Follow These Rules and Live

Is your life gothic or epic or merely suburban?

Is your life gothic or epic or merely suburban?

Miles I ran today: 4.5

Temperature when I ran: 69

Excellent memoir I just beta-read: 1

[Content of conversation below may have been altered to suit my needs. Sorry, Mom.]

Setting: The mid-’90s

Me: Mom, why didn’t you do some horrible thing in my childhood so I could write a best-selling memoir? You gave me no material. Couldn’t you have beat me up a little bit?

Mom: You were obnoxious enough for me to think about it. Several times.

Me: But by having self-control, you have left me with nothing. Nothing. To. Write. About.

Mom: I weep for you.

Back in the ’90s, there was a rash of tragic, horrible, tell-all books about alcoholic parents and people chasing other people with scissors and heroin overdoses and running away from home.

It was enough to make any writer feel a bit, well, under-prepared for writing a best-selling memoir. Or anything that anyone might want to read.

But then, a gift:

At least one of those writers lied. Big time.

And then another gift:

Elementary school teachers started teaching about writing in terms of “small moments.”

And then another gift:


All of us who had childhoods full of homemade cake and Atari and mean words from other kids but no near-death experiences were given the opportunity to write for other people who were A-okay reading about the Little Things In Life.

Writers like Elizabeth Berg flourished.

There is a small moment in her collection of short stories, The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, when the main character (MC) and her husband are preparing for their grown kids to come over for Thanksgiving dinner. The MC sees a small stain on the crotch of her husband’s khakis, and she is annoyed by it because (and I paraphrase) “we all know whatΒ thatΒ is.”

I must have read that part 12 times for the sheer genius of it.

And as my husband pointed out, there are dozens of small moments in Gone Girl. It’s like a writer’s workshop of how to incorporate details without overwhelming the reader.

He re-read me a sentence where author Gillian Flynn writes about the torn felt of a mini-golf hole, which allows the reader to fill in the rest of the scene. She doesn’t need to tell us that the mini-golf building has crumbling paint or that the plastic palm trees have torn places.

Today, after spending my early adulthood wondering if I had any scrap of material to write about, I see material everywhere.

Like last weekend.

We got out from under the evil clutches of the cable company and bought an antenna for our TV.


I was wandering around the house a few days later, picking up miscellaneous bits and pieces and relocating them to the trash can, when something caught my eye, typed in all caps on the antennae instructions:

Follow These Rules and Live.

Somewhere, there is a technical writer with a sense of humor in the face of boring material.

And I want to thank her for the name of my future memoir.

36 thoughts on “Follow These Rules and Live

  1. That’s a great title. How far along are you with the writing of it? When can we see excerpts? πŸ™‚

    • annewoodman says:

      Zip. I got nothing. But the title is on hold for any future book, for sure! I’ve got to straighten out my second novel. It’s my writing priority right now. But thanks, Dennis!

  2. Daryl says:

    Note to self. Be super nice to Anne. Give her no material that would make me look like Nick Dunne πŸ˜‰

  3. 4amWriter says:

    Super title. And I can already see your memoir now. How to get boots for a penny. The best chocolate-chip cookies. How to deal with cars with no handles. How not-mean moms can ruin us forever. πŸ™‚

  4. Delightful and funny piece! And with a great ending – what every author strives for! Nicely done.

  5. I love the title. I think we all have interesting memoirs to write and I think we should all write them, it’s therapy if nothing else.

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Vanessa. Yes, very therapeutic! But also: great training as a writer if you don’t have any horrible, horrible or sad, sad stuff to write about.. you have to work a little harder to find the real stories! (I am saying this to make myself feel better. ; )

  6. jmmcdowell says:

    Love the title. : ) It could also be the title of a crime thriller, which doesn’t sound like your childhood. Or mine. And I’m grateful for that. ; ) You have a real knack for taking simple events and showing the humor, drama, and lessons to be found in them in such an engaging way. I think a beta reader for your memoir could have the same inspiration for a post as you did. : )

    • annewoodman says:

      JM, Yes, I’m certainly thankful my childhood did not resemble a crime drama in any way. ; )

      Oh, to get to the point of asking for beta readers! I have some major work to do to my WIP!

