Notebook Pages

I wrote the poem you see below using this cutting and rearranging process. It won a prize in the Northern Virginia Review a few years ago.

Economy of Words

There’s a fire sale on store fronts
these days after the Second
Hand Rose Shop and the Banjo Boutique
folded.  Center Street is awash in
dark and lonely window space.

I’m thinking of renting a shop to
sell words I’ve gathered
where I will refurbish them;
hammering them straight, smoothing
out dents, painting them pretty.

Right up front I’ll fill a bin with discount
vocabulary, three for ninety-nine cents, limit six:
cuts, layoffs, elimination, foreclosure, slump,
budget talks, benefit reduction, sacrifice, downturn.

Behind the bins, carefully arranged on green
shelves are individually priced items:
stimulus, investment, balance, development
resource assessment, benchmark,
team effort, recovery, rainy-day-fund.

Toward the back, near the custom-order counter
gorgeous words will be displayed on easels.
These are of an antique lexicon,
carried in grandfather pockets with
horse chestnuts and wheat pennies
to ward off rheumatism and
entertain youngsters during mass:
Talk is cheap, Brother can you spare a dime?
To whom much is given, much is asked and,
There but for the grace of God, go I.

My store front stocked with words would draw
shoppers to Center Street. Customers could browse
for special occasion words and
more to keep on hand for dull days.
Most would carefully consider
purchases.  Kids would save coins
in piggy banks for Saturdays,
their mothers and dads touching the
dearest words, picking them
up and putting them back just so.

I would stand in the back humming,
polishing words…..minding price points and the
growing foot traffic on Center Street.

Mitchell, L. (2010, Spring). Economy of Words. The Northern Virginia Review #24, p. 51.

Linda is a family girl and Middle School Librarian who is creative, curious, a little too anxious for her own good, a touch geeky and in love with learning. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, kids, pets, and lots and lots of books.


  1. Hey Linda, fantastic post. We have the cut up words in a jar. Then we write the poems in homeschool. So much fun.

  2. You did a masterful poem with your cut up words. Wow! I want to go shopping there.

  3. Wonderful method, you etymologistic you.

  4. Can I please go shopping there?! What a wonderful opportunity your poem gave our minds! Thanks for sharing this with us!