Deliver Your Message…In Just A Few Words

Wall decor messages. Thanks to The Dive Diner in Colorado Springs.

Wall decor messages. Thanks to The Dive Diner in Colorado Springs.




sarcasm served

Years ago, after I taught a writers’ workshop called “Write Short: Greeting Cards, Posters and Bumper Stickers,” I shared some of the samples with my mother. This was long before dementia began confusing her, and she was still writing poems and short stories.

She hadn’t realized that the words on T-shirts, posters and bumper stickers were often written by freelance writers who were actually paid for their words, and she decided to practice writing a few. I gave her two basic prompts—“SMILE…” and “Speak softly…”—and asked what she would write to finish each thought.

Those of you who have gotten to know my mom through this blog probably aren’t surprised to read these “finished thoughts”:



We weren’t entirely sure if these were originals—creativity floats all around us, and writers sometimes aren’t sure where ideas come from—but we had a good time putting pen to paper and turning creativity loose by writing mini-messages. Anything that makes us stop…think…and write is very good exercise.

If you want to practice writing what you think, feel, believe or want to protest in a few words, pretend you’re writing bumper stickers, aka “traveling messages.” They’re an excellent way to practice conveying long ideas in short phrases.

Here are examples of messages I’ve read on the bumper stickers of cars, trucks and vans. “My Dog Is Smarter Than Your Honors Student” ~ “Keep Your Doctor…Change Your Senator” ~ “Stop Texting and Drive” ~ “Warning: Driver Is Painting Her Nails…Her Toenails” ~ “Warning: In The Event of the Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be UnManned” ~ “If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher” ~ and, “The Golden Rule Is Still Worth Its Weight In Gold.”   Beneath short, seemingly simple bumper sticker messages are religious beliefs, philosophies, observations, and protests or endorsements.

If you’re interested in creating and selling messages, photography, or art (digital and physical), check out contests and information at

Guidelines for submitting rhymed/unrhymed card messages at Blue Mountain Arts:


The basics in life.

The basics in life.

The back of a Cheerios box. (photographs by Marylin Warner)

The back of a Cheerios box.
(photographs by Marylin Warner)




Filed under art, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, paying writing opportunities, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

98 responses to “Deliver Your Message…In Just A Few Words

  1. juliabarrett

    Lovely. It’s so fun to read a creative bumper sticker. Your mom missed her calling. Would have been the perfect job for her.

    • And she had fun writing them, too, Julia. Until she was in her early 90s, she was willing to try writing new things. I miss her sense of humor and her practical advice.

      • juliabarrett

        I’m sorry, Marylin. Alzheimer’s is such a difficult disease to watch. Awful for the person in the beginning, awful for the family as it progresses.
        The way you talk about your mother, the stories you tell… I feel as if I know her.

      • Thank you, Julia. That’s exactly what I wanted. Through these posts, the sharing of her stories, I hoped others would get to know her, even while she is losing herself.

  2. Two English teacherly tee shirt sayings that appeared on comments in my blog this week in honor of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday: 1 Will power and 2 from the National Council of Teacher’s of English: a silkscreen of Shakespeare wearing a miner’s hat with the inscription honoring teachers: United MinD Workers! Your blog is the perfect set-up for merging your mother’s talents with your very own. Love it!

  3. What great T-shirt messages, Marian! One of my favorite Steinbeck shirts has a screen print of a bunch of purple grapes and each one has a face with a frown or scowl. At the bottom it says “GRAPES OF WRATH ~ more than just angry raisins for your oatmeal!”
    Before dementia, my mom would try writing any topic. All I had to do was give her a topic or tell her about a writing contest, and she would take out her notebook and a pen to get started.

  4. Great bumper sticker comments! Saying it “short” is the most difficult task for a writer to do. 🙂

  5. Oh, you’re preaching to the choir! One of my college writing professors used to give us 30 min. to write an answer to an essay question. When she called “time,” she would smile and tell us to count the words, then turn to a fresh page in the testing Blue Book and answer the essay question in half the words. We again had 30 min. and then had to turn in the Blue Book. The first time she did this it was awful! I remember that class because her technique taught me to write tight, to focus on what was most important.

