Jul 28, 2008

Ignition Rituals

by Rene Allen

A few years ago when my boys were in high school, they drove a ’76 Land Cruiser that wouldn’t start on cold mornings or after it had been driven and the engine was hot. These idiosyncrasies became the necessity that was the mother of invention.

One ploy was to take the air filter off, spray the carburetor with ether and crank the ignition. It was inconvenient to raise the hood and pull the air filter off, but usually, after a puff or two of ether, the engine would fire up and the boys were on their way.

Another was to park on a hill and use the clutch and momentum to turn the engine. Since our house is on a cul-de-sac at the low end of a very shallow depression, the boys parked the Cruiser at the top of the driveway. This meant they had to walk almost out to the road to start the car.

It was funny to watch. Since they had taken the doors off the Land Cruiser, I watched them climb in, turn on the ignition and release the brake. Gradually, the car rolled down the driveway and gained momentum. Predictably, just as it made the turn, whichever son was driving popped the clutch and with a couple of sputters, the Land Cruiser started so that with a characteristic roar and spray of gravel they were off.

Now, it occurs to me this Monday morning as I’m getting ready to dive into the day, that writing a memoir has some of the same problems as starting that old Land Cruiser and if I could locate a figurative hill to park on when I stop writing at night, I would.

For me, the problem is finding the thread of thought I had and continuing as if I had never stopped. I’ve tried Stick-It notes on the window sill. Next to my laptop, I have a yellow legal pad filled with ideas, phone messages, and whatever else needed to be written including notes about whatever project I’m working on, but, no matter how hard I search, I can’t find the story line. Obviously, these methods don’t work.

But perhaps I have finally found something that does. A couple of years ago at an ANWA chapter meeting, one of the women made a presentation on a writer’s journal. “Keep it where you write,” she said. “It’s for your writing.”

Well, it’s been a two-year evolution, but I think this system gets my engine started. In fact, this journal has become a lifeline to my brain. I start each day’s entry with the File name I am working on, what my intentions are and the date. At the end of my writing session, I summarize what I wrote about and add a paragraph about the ideas I have for continuing. I make this part as detailed as possible.

The untitled spiral bound notebook book with a magnetic fastener is for me like a whiff of ether is for a carburetor. No question, it makes it easier to start.


  1. I always heard stop in the middle of a sentence and it would come back to you. It worked for me until lately. When you get busy, it's get tough to remember what you are supposed to do moving from room to room. So I like this idea. Thanks for passing it on.

  2. Wish I had been more organized over the years. My writing is strewn all over the place, in notebooks on a shelf in the bedroom, several in boxes in the storage shed, a couple on the bookshelf, some in a rather precarious stack of "important" things to get back to. If only I would have kept them all in one central place... I still fail to do that. Kind of a slow learner sometimes. Cute story about the car.


  3. Love the car story, Rene! I love your application just a much. I appreciate your insight and your ability to share it so well. Thanks for the tips. I have been trying to write things in a notebook. It does help. Now I have more ideas on how to enhance that note taking.


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