Tag Archives: roadblocks

MEMORIES and MEMOIRS I’ve been scanning photos old and new into the mighty maw of my Apple computer in Pictures, Desktop, Photos, thumb-drive, and occasionally, Documents. It’s not that I don’t trust my computer…it’s just that I don’t trust technology in general. So far, these photos have brought back smiles as well as LOL and tears. I don’t want to lose them, though there are a few I might not scan.

I’ve decided not to scan the proverbial bearskin rug photo—not that I didn’t look pretty good at eighteen (months, that is), it’s just that I don’t want that photo turning up on a bottle of the Russian baby bath or shampoo. Unless royalties are involved. (Vladimir Vladimirovich – give me a call if you’ll consider royalties. Incentive: I’ll throw in a picture of me at eighteen.) Money makes the world go round…money…money…

Where was I? Oh, on a bearskin rug. With no money. So, scanning all these memories got me thinking how great they are as story starters for memoirs, fiction or creative fiction.

There’s the photo of me at six months. My mother said there was no way I could remember seeing the photographer bouncing a fake birdie on a stick to make me smile. Really? There’s a story!virginia-ruth-todd-age-6-months


Then there’s my beautiful mom holding eight-month-old-me in a flowery field. Story starter!





Moving on a few years, we see two swans; Ruth, my mom, is on the left. On the right is my Aunt Marcelle who came from France at the end of World War II as my Uncle Ben Todd’s bride. Stuck in the middle is a very unhappy Ugly Duckling – ME! Oh, did you ever see a better growing-pains story starter? Pompoms on the knit cap? Really, Mom? Oh, and snowsuit? You two babes are in silk stockings and heels! What? And I won’t even mention remembering how my glasses steamed up from the cold. Oops. I never said that. Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like a politician. Really. Trust me. I never said it.


So, dear reader, go mining your old family photos for poetry and prose ideas. Just be prepared for the explosion of feelings and sensory images all that effort provokes. Happy digging. Let me know what…turns up!

By the way, today (18th) would have been Mom’s 96th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! Love you! And give Daddy a hug for me.


There are times when you break still another rule, or you find yourself slowly sliding down the cindery slope to complete burnout. You know the target rule: WRITE SOMETHING EVERY DAY!

That bit of advice usually comes from the big guys—or gals—who have made names for themselves by cranking out predictable genre tomes and have the time to tell us, “Write every day! Write 500 words, surely you can do that! If not, write about that ugly bug that just crawled out of your coffee cup. Go jump off a bridge. Write about how you survived, or how nice your funeral was.”

If you’re a full-time writer, bye-bye, see you in the bookstore. If you’re a student, a waitress, a nurse, a cop, a dentist, a retiree who’s taken notes or kept a journal and you’d like to turn your work into a book, keep reading.

First, form an idea of where you want to concentrate your efforts. What’s your goal? A memoir for your family? Or memoir that might sell to the general public—like growing up in a circus? Poetry? Short stories? Novels? Nonfiction?

Then: 1) take writing courses 2) join a writers’ group 3) join a writers’ organization that offers seminars and conferences to help you move toward your goal 4) subscribe to a magazine for writers 5) be aware that you’ll need proficiency in-and money for-social media, marketing and managing your new venture.

I’ve had writers tell me how strung out they are from pitching at libraries, book fairs, festivals, and bookstore promotions; or sitting at a computer trying to keep up with querying, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all the rest of the knockoff communications gimmicks.

Anyway, where I was going with this was that you can become overwhelmed and unproductive by both writing and the non-writing business and communications demands on your time. That’s the time to rein in the fiendish, fiery hounds of hell dragging you down that cindery slope! WHOA! NO!

Several weeks spent celebrating and reconnecting with various family members is coming to a close for me. About the only things I wrote during this time were grocery lists, notes on places to visit, and urgent email replies. It was a much-needed sabbatical that has me eyeing my desktop projects with renewed energy and ideas. So if you’re feeling a little singed around the edges, WHOA! Take a break and DO NOT WRITE SOMETHING EVERY DAY! Heresy? Maybe. Does it work for me? Yes.



When one is constantly bombarded by all forms of media hawking gruesome details of man’s inhumanity to man, and nature just doing its thing, like whipping up Super Typhoon Haiyan, it might be a little difficult to buoy up one’s optimism. The same goes for issues with family, friends, neighbors, and projects at work. You can’t wake up to find the world has changed overnight for your good efforts, but while you’re working at it, you can change your attitude. Here are a few things that work for me:

Instead of counting the things that went wrong today, stop. Count three things that went right. Can you go five? Ten would be nice. You can start by counting the fact that you woke up this morning. Woo-hoo!

Have I been through something like this before? How did I handle that situation? What did I learn from that experience? Can I take steps, even one, to avoid a repeat? Who is my go-to person for an unbiased, non-judgmental observation of this problem?