    • Don

      Your comment reminded me of a professor I had, Marylin. He did something similar. Every week we dealt with a particular subject. Normally the bibliography consisted of about four or five books. Every Friday we were given what he called a thirty minute speed test where we were given this time to right a brief essay covering a particular question on the subject. Not easy. But it taught us to think, write and be brief. I think he must have known your professor.

      • I think you’re right, Don! Maybe the two of them studied with or read about the same professor. Especially as a college student, I thought I had to share or discuss or argue EVERYTHING I learned. It was a painful but very necessary process that taught me to carefully choose and very carefully write about one thing.

  6. Don

    Loved your Mom’s words Marylin,especially the one on smiling. That one really grabbed me. We tend to forget that so much can be said in just one sentence. You’ ve encouraged me to make up some. Great post.

  7. Your Mom could have kept the industry going Marylin.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Well, she certainly kept me going, David. On core values and attitudes, I knew exactly what she would say. With writing, especially with anything new I told her about, she was full of surprises. Hugs to you, too!

  8. That must have been a fun (but challenging) workshop. There really is an art to “travelling messages”; what a great description!

    • It was one of my favorite workshops to teach. I never knew what the participants would come up with. Some were spiritually touching; others were laugh-out-loud hilarious, sometimes bordering on raunchy. The ones that blew me away were the short, effective, every-word-perfect statements that I’d think about for a long time afterwards.

      • Speaking about messages, this Greeting Card Ministry reminded me of your mother. There are many similar sites. I didn’t realise it is such an important ministry in the US. There is also a ministry whereby cards are collected and made available to prisoners so they can communicate with their families on special occasions. Messages/words; so very important. It is sad your mother doesn’t have them so much now but she used them effectively for most of her life. 🙂 How wonderful is that.

  9. Smile – Marilyn has posted 🙂

  10. Your mum was on good form when she wrote those, Marylin. My approach is to edit ruthlessly several times. I ask myself ‘what does that add?’ If I don’t see anything, it comes out. Simple.

    • That’s how I usually write, too, Andrew. But I’m grateful when I can do what my mother did: sit and think and look out a window, think some more, smile and nod, and write it out.
      Actually, I welcome however my writing gets done.

  11. I would love to see “Smile–…” bumper stickers everywhere.

    • I agree, Georgette. For a while, children’s tee-shirts with big yellow smiley faces and the word SMILE were popular. Then the smile became a wink. Then adult tee-shirts really shape-shifted. Recently I saw a tee-shirt for a mystery writers group: It was a yellow smiley face, frowning, with a bullet in the forehead and line of blood dripping down the side.

  12. Beth Baile

    I feel sure this blog will generate many responses containing brief, clever examples and comments. My current favorite is a bumper sticker: “I know I run like a girl…try to keep up!”

    • Oh, I love it, Beth! You have such charming moxie, especially after your foot surgery!
      I may have a tee-shirt made with that message for Grace to wear to basketball, soccer, and softball practice. 🙂

  13. Gwen Stephens

    It’s the ultimate creativity, isn’t it? So much meaning in so few words. I love reading them, especially when I’m sitting in traffic.

  14. As an often long-winded writer this was good for me to read. I do like writing the short headline titles for posts though.

    I find it is much harder to write a short sermon than a long one, but the former often appreciated more.

    A thoughtful phrase is worth a thousand words.

    • Absolutely, Rod. One young minister gave a 10-min. “sermon” I’ve never forgotten. Beginning with “Be still and know that I am God,” he recited it again and again, each time leaving off the last word, pausing, giving the meaning time to be considered. He had a strong, kind voice. By the time he was down to the last two words–“Be still”–he bowed his head for a long, quiet pause. Then he recited the Serenity Prayer. But at the end, after he said, “…and the wisdom to know the difference…” he added “And Lord, remind me to BE.” He said amen, and told us to go in peace…and BE.

      • Sounds like he did that at a time you were ready to hear it.

      • You’re right, Rod. I definitely was ready to hear it.
        But I think most of the congregation was ready to hear it, too, though HOW each of us hears it and responds is often very different. People didn’t jump up and leave right away, and no one talked on the way out.

  15. Nope, can’t do it… been sitting here for ages trying to think of a one liner, but then I am always being told that I am always to verbose for my own good and then I just exacerbate those conversations by by commenting that it’s maybe because ‘you know fewer words than I’

    As usual your mother came up with little gems xxxx

    • Hey, Tom, we need all kinds of speakers and writers. My mother never wanted to write a novel–but she was great at writing little gems of stories and poems and bits of wisdom.
      (p.s. Candles still glow for you.)

