Dear Pamela: Seeking support; critique group advice

by Pamela Jane on May 17, 2016

Memoir writer seeking support group

Dear Pamela, memoir advice

Dear Pamela,

“I have been compelled to undertake writing my first memoir at age 54. That was about four months ago. Do you feel it is VITAL to have support or support systems in place to help you? If so, do you have any ideas for how to find support? I am very low on funds and would love to just find some free friends or fellow memoir writers to buddy up with.

“It does seem daunting to me at times doing this all alone. Thanks.” — Michelle Seeking Support System

Dear Pamela

Dear Michelle Seeking Support System,

Thank you for your question which, I’m sure, is one that many writers struggle with. It is not easy to sit in a room and write alone, with no encouragement or feedback.

Although it’s not essential to have writing support, you mentioned that the idea of doing it alone seems daunting. Consequently, I think you would find a writing companion – whether a group, a fellow writer, or a friend – highly beneficial. The challenge is finding the right person or group to support and encourage you. This may take some trial and error; don’t hesitate to “date” some writing buddies until you find the right one. Critiquing is a fine art, and his or her comments should, ideally, inspire you to continue writing, as well as suggest new directions, and ways to address problems.

Dear Pamela Advice and Tips

—Consider a writing class. I have several friends who found writing companions or groups by taking a writing class. Often the teacher leads a writing group outside of class. You could take a memoir or personal essay class at a local community college; even high schools sometimes offer continuing education classes on writing.

—Investigate local writing conferences. A writing conference is another good source for meeting fellow writers. Though most conferences are not free, some are quite modest in price, while others even offer scholarships. You can also check for state groups. California and Oregon, for example, have a number of writing groups.

—Look into online classes and groups. Of course there are hundreds of on-line conferences and teleclasses. Just now I Googled, “find a memoir writing group,” and came across There is also, an on-line resource for meeting local people interested in various pursuits and activities. You can go to the site and type in “writing group” in the search window, or start your own Meetup group. Your local librarian is another resource. And, if you read last month’s advice column, you know that some churches have writing groups.

Michelle Seeking Support System–Be persistent and be picky about who you team up with, and I’m sure you will find a sensitive and supportive companion to accompany you on your memoir journey. If the first person or group isn’t a good match, don’t worry. Just keep looking. And please let us know when you do find support!

I hope this advice is helpful, Pamela

Help! How do I manage critiques in our memoir writing group?

Dear Pamela, memoir advice

Dear Pamela:

“I love this new series. KEEP IT UP. I am a librarian and want to start a memoir writing group. I think one of the problems I’ll face is having members of the group critique each other’s memories. Are there guidelines you can suggest? And what do you think about using writing prompts as a way to keep the group writing? Eager for your response.” –-Literary Librarian

Dear Pamela

Dear Literary Librarian:

Dear Literary Librarian:
Congratulations on starting a memoir-writing class! Your library is very lucky to have a “literary librarian”!

Dear Pamela Advice and Tips

As someone who has been a member of various writing groups, including one for over twenty years, I have some tips and suggestions for you, as the group leader;

—Decide ahead of time whether you will read others’ writing while at the group, or if writing will be sent to group members via email, Google, or Dropbox ahead of time and critiqued later, at the meeting. I know groups who do it both ways; it is a matter of personal preference. Some people may feel their schedules are too busy to read writing ahead of time.

—During the meeting, have each person read his or her piece out loud, then afterwards others can take time to write their comments before going around the group and listening to what everyone has to say. People are often influenced by others’ comments, so having each person write down her thoughts ahead of time is helpful. For example, if everyone (or the majority) is confused by the same passage, the writer will know that she has to clarify.

—Make sure everyone has more or less equal time to have her manuscript critiqued.

—Vary who goes first so no one feels rushed by always reading last.

—Some writing groups have strict rules about the person being critiqued not explaining or justifying, but simply listening to what others have to say. Again, this is personal preference, but I’ve found that some dialog between author and critiquers is productive, as long as you don’t stray too far off track, and the person being critiqued is not simply resisting every suggestion or criticism.

