Three-by-Five Cards

By Doreen Mary Frick | June 27th, 2023

For the writer in us all

woman writing on a pad at her kitchen table, from Wavebreakmedia Ltd. For article on writing, three-by-five cards and more

Stories hold power, and writing translates those stories and power to others. Boomer reader Doreen Mary Frick shares some insights into the process of writing, from three-by-five cards to advice from the professionals.

So whenever I am leaving the house without my purse – in which there are actual note pads, let alone index cards – I fold an index card in half, stick it in my back pocket with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange or for any reason worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it.

– Anne LaMott, Bird by Bird

My sister Diane gave me that book years and years ago, a book on writing …

Paper, pen, index cards, the tools of the trade. Ideas are free for the taking. Sometimes your day is filled with them. Others, they take flight before you can capture their outline.

Like the little bird that flew into my door, I had no idea what was making such a fluttering and when I opened the door, she flew off in fright. Her little bird imprint on the bottom two inches, she must have hit the glass, slid down, shaking from impact, trying to get her senses.

One fright from me and off she goes right as rain.

There is no one way to tell a story, to describe a bird, to express relief over its well-being. I did not need my index cards, the imprint of the bird reminds me every time I step outside.

The best comedienne I ever saw live and in person was a young woman who either was so nervous she needed three-by-five cards to help her through her routine, or so clever lining the floor in front of her with index cards perfecting the art of amateur prop, keeping the audience in suspense. And on her side. For who doesn’t root for a woman who tells the audience she’s nervous and forgets her next joke … I thought it a terribly funny routine and realized you don’t have to be smooth and polished to be funny. You just have to be real.

One Easter long years ago, my husband Wes and I were in a play together. He was the narrator, I was in the trio that sang, and never in a million years did I ever think he’d agree to be part of it. But Mrs. Billings was the lady in charge at that little church in Chewelah, Washington, and if you knew her, you knew her to be persistent.

Wes was the “man for the job,” there was no backing out, and he did a brilliant job. He wore a suit. He sat in the front of the church with a microphone, a desk, and a script. That’s all I remember.

I just know his voice coming over the speakers was calm (maybe a tinge of tremor?), but very steady and sure. There was much Scripture. There were many, many words, and I never knew Wes to enjoy reading aloud.

How she ever got him roped into this project was a highlight for Mrs. Billings, I’m certain. And a real treat for me. We both were teaching that year in the church: I had the kids during the Wednesday evenings while their parents were in prayer meeting, and Wes had another set of kids, but he opted out very quickly.

He didn’t have Mrs. Billings to keep him involved, and he knew it wasn’t for him, and I knew it wasn’t for him. But I didn’t quit because back then I just didn’t do that sort of thing and you know the lessons I taught on those more relaxed mid-week meetings were some of my favorite “storytelling” moments.

I studied up on different Old Testament characters and then “told their stories,” which were really some of the most fascinating stories to tell because they move right along. And the kids seemed to like a good story, and let me tell you I told them stories even I didn’t know existed, which led me to the decision later that year to begin to read the Bible clear through.

I read it aloud to myself while working at the bookstore. We didn’t have many customers so I had loads of time, my toddlers Jess and Josh were little and played so well together in the back room they didn’t seem to mind, and hearing the word aloud like that seemed to make it feel like a book.

Sometimes the best advice when one is deciding to write is to not just write your work, but read it aloud. Listen to how you sound. See if you can hold someone’s attention. And tonight as I look back at that summer of teaching, you know I think it was the start of my writing life.

With thanks to my sister Diane for article she sent me this week on writing well (by Stephen R. Clark of Huntingdon Valley, PA where Diane and I grew up). 

One of his tips was timely: “Speak It: Read what you’ve written out loud and fix what doesn’t sound right. The ear hears what the eye misses. You will be amazed at how this dramatically improves the quality of your writing.”

Also by Doreen Mary Frick:
‘A Neighbor Named Alice’ 
‘Mary Jane: My Grandmother’s Dream’ 

Related: ‘Literary Legacy’ – writing your own story 

Read more essays, childhood memories, and other contributions from Boomer readers in our From the Reader department.

Have your own stories you would like to share with our baby boomer audience? View our writers’ guidelines and e-mail our editor at with the subject line “‘From Our Readers’ inquiry.”

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