      • That’s the thread here Marylin WISDOM and thanks for the candles, needed them today felt a bit icky but I’ll. Be fine. Bye the way there’s a link on my face book page to a video i think you’ll enjoy A Father and son a d a sparrow… xxxxxx

      • It’s wonderful, Tom. Thanks for the link!
        The candles are there for “bit icky” days and feeling dark, but also for the prayers and hope. XXXX

  16. What a helpful post (and I really love that poster about unattended children…).

    I’ve been working on brevity for some time now–readers no longer have the patience to wander through long descriptive passages. They want something that delivers a quick punch. These are terrific exercises. (and wouldn’t it be fun to actually sell some pithy statement for a bumper sticker?)

  17. Heard a nice one today, as a small bunch of elderly folk were bemoaning the fact that they are losing height and the grandkids are looking down on them: “The longer you live, the shorter you get”.

  18. I love funny bumper stickers my favorite one is “Do Not Meddle in the Affairs of Dragons, for You are Crunchy and Go Good with Ketchup”

    • I learn so much more because of the comments you share! I LOVE that–you are crunchy and go good with ketchup!! THAT is a terrific bumper sticker in the category of “threats.”

  19. What’s a real inspiration for me – and all of us- is your mother’s willingness to give anything a go when it comes to writing (and based on what you write about her, I suspect most other aspects of life!)

    • Absolutely, Andrea. So true.
      Which is why I write these stories and examples. The dementia has taken that from her–except for her rebellious bubble blowing in her chocolate milk recently, which I loved–and Mom’s great-grandchildren never got to see this side of her. I want them to know what an exceptional willingness she had to face life and meet it with open arms.

  20. We had an exercise in a class once where we had to write a story in six words. I think Ernest Hemmingway was the inspiration. It was challenging but great fun. Bumper stickers would be a good discipline too – straight to the point – I love it!

    • I know, Jenny, they always put us up against the masters and say “Do it.” Remember the 10-word story contest I posted months ago? The contest cited Hemingway’s “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.” as the example.
      Like we could challenge that. But as I remember, Andrew wrote an excellent one…and entered it. The winners will be announced in May.

  21. Interesting post Marylin.
    Just passed by to say my hellos

  22. These are great, Marylin. I also went over to read the greeting card competition. Excellent stuff! 😀

    • Years ago, you could easily find 20+ publishers looking for writers of greeting cards, posters, tee-shirt messages and bumper stickers. I think it’s much more difficult to make submissions now, maybe because you can find anything on the internet and it’s harder to insure copyrights. But Hallmark and Blue Mountain Arts seemed to be good possibilities. Will you enter some writing, art or photography, do you think?

  23. The power of words…often a few words can say so much. Thanks for the reminder, Marylin!
    Thanks for the links!

  24. To be concise and funny is a real talent. It’s obvious your Mom is. Thanks for sharing, Marilyn. 😉

  25. You always share the best links Marylin, thanks so much! Again, I’m not at all surprised by your mom’s responses, always showing her true-life wisdom and wonderful sense of humour. Oh what a wonderful lady!
    I particularly love the ‘unattended children’ sign, fantastic, made me laugh out loud! I always remember a bumper sticker I used to see when living in the States – usually on the back of RV’s – I’m sure you know just the one… ‘We’re spending our grandkids inheritance’!
    I didn’t realise that freelance writers come up with these slogans, just never occurred to me, although it makes perfect sense!
    Loved this post Marylin, thank you for the smiles 🙂

    • I’m laughing at the the “spending our grandchildren’s inheritance,” Sherri! Lately I worry that in the U.S. our grandchildren will have bumper stickers that say “I inherited my grandparents’ debt”–and that’s no laughing matter.
      With your style and humor, Sherri, you might really enjoy writing posters, bumper stickers, tee-shirts and greeting cards…when you find free hours to take on more! Maybe in a few years, right? 😉

  26. Jim

    “LESS IS MORE” is a skill I would like to master. I was gonna add more on this topic, but . . . I think I’ll stop this time before your readers start yawning. 🙂

    • No, honey, when you write something, it’s honest, insightful, touching, and often funny. No need to make that kind of writing shorter. 😉 But if you were going to write a bumper sticker, I’m pretty sure it would be “Never Change A Winning Game” ~ your rule in coaching tennis, and your personal philosophy. I love it…and you.