—Keep the general tone positive and supportive. It’s fine to say a piece or a section is not working, for instance, but the overall goal should be to encourage the writer, and to help her see her strengths and address her weaknesses. Of course, you already know this, but it helps to share this perspective with the entire group.

Literary Librarian, Writing prompts are a fine idea, especially if people are unsure what to write about, or where to begin.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

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

About Dear Pamela

Dear PamelaPamela Jane’s new memoir An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story was recently published to rave reviews.

She is the author of over twenty-five children’s books with Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, and Harper as well as Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic, which was featured in The Wall Street Journal, BBC America, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Pamela has published short stories and essays with The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Antigonish Review, Literary Mama, and The Writer. She is also a writer and editor for

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

“…a gem, a well-written and powerful memoir.” – Sherry Meyer, author

“Her prose reads like poetry and her imagination is like magic!” – Jacopo della Quercia, author, The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy

“…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

“…a beautifully crafted story” – Linda Appleton Shapiro, author She’s Not Herself

“With imagery that carries me to another time and place, descriptions that make the settings come alive to the senses, darkness laced with humor, this is a book not to miss.” Karen Jones Gowen, author of Farm Girl.

Want to know more about the background of Dear Pamela’s memoir? Read this article in The Writers — Just Wait: A Short Story Rejected in Grade School Becomes a Cause of Action.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy May 22, 2016 at

Dear Pamela: Wow. Thanks for all the suggestions. I had no idea that you would be so thorough. I am going to write down your tips and incorporate them into my class.

I’ve just announced the memoir writing class and already have five signups. I think this class will be a real benefit to those wanting to capture their stories.

-Literary Librarian

Matilda Butler May 22, 2016 at

Dear Pamela — (Such fun calling you by that name.)

I’ve traveled to the East coast and just now have time to comment. I can identify with both Michelle and the Literary Librarian.

To Michelle — It seems like an impossible task to write a memoir. Dear Pamela has given you some great ideas. Just lay out reasonable goals for yourself and keep moving forward. We’ll be eager to hear how this goes for you.

To Literary Librarian — Dear Pamela came up with terrific tips for you. I have participated in similar classes through my library and I am sure your memoir class will be successful. It can take time to build a group that works well together. But following Dear Pamela’s suggestions will have you on your way.

To Dear Pamela — Keep these responses coming. Your thoughtfulness and knowledge of writing contributes to the experience of memoir writers.


Pamela Jane May 22, 2016 at

Dear Literary Librarian – Wow! You already have five members who have signed up for your group! I think this will be a great service to those who signed up, and a treat for all of you as you get to know each other and your stories. Please keep us posted!

Allison R. May 24, 2016 at

Dear Pamela,
Thank you for this new series. I’ll be following it every month. I have a question for you.

My mother is the primary “other” character in my memoir. I don’t know how much emphasis I should put into describing her. And I wonder if I should put all the description right up front or do I develop her over time? Should I give a physical description? What else should I do? An emotional description? A personality description?

Thanks. No hurry on a response as I have a lot of work to do in the meantime.


Pamela Jane May 25, 2016 at

Ally – thank you for your question, which is an important one for memoir writers. You are right in realizing that, even in a memoir, the characters are just that – characters (including ourselves, the narrators) so it’s important to spend time thinking about how you want to portray them. I will be answering your question in the July post of “Dear Pamela.”

PA Bilz June 7, 2016 at

Hi Pamela
Great advice for all writers! I do have a question about 1st and third person. My memoir is about my mom diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and part 1 I’ve told her background (early life) in 3rd person but once I come into the picture… I’ve started telling the story in first ( my point of view) – wondering if it won’t confuse people … Although I do explain and intro into my life with her..
Thank you!

Pamela Jane June 7, 2016 at

Dear PA Bilz: I’m glad you’re enjoying our new series; I’m having lots of fun with it, too! In our June 14th post, I will be answering questions about how to construct a memoir narrative, layer by layer, and also ways to help memoir writers discover the story they really want to tell, in their most authentic voice. I look forward to answering your question, which is an excellent one, in future DP posts.

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