Dear Pamela, Memoir Advice Columnist, Answers Your Questions

by Pamela Jane on January 17, 2017

Pamela Jane New Book CoverHere’s a big welcome back to Dear Pamela! She’s come up with great answers to your questions…a good way to start 2017. Her memoir coaching and editing as well as new writing projects are keeping her busy. So we doubly appreciate her taking time to provide responses and advice to our memoir writing community.

Remember, if you have questions about memoir writing that you need answered, please leave them in the comments section of this article or you can send questions in an email to me — Be sure to use the Subject Line: DEAR PAMELA. Thanks. — Matilda

Chronology Versus Other Organization of Memoir?

Dear Pamela, memoir advice

Dear Pamela,

“Do memoirs need to be in chronological order if, and when, published in a book…(for sale) ?”

Yours truly, Bill-Seeking-Answer

Dear Pamela

Dear Bill-Seeking-Answer,

Thank you for your question regarding whether memoirs should be in chronological order.

The short answer is “no.”

But you want to know more than that, so here are some quick tips for you to consider.

Dear Pamela Advice and Tips

Tip #1. Think through your options

There are many ways to arrange a timeline in a memoir. For example, you could begin with a flashback or flash-forward. You could organize it by themes or topics or life lessons. There are numerous possibilities. You’ll find the one that best allows you to tell your story.

Tip #2. Even with a chronologically organized memoir, not everything may be in sequence

Even if you are writing more or less chronologically, your main character (you) may experience an event that triggers a flashback in the story. This is especially true in a memoir, where the narrator is remembering or reflecting on past events.

Tip #3. Use time shift to make a non-chronological memoir work

There are many ways to signal a time shift. My memoir, for example, begins with me at age eighteen running away from home, and it is all in italics. The next section, “An Existential Childhood” makes it clear we are now going farther back in time to tell the story from a young child’s point of view. Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir, An Unquiet Mind, also begins with a prologue that is a flash-forward and is written in italics.

Tip #4. The opening is more important in memoir than organization (although that’s quite important as well)

The most important thing in organizing your memoir is to begin with a compelling opening that will capture and hold the reader’s attention. This material may come from anytime in your life. It is also essential that you make it clear to the reader when you move backwards or forwards in time.

Bill-Seeking-Answer, I hope these suggestions will free you to order events in your memoir based on the best possible way to tell your story.

Pseudonym problems?

Dear Pamela, memoir advice

Dear Pamela,

“I was required to change the names of everyone mentioned in my memoir, change the names of places in the book, and write under a pen name. How do I market a book to people who’ve known me all my life? And how do I market a book, especially on social media, to friends and family and public when no one has ever heard of Alexandria Bagnell? (my pen name)

Any help and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.”

Yours truly, Edwina-with-Pseudonym

Dear Pamela

Dear Edwina-with-Pseudonym,

Congratulations on finishing your memoir!

Below are a few tips and links that may help you begin to unravel your problem. Many memoir authors face a small portion of your complete anonymity. These are usually handled by getting permission to write about an incident or by changing the names of a few people involved or simply altering a couple of facts. It seems your publisher has required major changes.

Dear Pamela Advice and Tips

Tip #1. Tell it like it is (to friends and family only)

In answering your question, I am assuming that you do not want to keep your identity a secret when promoting the book to people who know you, and would be interested in reading it. If this is the case, you have the option of letting friends and family know that you are the author, even though you are using a pseudonym.

If you feel this violates your arrangement with your publisher, you could recommend the book to friends and family letting them know that it has some similarities to your own life.

Tip #2. Don’t worry about the general public

As for the general public, there is no reason you have to mention that you are writing under a pseudonym.

Tip #3. Use social media, hum

This is a tricky problem, especially if you have been building your presence on social media. You probably need to consider building a presence for the pseudonym person. You can get new accounts under the name of Alexandria Bagnell. Choose the social media you already like to use. You can even build the backstory from your memoir for this person (it is you, after all).

Links to help you…

Here’s a blog (see link below) that may give you some ideas. The author discusses challenging issues of using a pseudonym, (although she is a blogger and not a memoir writer many of the issues apply).

Following is a link to another interesting article, Pseudonyms: 10 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Pen Name. I know you’ve already decided to use one, but there is some interesting information regarding pseudonyms here that you may find illuminating.

I hope this information is helpful. Many successful writers use pseudonyms, so you are in good company!

If you have a question for Dear Pamela, please
leave a comment below or send an email along
with your question to
Be sure to put DEAR PAMELA in the Subject Line

Who’s Dear Pamela?

Pamela Jane is the author of over 30 books from board books to memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story that Story Circle Reviews called “a fine, five-star read.”

Pamela has published essays in The Writer, mothersalwayswrite, Literary Mama, Parent Co., The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Huffington Post. Please visit her at

Wonder what her memoir is all about? You can read the first chapter of her memoir here:

Memoir is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

Her new memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story which Story Circle called “a fine, five star read” describes how she, an idealistic young newlywed, dreamed of a bucolic future in a country house while her husband plotted to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills, a conflict that resulted in explosions of various intensities, drove her mildly mad, and ultimately led to her becoming a writer.

You can see Dear Pamela’s Memoir Book Trailer below. Follow her @austencats.

First Editing ServicePamela Jane heads the First Editing Service and invites you to contact her if you are interested. Click Here for more information.

The First Editing Service offers a great (and inexpensive) way to see where you have been and where you are going. Pamela’s understanding and insights have helped others with their memoirs and can help you move forward on your writing path.

Reviews of An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

“…Jane takes us masterfully through her story of a lifelong writer struggling to emerge.” —Deborah Heiligman, author, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, a National Book Award Finalist

“…a fine, five-star read!” – Story Circle Reviews

“…incisive, funny, and touchingly candid…” —Howard Rheingold, author, The Virtual Community and Net Smart

“…a harrowing story that invites the reader to experience the thrill and danger of the Sixties from a place of safety and acceptance.” —Tristine Rainer, author, Your Life as Story

“…an inducement to all writers who aren’t afraid to take their past experiences and use them towards the future of their dreams…” – a comfychair

“Jane’s memoir…of the hundreds of memoirs I’ve read, is the only one that gives us the opportunity to go into the heart and mind, behind the flashy images of the Woodstock and hippies of the Sixties.” – Jerry Waxler, author The Memoir Revolution

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