  27. Your Mom is a dear one! She always had positive thoughts to share and I liked her choices to finish the two you gave her, smile and speak softly, too! I like the idea of contests but I think I am not as clever in short spurts. Always was good at essay questions on tests and proficiencies, rather than ‘short’ ones! Ha ha! Great way to have some fun with the responses here on your post!

    • You might be surprised! You have some terrific short phrases on your blog. My mom never thought she’d even try writing a bumper sticker-type message, but she had a lot of fun. And she was always so good about just doing it for the experience and not worrying about submitting it or having it appear somewhere. I wish I could be more like her in that.

      • I appreciate your compliments, Marylin! They mean a lot to me! I will try to think of my original bumper sticker. I did come up with my brother’s two slogans when he ran for Congress. (He made it onto the ballot but did not win.) One was “Achieve with Oldrieve.” And the other ‘borrowed’ a phrase from a familiar magazine, “Never Underestimate the Power of a Teacher.” (Which of course, substituted ‘Teacher’ for ‘Woman.’) He was a 20 year elementary special needs’ inner city teacher, then went on to become a professor, getting his PhD. at Kent State. His undergrad years included ‘running’ so when there was an ‘idiot’ running for Congress, his Runners’ Club talked him into running against him. I enjoyed being his right hand woman sometimes when his wife was busy or not inclined to go where we tread! She would ‘campaign’ for him but I was one who spoke at Spanish groups or danced with lesbians at gay clubs! Smiles, it was really wild up in Cleveland, during this adventure!

      • Robin, this is wonderful! I loved the slogans, especially “Never Underestimate the Power of a Teacher!” And you gave me a whole new way of look at Cleveland, too! You and your brother made quite a team, and I think that’s beautiful.

  28. This is so perfect! SMILING ISN’T ENOUGH…BUT IT’S A GOOD START
    This is good for anyone, anywhere, anytime…says it all.

  29. ‘SMILING ISN’T ENOUGH…BUT IT’S A GOOD START’ Wow! That is great.
    I was going through my own poetry book the other day and came across a poem that I cannot remember writing. I found none of my usual drafts and spent some time googling phrases from it to see whether I had subliminally stolen it. I have concluded that as I was going through a particularly painful period (distress can trigger creativity) it was a poem that just ‘came’ to me. Maybe this was the same for your mother. This quote just came to her.
    You should publish the quote. It is really inspirational.

    • I don’t know, Elizabeth; it was years ago, and now that I’ve posted it on the blog I don’t think I could attest to its never being published.
      I agree that distress–like joy–can trigger creativity, in fact, probably more so. Have you thought about doing something with your poem?

  30. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Less really can be more! Fun thoughts.

  31. Your mom certainly came up with great Bumper Stickers Marylin! I’d put them both on our car bumper… one on each side.
    Thank you for the submission links to Hallmark and Blue Mountain Arts. I’ll check them out ASAP.
    A severe storm passed through Kansas City about an hour ago, and I thought about your mom. Hope and pray that Mary is safe!

    • I think so, Theresa. I called this evening, and the caregiver didn’t say anything about a severe storm. There were so many predicted for that area, though.
      I think you’ll enjoy the possibilities with photographs for Hallmark, and the writing and art with Blue Mountain Arts.

  32. I would have loved to take your class, Marylin! Thanks for the links – I’ll be on the lookout for the next Hallmark contest!

    • I had five workshops that I used to teach much more frequently than I can teach now that I’m driving to Kansas so often. But I loved working with motivated and responsive adults. For 30 years I taught semester-long creative writing (Writing to Publish) classes for high school seniors, and their energy and off-the-wall ideas were amazing, so continuing now with adult workshops is an easier (and more sane, usually) way to continue to teach! I’ll watch for the next Hallmark contest, too, Shel, and we’ll see what comes up.

  33. Bookie sent me – and I am very grateful. And love your mama’s thoughts. Both of them resonate strongly – and would be memories I would cherish.
    Thank you.

  34. dianabletter

    Marylin, your Mom certainly had a way with words that you inherited! You reminded me of this: We don’t smile because we’re happy – we’re happy because we smile!
    And I remember when my unattended children were admonished when I was in earshot and I’d pretend to be the babysitter and say, “Those children…I have to go back and tell their mother!”
    Thanks for sharing, Marylin!