I know a dear lady who, being human, has low moments like each of us. When she finds herself drawn into negative words and thoughts, she closes her eyes and says, “Cancel, cancel, cancel!” That detours her mindset from the dead-end road of negativity.
My favorite is, “Peace. Be still.” I use it when doubt creeps in, when my mind races through all I have yet to do, or when people say or do thoughtless things. It keeps me from thinking or saying something I’ll rue.

Sometimes, getting it out helps you to analyze your feelings. Often, on reading the Opinion section of the paper, I can feel the pressure mount. Some idiot’s written a piece on politics or religion 180 degrees from my learned opinion, and boy, is he going to hear about it! That’s when I reach for my release valve: pencil and paper. Once it’s out, I put the page aside, and come back to it another time. While the venting may be cathartic, rarely is the result worth rewriting; so I feed it to the burning bowl, as done in New Year’s Eve services in many churches. Offer it up to the universe to settle!

*AND ALL OF THE ABOVE…with a bit of thought, can apply to your writing in some way.

When Abe Lincoln and I were in eighth grade (at least it seems that long ago) we asked our guidance counselor for career advice. Abe, a solemn, moody kid, gangly and awkward, shy and insecure, said he wanted to do what was right, to win friends and influence people somehow.

“You’ll never make it in the public arena,” Counselor told Abe. “Forget public speaking. You’ll never say anything anybody wants to hear. And politics? They’ll eat you alive, boy. Besides, there’s not a lie, cheat, or steal in ya’. Not a crooked bone in your body. Literally and figuratively. Never seen a boy so straight. I figure best you settle for being a storekeeper or some such. So long, son. Next?”

He meant me.  “Well, Counselor, I think I’d like to be a teacher.”

“What makes you think you’d be good at it?”

“My dolls think I’m a good teacher.”

“Hmm. Why do they think that?”

“I make sure they have recess between classes.”

“Good enough. Teacher it is. Any questions?”

“I’ve heard about this newfangled thing called a typewriter. Won’t a teacher need to know how to type?”

“Good heavens, girl, you’re going to college. College folk will have secretaries to do menial work. You don’t need typing. What you need is Latin. All educated people need Latin.”

“Um-m-m, well, if you say so…”

“Latin it is. Next?”

So it was that I was off to minimum of two years of Latin. People in my neighborhood couldn’t speak English very well, so finding someone to converse with in Latin was out of the question. I eked by, wondering what the heck I got out of it other than two years of torture. As time went by, I discovered I could deduce the meanings of words from their Latin roots. A boon to writers and contestants on Jeopardy, but it helped not a whit when shoveling through mounds of teaching paperwork.

In my spare time, (I hear teachers laughing) I did well at the Hunt & Peck Typing Academy and became a fairly effective typist – minus the time required to reread and retype for fat-finger syndrome errors. My newfound semi-skill gave semi-speed to my creative writing urges, and so, as poet and writer, I blossomed.

Dallying along the writing path, I developed a penchant for the ellipsis. Ellipsis… and its plural, ellipses…come to us via Latin from the Greek elleipsis, taken from their word elleipein meaning “leave out.” My Latin struggles were not in vain!

As well as what it can reach first, the middle finger of my right hand tends to grab the period and comma as its inviolable territory. Hence, it has earned the title Ellipsis Master (the Black Belt of typing), and, due to my writing style…deserves veneration in its old age. Right now, Ellipsis Master is wearing a finger cot tipped with cotton to cushion the blows. This forces serious reconsideration of gesturing to an obnoxious driver when one’s digit is wearing what appears to be a condom.

Still, I wish I’d learned to type when my mind and fingers were flexible enough to accept structured typing discipline. Free-range fingers, like chickens, tend to develop a pecking order. Usually it’s the closest finger gets the letter. Watching them scramble is as entertaining as the result. Unless I’m pressed for time, at which time, I curse my old counselor.

Stuck? Ran into one of those other roadblocks, eh? There’s a ton of ways to break through it. Some find a breakthrough in a good bottle of wine, though I find a good nap in that tip. And, sometimes that’s what my brain needed – a rest.

Others find inspiration in people-watching, a change of scenery, route, or task. I have other projects on the desktop to which I bring a fresh perspective when momentarily stuck on another. Ever smack into a wall in a crossword puzzle? Do you switch activities, let your subconscious do the work, and pop back later with the answer? Sure you do, unless you’re Ms. or Mr. Perfection. In which case, go away. I’m talking to normal people. And myself – as usual.

Often, I get a boost in the right direction from odd words or names. Looking for a character name? Mine often tell me who they are, but with a bit of cautious tweaking, they might accept a suggestion. Yes, characters should be appropriately named, and while some writers believe in a name-choosing formula, a good name idea might be at your fingertips.

Have you ever checked the newspaper? I’ve found some really offbeat names there, though I never use a complete name. I allow the cadence of the name to suggest something with as much eye and ear appeal. If it doesn’t fit your character, it may birth a new character with a new story. And there’s your ‘other project’ to dig into when you’re stuck in neutral on the writing highway!