Friday Speak Out!: Lists I Love, Guest Post by Betty Auchard

Friday, February 04, 2011
Lists I Love

by Betty Auchard

I am obsessive about making lists for story prompts, and have more than I can possibly use in a lifetime. Most of my ideas spring from letters I write.

Long ago I started a file called Stories in Letters, and it’s so large now that I have files within files. A few of the subtitles are Mom, Grandkids, and Teaching Junior High (I’m renaming that file My Gin and Tonic Period). Other categories are Menopause, Raising Teenagers, Mating the Dogs, Living with 12 Men, Catechism Classes, Escape from Las Vegas, Jury Duty, Student Teaching at 40, College Graduation at 42, and To Make the Bed or Not to Make the Bed. I get such a kick out of just reading my ideas that I’ve often thought of putting the lists together and sharing them with other writers in a program called Lists I Love.

In addition to computer folders, I have a drawer full of spiral notebooks filled with first drafts and notes about writing. Some notebooks are completely full and others contain many sheets of clean paper. (Does any of this sound familiar?) When I get an idea that I don’t want to lose, I grab a half full tablet, make sure I put the date on my new notes, and then start writing by hand. One tablet I grabbed recently is dated December, 2001. The date on the next page is January 1, 2011. The note read, “I am not making resolutions this year—period!” I love reviewing these entries. Some became published stories.

There’s also a Ziploc freezer bag full of stuff that is just as much fun to sort through as the notebooks. The bag is an odd assortment of first drafts dated 1998, thoughts I didn’t want to forget the year my husband died. These old drafts are written on all kinds of paper—used envelopes, napkins, the white margin of a torn out hunk of newspaper. I scribbled on scraps and journaled on junk. Writing kept me afloat.

One item I cherish from that plastic bag is a white paper placemat from The Fish Market. An idea struck and I just had to get it down. I pushed my almost empty plate a little to the left and wrote on the placemat over stains of tomato sauce and salad dressing. The shape of the story is curved like the plate on the left and straight at the edges on the right. I cried privately while writing, glad that I had already eaten most of my food. That story ended up in my first book.

Idea lists are precious. We might want to mine them for stories more often.

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IPPY Finalist Betty Auchard is a popular speaker and the author of two memoirs. She lives and writes in northern California. Blog with the author at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Diane Martin said...

I also have lots of notes written haphazardly. My question is: how do we organize them so we can locate similar threads so we don't have to reread every half-full spiral?

Anonymous said...

Dear hobbymom of 4...

Good question. There's no way I could do this with all the notebooks full of vignettes that fill my top dresser drawer. They served a purpose at the time of the writing, and they still serve a purpose. I look at this way--I love reading them now because they've been composting for a long time and they seem ripe. If I feel that one of them must be used, I'll stop everything and get it ready for the stage. Those notebooks are like messy, disorganized diaries that are really fun to read 1 to 12 years after they were written.

HOWEVER, The Stories in Letters are written on the computer, so they get popped into that folder immediately...after mailing of course. Later, I put them into their "own" folders labeled "Mom Stories," or "Jr. High Teaching," or "Menopause Tales," or whatever. Those folders are the only clues that Betty Auchard actually does organize a few things.

Organizing my cumputer files is something I do only when I'm in the mood for simple work and not under pressure. I trash as much as possible, but I ALSO find old stories that I tossed into My Documents, which gives me a chance to file into an existing folder OR start a new folder. My most empty folder is labeled "Fiction Attempts," because I've tried writing fiction a few times. They are pathetic and never shared.

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