    • You’re welcome, Diana. Now tell me, how did your children respond when you said you’d have to tell their mother? I’m surprised they didn’t “out” you and make it even more embarrassing!

  35. Love the quotes and your creativity Marylin! I am not at all surprised by the quote Mary came up with…more examples of her kind, loving spirit! Fantastic post my dear friend. Blessings, Robyn

    • Thank you so much, dear Robyn. So much of what you write and photograph and post on your blog would delight my mother if she could still focus and follow things. I still remember how she earlier laughed and pointed and smiled at some of your vivid and bright flower pictures. They lit up my laptop screen, and we both really enjoyed them.

  36. You done a very great writing once again Marylin , I Love the ending of the story about bumper stickers of cars so true it`s a huge advertisement ….. 🙂

  37. Marylin, as always your mom knocks it out of the park. A writer friend of mine wrote sayings for fortune cookies. Thanks for sharing the links. 🙂

    • Some friends and I submitted sayings for fortune cookies years ago. We had so much fun and sold a few, but no matter how many fortune cookies we ate, we never saw any of our contributions! It’s really good writing practice to give yourself a goal of writing things in just a very few words.

  38. Fun post. We “collected” bumper stickers and vanity plates (mentally and sometimes through photos) when we were on the road more often …It was kind of a contest between the two of us to see who saw one first. I still enjoy their pithy humor and (occasionally) wisdom. And must admit that I even get a kind of perverse enjoyment out of the ones that make me think “how could anybody be stupid enough to believe that … and even if they are that stupid, how could they display it for all the world to see!”

    So yeah, even the bad ones make me smile. But I much much prefer the ones that have your mom’s type of sentiment. We need more joy in this life!!!

    • Thank you, Sallie, it’s so nice to have you join us. My mother’s type of thinking and speaking–before the dementia and even now–remains positive and encouraging. You’re right, we do need more joy in life!

  39. Molly

    My favorite recent bumper sticker —- and all thanks to my dad….. “Real Chics drive sticks” or the one I had on my Jeep – “Silly boys, Jeeps are for girls.”

    I suppose the fact that my grandpa sold cars – makes the fact that my two favorite bumper stickers have to do with cars appropriate… And the fact that both of my favorites also have some “GIRL POWER” behind them, is also appropriate since Grandma has always wanted everyone to be treated equally and fairly.

    • Spoken like a true granddaughter of a car dealer…and the daughter of a man who appreciates and understands and enjoys all kinds of cars…and taught you to do the same! Good job, Mookie. I still remember that winter day when your Jeep broke down in Burlington, KS, and Dad drove out to get you, and your little cat Munchkin was shivering on the floor of the front seat. Aw, there are so many memories of your dad rescuing you…okay, and me, too. He’s the best rescuer ever, which lets us keep trying new things with confidence!

  40. Karin Van den Bergh

    Bumper sticker writing..what an inspiring creative idea to practice writing, seeing it from a different angle ! I love it! Thanks for sharing Marilyn. I’m on it 😉
    Haha, I got the first one about the expresso on camera when visiting a dairy farm in Vermont a month ago.

    • Thanks, Karin. I really do love some of the short, catchy sayings on tee-shirts, posters and bumper stickers. And the one about giving unattended children an espresso and a free kitten had me howling in laughter. Boy, that would make parents wish they’d been paying attention!

  41. Hudson Howl

    First off, I’d like to thank you and commend you for responding to all who leave a comment. Which reminds me I need to thank others.

    I have many favourite lines, most coming from songs. I used this one just today, in responding to a comment, ‘if you remind me of my dog, then we’ll probably get along’, from Jane Seberry’s ‘Everything Reminds Me of My Dog’.

    • What a great line!!! I love it.
      Some women (and men) might not be thrilled to be placed in the same category as a dog, but because our family has always included very special dogs, I see it as a compliment!
      Everyone who knows our wonderful Maggie knows it’s a very high standard, being compared to her!

  42. Jane Thorne

    You are so generous in your care for others, with everything you have going on in your life Marylin, thank you for this post. It sparked all sorts of things over here and I have submitted some work to Blue Mountain Art. ❤ Xx

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