  7. Carrie Rubin says:

    You’re the perfect person to write a memoir, because you have the best memory. Ever. Of course, how much you decide to skew it is entirely up to you. πŸ˜‰

    • annewoodman says:

      I have a good memory but have forgotten probably as much as I remember. The good part is when you have people around you (family, friends) who can help you remember or recite back to you the story… it’s funny what you agree on and what you each have forgotten! One time, we had to get out my journal to verify when my parents had gotten into town for my daughter’s birth… all of the adults in the family had vastly different recollections of the sequence of events (and for the record, I was right ; ).

  8. Nice piece. I liked your structure – like a play almost. And the pic is striking, grabbed my attention and made me stop in. Thanks!

  9. David Gentry says:

    I was fifteen when I decided I wanted to write — something. And that was the problemo. I did not know what to write. I came across someone saying, “Write what you know about.” Well, that was a killer because after much rumination I concluded that I did not know anything.

    You give all writer wanna-be’s hope. But I am not deluded. It is not as easy as you make it seem. The mark of a pro is to make it appear easy, and you are a pro. Have a heart. Make it look a little difficult!

    • annewoodman says:

      Ha! Who knows anything at age 15? (Although I was certain I did. You might recall that.)

      Writing… both delightfully simple and horrifically difficult, all rolled into one.

  10. Amy Mak says:

    I LOVE this! I have often felt like that – my life was too normal – I have NOTHING! And now I’m off to check out Gone Girl. I keep hearing about. And thank you for the genius of this post. Perfect.

  11. Andria says:

    So here’s the story… That’s what my brother, Jimmy, would say when he was getting started. We grew up in the era of Leave it to Beaver and we also came home to our own June Cleaver baking cookies in the suburbs. We had the same pleasant life, but when I told the story of our lives, it would sound like a sweet little story, and Jimmy’s version would have us laughing so hard, we’d cry. He just had a different perspective on life. It didn’t matter if he was telling about driving in the car, shopping for groceries, or fishing, He just had a knack for finding the humor in everyday life. And that’s the story.

    • annewoodman says:

      Andria, It sounds like he would have made an excellent blogger or memoirist. ; ) I do find it so interesting when different members of the same family tell a story completely differently… it says so much about the storyteller.

  12. kabe1 says:

    I so agree with you – of course, very grateful for my fabulous apple pie childhood but not much material for the book! However, blogging has opened up a whole new avenue for us types – we can write a lot about very little!!

  13. That antenna had apparently seen Terminator 2.

    I’m glad you didn’t have a traumatic childhood. I have yet to read a blog anywhere that so beautifully captures the small moments. Here’s hoping you have a memoir in the works.

  14. Such a cool title!! I was recently sitting with an editor at weidenfeld & nicolson, trying to pitch my memoir and she said: but what’s its USP? There was a moment when my mouth went dry, and then a weasely voice came out of me with: isn’t that my ‘voice’? She took a sip of her tea and turned to look out of the window…
    I am so going to get that collection because what I love about reading are those small moments, and they always cheer me up and give me hope that books don’t all have to be about recovering, transsexual heroin addicts.

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Gabriela. That’s so exciting to be pitching your memoir! I had to look up USP… sadly, I didn’t know that term. Oh well, live and learn.

      I look forward to reading your book, even if its USP isn’t a recovering, transsexual heroin addict. ; )

  15. Melissa says:

    This made me think about a couple of t-shirts I once saw in a Signals catalog. One said “In my novel I’m plotting against you” and the other (really appropriate one) said “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” So I guess I’ll just have to watch what I say and do now πŸ˜‰

  16. Memory is not actually very reliable. When people in the news first swear they “never did that” and then come back later with, “well, actually, I just remembered that I did,” I tend to cut them some slack. That happens to me all the time…

    • annewoodman says:

      Well, that never happens to me. Er, except sometimes. Or when get irritated at my husband because he moved my stuff… and er, he didn’t. ; ) But how and what we choose to remember can make for some very interesting stories. Probably more interesting than the actual events.

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